A popular and charismatic interwar singer, actor, and director dubbed the Polish Al Jolson for his entertaining renditions of many of the hits of the age, including urban classics, sophisticated tangos, and boisterous foxtrots.
Born on 20th October 1898 in Żywiec, died 2nd September 1961 in Chicago. Faliszewski performed with a strong rendition of the distinctive accent of Polish yesteryear, a Lwówian patois from the east, often playing on pronunciation and with a delivery saturated with humour. He was married to actress Halina Kidawska. Also, he recorded more songs than anybody else for Syrena-Electro, the giant of the Polish interwar recording world, estimated at around 1300 discs.
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Faliszewski was born Tadeusz Jan in Żywiec to Władysław Faliszewski and Matylda, and spent the majority of his childhood in Lviv, where he attended the Polytechnic School.
Unlike other performers of the age, his career was not always destined towards music: his first profession following school was more militaristic, joining the Polish Legions alongside his brother Bolesław during World War I. Faliszewski served in the 1st Lancer Regiment under Władysław Belina-Prażmowski, with records stating that he was treated in Kamińsk and Kraków hospitals in 1915. In June 1919, he was appointed a lieutenant, and then served as a liaison officer at the Ministry of Military Affairs throughout the Polish-Soviet War, leaving the armed forces in 1922.
It was during that year that Faliszewski pursued a more artistic career, at first financed by his mother, who had attempted a singing career in her youth. The same year, he delivered his first performances for the Nowości touring band under Tadeusz Pilarski, a subdivision of the theatre of the same name in Kraków, which travelled to Warsaw and Łowicz. Shortly after, he was partnered with Lucyna Messal, performing in Poznań and Kalisz in 1924. With cabaret becoming increasingly prosperous across Poland, Faliszewski faced ever-increasing opportunities: in 1925, he was in Przemyśl with the Rewia Warszawska, which was followed by performances during the 1925/1926 season in the Eldorado in Warsaw, and again with the Nowości theatre in Częstochowa.
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Settling in Warsaw in 1927, Faliszewski worked from mid-1927 to 1928 in the musical theatre Mignon, a venue he would take over as artistic director in 1933 until the beginning of World War II, producing 10 programmes. Yet in his early years in the capital, Faliszewski’s career was possibly just as lucrative: in 1927, he also made his first recordings for Syrena Record, showcasing a unique delivery which drew on his Lwówian upbringing. For the entirety of his professional career, his renditions were wholly suffused with the Lwówian accent; a drawling, almost muffled intonation, with Faliszewski’s own delivery often sounding drunk and delirious, and frequently descending into giggles in the middle of a line – which, as rumours put it, was probably due to frenzied consumption of alcohol. By World War II, Faliszewski had recorded not only for Syrena and its little-brother recording company Melodia Electro, but also for Odeon and Lonora Electro. He also used a wealth of pseudonyms throughout his career including, in his early days, Jan Saskowski, but later also Jerzy Orowski, Jan Pobóg – a name deriving from his family’s coat of arms – and Jerzy Nowogródzki, originating from the Varsovian street Nowogrodzka, on which Faliszewski lived, at number 27.
The stages beckon
Faliszewski cemented his legacy as an enthusiastic and opportunistic artist throughout the 1920s and 1930s: in February 1929, he even diverged from a performance career to a more managerial role, becoming the artistic director of the newly-built and largest cinema in Warsaw at the time, the Hollywood, constructed on the site of his old haunt, the Eldorado. The Hollywood could seat up to 2000 people, and Ludwik Sempoliński recalled that Faliszewki gave25 programmes by the end of the theatre’s first year. Faliszewski later also performed on its stage himself in 1932. This was not the only managerial role undertaken by the performer. Alongside Stanisław Woliński, he also established his own literary theatre in 1930 called Rajski Ptak, in the Capitol cinema, which, though with ambitions to become a Polish variant of the much-loved Russian touring cabaret Niebieski Ptak which had brought Fryderyk Járosy to fame, was short-lived. He also managed the Splendid theatre in the mid-1930s.
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Following tours in Kielce and Lviv, in August 1930 Faliszewski also made his debut at the Nowy Ananas theatre in Warsaw, with his first performances at the renowned theatre Morskie Oko taking place two months later. That year, Faliszewski also joined Chór Warsa alongside Henryk Wars, Adam Aston, Stefan Sas-Jaworski and Alexander Puchalski/ Bolesław Reiff – a revellers choir inspired by the popularity of the Mills Brothers, and intended to rival Chór Dana, the most popular choir of the time. Faliszewski continued performing in theatres across Warsaw, also singing in the Colosseum cinema in the early 1930s, and working in the Bagatela theatre in Kraków.
