Enigmatic singer and performer at the Morskie Oko cabaret. Queen of Fashion – and of mystery.
Vera Bobrowska, in the words of veteran Polish theatre star Ludwik Sempoliński, had an ‘interesting’ career during the interwar years, although little is known about her private life. An enigmatic and alluring figure, historians have made various suggestions about her real history – including that she was not a professional artist at all, but a spy. Indeed, Justyna B. Walkowiak, who has worked on the history of Polish stage names, includes Vera Bobrowska in a list of artists ‘who in artistic life used rather fancy names, which in all likelihood may have been invented pseudonyms’.
Nevertheless, Bobrowska certainly took the glittering interwar stages by storm. Her career began in the ‘Roaring’ late-1920s, when Polish interwar culture was in full swing, with cabarets, theatres and dance floors erupting across Warsaw. Bobrowska was spotted by stage actor Tadeusz Olsza at a private party and, charming him with her smouldering looks and artistic talent – including singing romantic songs and tangos whilst accompanying herself on the banjo – she looked like she too could be a theatre hit.
Olsza then recommended that she audition with ‘King of Trash’ Andrzej Włast, a talented songwriter and director who, by then, had founded the legendary music hall theatre, Morskie Oko, in the centre of Warsaw. With shows modelled on revues plucked straight from Paris, Morskie Oko looked like a perfect home for the gorgeous Bobrowska and her compelling stage presence.
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Włast gladly agreed and we witnessed an interesting audition. She entered the dormitories, a truly impressive and beautiful young woman. She sang a romance in Polish very nicely, but with an eminently Russian accent.
Sempoliński suggests that Bobrowska was Russian, and before her stage career had married a Pole, who she then divorced. She was, he says:
Well-connected, visiting embassies and often abroad.
But it was from this that rumours abounded about her real motives, particularly the frequent suggestion that she was actually a spy.
However, Włast – whose standards were high – was ‘delighted’ with her performance, and cast her immediately. She debuted in his Gwiazdy Warszawy (Stars of Warsaw) revue, in January 1930, performing a specially composed number, written by Włast, and composed by Artur Gold.
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Vera Bobrowska sat on the piano in a beautiful golden lamé dress and sang lightly strumming the banjo, or rather with great feeling hummed a romantic tango, based on the motifs of a gypsy romance, ‘Where is Your Heart?’
The chorus went as follows:
Where is your heart?
Why are you sad and angry?
Where is your heart?
And where youth is yours.
The night passes quickly
You are everyone and nobody
Where is your heart?
Happiness is so short.
Sempoliński writes that he was supposed to perform a song in a quartet after her performance, ‘but it didn’t happen’.
The frenzy that engulfed the audience after her performance was unprecedented. […] At first, she was bowing while sitting on the piano. In the face of incessant applause, she jumped down to a bow, and after leaving the backstage she had to constantly return and bow. Finally, I led her onto the stage, then Olsza, finally the curtain had to be lowered, in front of which she also had to come out several times. Such success for a debut was almost unheard of. All of snobbish Warsaw began to be interested in her.
Włast, says Sempoliński, was as enamoured as his audience – prompting an extreme outburst of jealousy from his former friend and dancer, Zuza Malinowska, who eventually parted ways and left the country.
Because of her success – and, probably, sex appeal – Bobrowska soon dominated the cabaret world. After a stream of further performing triumphs that month, she announced that she was leaving for a holiday on the Riviera.
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After she left people constantly enquired about her, until time had done its job, and she was slowly forgotten. After six weeks, she came back tanned and even more beautiful.
According to Sempolińśki, Włast then ‘finally lost his mind’, arranging a new show at Morskie Oko titled Warsaw’s Smile, which he dedicated to her.
The main act was set, he recalls, in a café on the terrace of an eight-storey hotel, palm leaves swaying towards the balcony.
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It was around midnight, during a muggy night. The terrace is lit by the full moon. In the background, on a platform, dressed in white, Henryk Gold’s orchestra is discreetly playing. On the front of the stage, on the right, a table with a colourful umbrella – under which, in a beautiful ball gown, Vera Bobrowska sat holding a photograph in her hand and sang a really nice Petersburski tango with Włast’s words: ‘Już Nigdy’.
The devastating Już Nigdy (Never Again) went on to become a standout hit of the era, performed by stars like Mieczysław Fogg, Zofia Terné and Tadeusz Faliszewski. Bobrowska’s performance, which is one of only a few accessible online, is shrill and nostalgic, as Sempoliński remembers.
Of course, the performance displayed in this way must have made an impression, but the applause was shared for her and Gold. Of course, she didn’t like that, so she didn’t take his hand and bowed herself at the front.
She then performed in a duet with Sempoliński.
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Unfortunately, there she did not get such crazy applause as she had during the debut period. This completely upset her. She began to be unpleasant and even unbearable to those around her. She played a star in her life, which she was not in real life, having not studied or not even trying to master the profession by hard work. In the end, she became annoyed with Włast. He was fed up with her.
But this was not the end for Bobrowska, who kept performing and singing. According to records, she also featured in the Qui Pro Quo theatre and recorded new hits, including renditions of Chciałabym, a Boję Się (the Polish version of Happy Days Are Here Again), Ty Nie Jesteś Winna (It’s Not Your Fault) and Piękny Gigolo (Pretty Gigolo).
By 1931, she was declared Queen of Fashion. That year, she was also photographed looking sultry over a record player as an advertisement for leading recording company Syrena Electro.
In other pictures which exist of her – including a feature on the front cover of KINO Magazine when she again was declared Queen of Fashion in 1935 – she has a glamorous, yet aloof look, with her svelte figure glistening in satin or wrapped in furs. Though endearing, she appeared to have a persona far from the approachable, relatable natures of fellow stars Hanka Ordonówna or Zula Pogorzelska.
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She was a socialite – even appearing at Fashion Balls at the posh Hotel Europejski; she was described as conscientious and subtle in her performances – but without becoming a stock cabaret character, like other stars. KINO described her as a ‘fair-haired mermaid, shapely and slender, with a childish expression on a lovely little face’. She had something magical about her.
Then, just as quickly as she had risen to fame, she vanished. In the fleeting whirlwind of interwar Polish cabaret, hers was a story of the age – from beloved new star, to nothing at all. According to historians online, the last evidence of her was a photograph in a Polish arts magazine, Sztuka i Film, in which she was photographed on holiday in Italy, and described… as a Countess.
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