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Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart [Paperback]

Jean-Claude Baker , Chris Chase
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 30 2001
Based on twenty years of research and thousands of interviews, this authoritative biography of performer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) provides a candid look at her tempestuous life. Born into poverty in St. Louis, the uninhibited chorus girl became the sensation of Europe and the last century's first black sex symbol. A heroine of the French Resistance in World War II, she entranced figures as diverse as de Gaulle, Tito, Castro, Princess Grace, two popes, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet Josephine was also, as one critic put it, "a monster who made Joan Crawford look like the Virgin Mary." Jean-Claude Baker's book also reveals her outbursts that resulted in lasting feuds, her imperious treatment of family and entourage members, and her ambivalent attitudes concerning her ethnic background. Reconciling Josephine's many personas—Jazz-age icon, national hero of France, proponent of Civil Rights, mother of children from across the globe—Josephine: The Hungry Heart gives readers the inside story on a star unlike any other before or since.

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Product Description

From Library Journal

Nearly two decades after her death, the legend of Josephine Baker continues to flourish. Subject of a number of books and recent films, "the most successful music hall performer ever to take the stage" (according to Ebony magazine) was larger than life: She was the toast of Paris in the 1920s, star of stage and screen in the 1930s, Red Cross volunteer and undercover agent in World War II, participant in the 1963 Civil Rights Movement march on Washington, and star of several farewell (and comeback) tours. Baker adopted 12 children of different races and called them her "rainbow tribe." Jean-Claude, "the 13th of her twelve adopted children," and Chase have crafted a biography rich in anecdotes and personal recollections of many of her fellow entertainers. This intriguing story is recommended for most public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/93.
- Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Josephine Baker "adopted" 14-year-old Jean-Claude when he waited on her in a Paris hotel. Although they didn't meet again until the last years of Josephine Baker's crazy, improvised life, Jean-Claude sustained an intense fascination for this most original and flamboyant of women and, after her death, devoted himself to learning as much of the truth about her as he could. His is not a scholarly biography but rather an impassioned, bemused, frank, and fond portrait of a woman who reinvented herself as often as the moon changes shape. Josephine, the daughter of an unloving black mother and an unidentified, most likely white father, became stagestruck early on and quickly left her miserable childhood behind to begin her metamorphosis from a poor, gawky, clowning youngster into an international sex symbol. Jean-Claude does a fine job of chronicling Josephine's progress from chorus girl to the hottest commodity in Paris during the heady years between the world wars. Hard as she worked on perfecting her talents, Josephine remained a wild child, capricious, manipulative, mercurial, and sexually voracious. Jean-Claude reveals all about Josephine's many conquests of both sexes, her penchant for telling lies, and her extreme eccentricity, but he always makes sure we recognize her unfailing sense of humor and endless craving for admiration. As we watch Josephine grow from chanteuse to hero of the Resistance, from seductress to adoptive mother of 12 children of different racial backgrounds, we marvel at her resiliency, zest for life, and sheer chutzpah. Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars THE inside scoop on Miss Josephine Feb. 12 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is a biography of LaBaker written by one of her many adopted children. He gives the inside dish on his mom, including that both she and his adopter father were gay. He points out too that she did have some self-loathing issues regarding her race as well. This book has a great photo section. It helped me to see the ugly side of Josephine that wasn't fully presented in the great movie by HBO. I am not sure it is the best work out there, but it is a must-read for any Josephine fans and scholars. In addition, people that study Black Americans abroad or French naturalized citizens should read this.
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Format:Paperback
Josephine Baker was enigmatic during her lifetime and even more so after her death. A chanteuse, a sex symbol, the mother of 12 adopted children, French Resistance heroine, Baker reinvented herself as often as necessary to stay at the top of her trade - whatever that trade was at any given moment. Jean-Claude Baker (one of her 'adopted' children) chronicles her life in this engaging biography with a mix of love, admiration, and incredulity. The lady had balls, and while not a tell-all book, The Hungry Heart does her ample justice.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastique! Aug. 17 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A perfectly balanced expose of this legendary and highly complex superstar: Amoral in extremis, manic and delusional, but blessed with indomitable human spirit. Excellent historical perspective throughout.
A beautifully written biography which does not succumb to the tawdry, despite its detailed narrative of Josephine Baker's pathologically decadent lifestyle.
Absolutely the best biography of J.B., bar none. A Must Read for Paris cabaret enthusiasts.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars THE inside scoop on Miss Josephine Feb. 12 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a biography of LaBaker written by one of her many adopted children. He gives the inside dish on his mom, including that both she and his adopter father were gay. He points out too that she did have some self-loathing issues regarding her race as well. This book has a great photo section. It helped me to see the ugly side of Josephine that wasn't fully presented in the great movie by HBO. I am not sure it is the best work out there, but it is a must-read for any Josephine fans and scholars. In addition, people that study Black Americans abroad or French naturalized citizens should read this.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastique! Aug. 17 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A perfectly balanced expose of this legendary and highly complex superstar: Amoral in extremis, manic and delusional, but blessed with indomitable human spirit. Excellent historical perspective throughout.
A beautifully written biography which does not succumb to the tawdry, despite its detailed narrative of Josephine Baker's pathologically decadent lifestyle.
Absolutely the best biography of J.B., bar none. A Must Read for Paris cabaret enthusiasts.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Absorbing Read July 6 2007
By Zarah Mayes-Horowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Jean-Claude gives a well balanced account of the life and times of Josephine Baker. With unabashed frankness he describes her sexual escapades and decadent appetites, her manipulative and cunning business dealings, and her unbelievable selfishness. This biography paints a very clear picture of the woman who gave definition to the term "diva." Her demands of those who handled her and worked for her would go beyond unreasonable. For instance, she would borrow enormous sums of money from friends and would never pay them back, and would then call on them again for more favors as if she had never defrauded them. There was no request too outrageous for this woman to make. Realizing that her family in St. Louis was suffering the horrendous racial atrocities of America, she brought them to her home in France only to use them to work for her on her estate. At one point she disowned her brother because he would not allow her to adopt his child and raise it as her own. She would work her nurses, her maids, and the children's tutors so hard that the turnover became virtually unmanageable. Her maids would work extremely long hours, and as a result her employees became disgruntled and would often steal from her. She used men like one would use Kleenex. She brazenly carried on affairs with married men, some of whom were husbands of friends and fellow-entertainers. She engaged in enumerable sexual affairs (and orgies) with both men and women. Wild goings-on aside, she was a consummate entertainer--constantly reinventing herself and giving herself completely to her audience. In an era when black performers suffered atrocious injustices, she perseveared. She'd encountered terrible racism in many cities (especially when she returned to America), so much so that she was turned away from so many hotels that she had to stay with friends while under contract to perform. While not a tell-all tabloid type expose (thankfully), Jean-Claude Baker delivers a thorough account of the life of one of the world's most exciting and enduring icons. If you are a fan of historical figures and of biographies, this one is a must read.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The good, the bad, & the very ugly sides of Josephine Baker March 25 2009
By rmcrae - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
When most hear the name Josephine Baker, images of her sensually dancing across a stage in nothing but a skirt made of bananas comes to mind. There's much more to her than that and Jean Claude Baker (one of her adopted sons) gives us the dish.