A popular performer
As his career grew, Faliszewski found himself performing the now much-loved hits of the era, from a 1930 Syrena-Electro rendition of Szkoda Twoich Łez, Dziewczyno (editor’s translation: It’s No Use Crying, Girl), and Cała Warszawa (All of Warsaw) in Morskie Oko, to the 1934 Polish apache anthem, Bal u Starego Joska (A Ball at Old Josek’s), all imbued with that characteristic comical and whimsical style so typical of Faliszewski’s career.
One of his hits from later years, in 1936, was Znakiem Tego (The Sign of This) a duet with his colleague from Chór Warsa, Adam Aston; a song in which Aston’s mellow refrain meets the farcical trills of a heavily intonated verse delivered by Faliszewski.
But, like Aston, Faliszewski also supplied his fair share of advertising songs to Poland’s ever-lucrative, ever-modernising interwar economy, including Piosenka o Radionie (Song about Radion), a piece to advertise the washing powder produced by the Polish company Schicht-Lever.
The journalist Olgierd Budrewicz also recalls one unfortunate episode with another of Faliszewski’s advertising enterprises, the song Bo On Nosi Krawat od Chojnackiego:
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Another amusing incident is told about a pre-war singing commercial. The lyric, sung by a popular crooner Tadeusz Faliszewski, ran something like ‘Because he wears a tie from Chojnacki.’ The record got stuck on ‘Because he wears a tie... a tie…’. The switch-board was instantly swamped with calls. ‘What kind of tie is he wearing?’
But his advertising career was testament to the popularity of the singer in the late 1930s. A contest for Polish Radio in 1937 deemed him the third most popular singer of the era, behind Mieczysław Fogg and Stefan Witas. This was evidence too of the extent to which Polish – and Varsovian – interwar culture was blatantly and palpably lathered in the urban verve of Lviv.
And, though he was well-known mainly for his recordings in Polish, there is certainly a Syrena recording of the tango Rivkele (The Yiddish version of the pre-war classic Rebeka) depicting Faliszewski’s name, with the reverse – A Mamenyu – also allegedly sung by the baritone performer – but musicologists debate whether this is truly by Faliszewski.
Faliszewski was also no stranger to Poland’s cinematic industry, performing in the 1938 Królowej Przedmieścia (Queen of the Suburbs), directed by Eugeniusz Bodo. A performance by Faliszewski also featured as the finale to Konrad Tom’s 1937 epic Parada Warszawy, a film which also starred Loda Halama, Chór Dana, Hanka Ordonówna, Zofia Terné, Fryderyk Jarosy and Stefcia Górska.
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Fortunes changed rapidly for Faliszewski when World War II began – in September 1939, he was mobilised and took part in the September Campaign, but was arrested in March 1940 by the Gestapo and sent to the concentration camp Mauthausen-Gusen. Yet even there, he continued performing – with historians noting that Faliszewski’s inability to access alcohol whilst incarcerated actually improved his vocal chords. Alongside Waclaw Gaziński, Faliszewski also organised popular revue shows, with fellow prisoner Władysław Zarachowicz recollecting that:
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The real soloist, who was listened to with interest and joy by the entire camp, from Muslims to SS-men, was Tadeusz Faliszewski, simply called Tadek.
His performances in Mauthausen took on an increasing level of popularity when other popular singers of the age, also incarcerated in Mauthausen, joined the troupe, as survivor Zbigniew Wlazłowski recalled:
The miniature music band produced by Witek Jeleński, Wacek Gasiński and Tadeusz Faliszewski from Warsaw, and Staszek Grzesiuk with his team of revellers walked from block to block, playing and singing.
After liberation in 1945, Faliszewski spent a brief period in a displaced persons camp in Austria, before joining the 2nd Corps under General Władysław Anders, serving in the 5th Division in Italy as an educational officer and directing the Wilków theatre troupe. He then moved to London, where he featured in the newly-created Polish theatre scene in the British capital. One of his performances from this era was a starring role in Piękna Helena, directed by Feliks Konarski at ZASP in 1955.
Following a move to Chicago in the mid-1950s, Faliszewski continued to appear in programmes organised by the famed Polish émigré Konarski, particularly for his theatre Teatrzyk pod Anteną. He also recorded songs for Jan Wojewódka's record company Melodia Record Company – though, ever the executive, Faliszewski also ran his own small recording factory, and then established a shop and shipping firm to transport packages and medicines to Poland. In 1957, he even had a surprise meeting with his compatriot Mieczysław Fogg, which the latter recorded in his memoirs:
From New York, I went to performances in Chicago. There, I fell straight into the arms of the great pre-war singer Tadeusz Faliszewski, who I stayed with.
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And, despite a certain deterioration of appreciation for Faliszewski today, his voice – brimming with that Lwówian folk heart of Polish interwar culture – still wraps and beguiles Polish music enthusiasts with the sound of a now-lost era, and now-lost landscape.
Written by Juliette Bretan, August 2019