Fryderyk Járosy was born into a family of landowners in Graz (10 October 1890), though was raised in Vienna, choosing Austrian citizenship despite his Hungarian and Croatian descent. He studied law in Munich, though was already beginning to showcase the natural talents that each of his siblings also possessed. In 1912, whilst visiting Davos on a skiing holiday, Járosy met a Russian aristocrat, Natalia von Wrotnowsky; they married the following year and resided in her hometown in Russia, until their birth of their two children prompted a move to Riga. After the outbreak of civil war in the region, Járosy’s brother arrived to drive the family to Berlin, where they reconnected with Járosy’s siblings, including Carlheinz, a director, Albert, a musician, and Anton, a painter.
It was during his stay in Berlin that Járosy came into contact with the extensive Moscow bohemia who had also emigrated to the city. Initially working in a publishing house, Jarosy soon became involved with the Russian émigré theatre, Siniaja Ptica (editor’s translation: The Bluebird), who toured across Europe with their captivating assortment of music and pantomine. As Járosy turned to his cultural origins, his marriage became troubled, with allegations that Járosy committed adultery with his wife’s friend Olga Chekhova, who was the star of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mary, and niece of Anton Chekov’s wife – though was also admired by Hitler in the 1930s.
The tensions culminated in Járosy joining a theatrical tour to Warsaw in 1924 and never returning home – until 1939, he did regularly send letters and money back to the family in Berlin, and though he and his wife remained estranged, they never divorced.
His arrival into Warsaw with Siniaja Ptica, however, sent shockwaves through the city’s cabaret circles: it was the first Russian theatre that had visited Poland after the country had regained independence. In his Alfabet wspomnień (Alphabet of Memories), Antoni Słonimski recalled helping Járosy in developing his Polish introductions for the premiere:
I spent the night drinking cognac and coffee at the Bristol Hotel, teaching Jarosy…the problem of the audience remained. What to answer when someone in the room draws attention to himself?...I offered him a universal return: “The motorist is strictly forbidden to talk to passengers.” It succeeded, because on the day of the premiere someone actually spoke from the audience, and when Járosy gave this pure Warsaw-tram sentence, he received a fierce applause.
Járosy did eventually acquire the Polish language, though spoke with an accent for the remainder of his career – a novelty which only intensified his appeal among Polish audiences. In the beginning, however, one of the few Polish sayings Járosy did know was the common ‘Proszę Państwa’, which, as historian Ron Nowicki describes in his Warsaw: The Cabaret Years, became the very motto of the Polish cabaret scene:
He said it in such a grand manner that ‘Proszę Państwa’ soon became a popular catchphrase. When you uttered that phrase, you marked yourself as a habitué of the liveliest club in town.
Járosy’s debut with Siniaja Ptica, which took place in the hall of the old Rococo Theatre on Nowy Świat 63, certainly caught the eyes of both Warsaw’s audiences and theatrical heavyweights: in September of the same year that he arrived in the city, he began to work as a compère for the cabaret Qui Pro Quo, introducing the show Nr 1: Artistic Revue in 11 Paintings, with acts by Julian Tuwim, Konrad Tom and Andrzej Włast. Słonimski reviewed the show in Wiadomości Literackie, dubbing Járosy:
A man full of real theatrical culture, he has a refined taste, a lot of ingenuity and talent, which can be seen after his first directed program.
The Nr 2 revue the following month was completed with Járosy’s insertion of a few of the Siniaja Ptica numbers into the repertoires of Polish artists. Indeed, across the interwar period, Járosy’s direction of Warsaw’s cabarets fused the sophisticated Paris revue style with a Russian flair, impeccably suiting theatre production to Poland’s own multiculturalism. In her Jestem Járosy! Zawsze ten sam… Anna Mieszkowska describes Járosy’s natural flair for developing the landscape of Polish cabaret:
It was he who, thanks to certain character traits, was able to cooperate with everyone and everyone…he had time for everyone, he could listen to and often express critical opinions in such a way that even the most fussy star agreed discretely on the proposed changes in the interpretation of the text.
Certainly, this composure was needed after 1925, when a rival theatre, Perskie Oko (later, Morskie Oko) opened its doors at the very same location in which Járosy had debuted in Warsaw a year before. Many artists abandoned Qui Pro Quo after director Jerzy Boczkowski refused to raise their wages. In 1950, for the London newspaper Lwów i Wilno, Jarosy commented on the controversy:
I stayed in Qui pro Quo almost alone with Ordonówna – and so that the theater could work normally, I pulled out Dymsza from Cyrku Mroczkowskiego; Mira Zimińska from some Stańczyk; Gierasieński, I do not remember from where; from the Wysocka dance school - Stefania Górska…
Indeed, as Nowicki elaborates, the Wysocka dance school became Járosy’s bargaining chip:
[Perskie Oko] had a talented, extremely attractive chorus line, the eponymous Koszutski Girls, and the lively Halama sisters— Zizi, Loda, and Alicja. A beautiful actress and dancer, Lena Zelichowska, made her debut at the Eye of the Sea and went on to become one of Warsaw’s top stars… It was to counter this competition that Fryderyk Jarosy turned to Madame Tatiana Wysocka’s School of Theatrical Dance. Many of Warsaw’s cabaret chorus girls were trained by Wysocka and were skilled in the art of dancing topless or in the flimsiest of costumes.