He recounts Tumpy's (a childhood nickname) poor beginnings in St. Louis to her death as a worldwide superstar in Paris. I'd really recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what Josephine was really like. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Good things first, she was an untouchably talented dancer who has continually inspired dancers of all generations even after her death. Her voice, a shrill and lilting instrument, grew to almost Sarah Vaughn like heights.

Despite her talents, Josephine could be a selfish and hurtful woman. She had a problem with lying all throughout her life. She never knew her father, but one minute she'd claim he was a successful black lawyer in Chicago and the next he was a simple Jewish man. Her whole early life in St. Louis would be flipped and turned around at her whim, to the point where published accounts would contradict themselves.

Luckily, Jean Claude interviewed the people who knew her best and gave true accounts of her personality. She was also extremely promiscuous in her later teens. She went through male and female lovers like underwear and had no hestitation to use others when it would benefit her career. Even her legendary Rainbow Tribe was created out of plain publicity (shout-out to the Octomom). She barely spent time with the kids and left them in the constant care of nannies.

She also had a penchant for slapping people she was angry with and her kids were no exception. She even sent one of her boys away to boarding school when she caught him with another boy, despite her own genderbending sexual history.

Although Josephine could be downright mean, Jean Claude also reveals her funny and loving side. She made an effort to smother the kids with love when she had time to spend with them and she had a quick wit.

Although the negative attitude of Josie is discussed at great length, Jean Claude isn't stepping into "tell all" territory. He obviously loved her, all flaws aside. He just wanted to create a more human portrait of a woman whose life has been clouded in myth and mystery.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fond, passionate portrait of a hard-to-pin-down woman Aug. 31 2003
By Peggy Vincent - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Josephine Baker was enigmatic during her lifetime and even more so after her death. A chanteuse, a sex symbol, the mother of 12 adopted children, French Resistance heroine, Baker reinvented herself as often as necessary to stay at the top of her trade - whatever that trade was at any given moment. Jean-Claude Baker (one of her 'adopted' children) chronicles her life in this engaging biography with a mix of love, admiration, and incredulity. The lady had balls, and while not a tell-all book, The Hungry Heart does her ample justice.
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