Across the 1920s, the two theatres competed for the best artists – but in 1931, Qui Pro Quo’s finance troubles caught up with its director, leading to the cabaret’s closure in April of that year. Járosy, Tuwim and Hemar then established their own cabaret: Banda, which opened on 1 October 1931 at the Nirvana Theatre and attracted the leading stars – and new faces, like Igo Sym – to its shows. Jarosy also established Cyganeria (La bohème) in 1933, with its debut revue show titled Ram-Pam-Pam. Both cabarets closed in 1934, though Jarosy then opened the Stara Banda theatre with several of the Banda and Cyganeria stars. This too closed in 1935 – the same year that Jarosy celebrated his tenth anniversary of stage work in Poland – paving the way for the renowned Cyrulik Warszawski (Barber of Warsaw) which opened in 1936, and lasted until 1939. Nowicki describes how:
A number of the Qui Pro Quo veterans moved over to the Barber of Warsaw cabaret, where in 1936 Jarosy mounted the comedy The Barber's Shampoo (or Head Wash) (Mycie Glowy) starring Mira Zimińska. In March the troupe presented the revue Garden of Delight (Ogrod Rozkoszy) with Lena Żelichowska and Stefania Górska heading the cast. Jarosy had a busy year producing and directing shows, including one starring his former lover, Hanka Ordonówna.
Rumours do frequently abound concerning Járosy’s romantic relationships with several prominent cabaret stars, from Zofia Terné, who debuted at Qui Pro Quo in 1927, to Stefania Górska, one of the Wysocka girls. But it was his relationship with the gorgeous Hanka Ordonówna which attracts most interest today: it was Járosy who helped to cultivate her slow-growing career, launching her to stardom in Poland. They lived together until September 1927 when, during Qui Pro Quo’s summer tour to Lviv, it was revealed that Járosy was also having an affair with Górska – and Ordonówna responded by shunning the compere from her life and career for a period. Eventually, she would go on to marry Count Michael Tyszkiewicz, a minister at the foreign office. Nowicki describes the beginning of their relationship as follows:
He sometimes attended rehearsals at Qui Pro Quo, and on one occasion brought with his the lyrics for a tune called Streets of Barcelona… Boczkowski coaxed Ordonówna into singing it, and it turned out to be a minor success. Count Michael’s thank-you note became the prelude to a long courtship that was the talk of Warsaw.
Járosy, meanwhile, cemented his cabaret success with the theatrical film Parada Warszawy, produced in 1937 – existing footage from the film includes him singing A ja nic, tylko ty! alongside Lena Żelichowska. Yet Járosy never forget Ordonówna: in 1947, he sent a gushing letter to her, now in Beirut, recounting their close relationship which had ultimately been shattered by war:
How to start such a letter; to be a bridge through (and what time!) – through space, nightmares, ascents, falls and smiles: to be a bridge between our last meetings in burning Warsaw and a future about which I dream and which I hope will soon take place.
Though Járosy was desperate to see Ordonówna again, the dream never took place – though he kept a photograph of her, taken by Halina Zalewska, on his desk at his house in Hampstead, in London.
It was war that shattered Járosy’s dream. He planned to establish a new cabaret, the Figaro, on 2nd September 1939, with newspaper advertisements accompanied by the slogan ‘This is the life!’, though it never opened. It has been said that Járosy died in 1939: no longer could he charm the audiences of Warsaw, or envision the latest cultural success – he dreamed of opening a café, Café Járosy, after the war was over, and was set to become a lecturer at a Theatre School. Instead, he was arrested by the Nazis – allegedly escaping after requesting a shave by a hairdresser at a hotel, or perhaps during transportation. He spent the majority of the war in hiding, though was imprisoned in Buchenwald after 1944.
After the war, Járosy initially entertained gaunt survivors in a German displaced persons camp, before establishing a band – with the old name of Cyrulik Warszawski – which toured in Europe, eventually reaching London. But it was in there that the band would disperse, with Járosy settling in the English city. In 1947, he took another troupe, Li-La-Lo, to Tel Aviv, which performed for a year to eager audiences – before being closed down by another war. Never again would Járosy really taste the success of the interwar years. He lived destitute in London, unable – as many of his fellow exiles had – to seek employment at Radio Free Europe owing to his age and also as a result of illness. He did conduct musical and literary programmes for the station, though they were never aired, and at one point he visited Los Angeles in 1950 with fellow entertainers. But, his renown depleted, he returned to his wife and children in Italy in August 1960 – and died in a hospital in Viareggio soon after.
Mieszkowska quotes Járosy’s own take on Polish cabaret, a domain he ruled – despite his lack of Polish roots – with unparalleled sophistication for the majority of the interwar period:
Everyone knows how a revue is created. Very simple. One day comes the pale and scared administrative director to the sweaty and the furious artistic director. He puts two hundred dollars on his table with trembling hands and whispers: Au fond perdu. I mean, in the jargon of thieves: ‘go and steal what you can’. The artistic director then goes to Paris, visits the rich English with all the music-halls and hides everything that is not chained or embedded in the walls. Then he returns to Warsaw and changes the stolen objects with the help of the members of his band in such a way that it is difficult to know them.
This creativity, this verve, this sophistication – this was Fryderyk Járosy.