ada louise smith


WHO WAS ADA BEATRICE QUEEN VICTORIA LOUISE SMITH… aka Bricktop… aka The Doyenne of Cafe Society?

Bricktop was a West Virginia-born, half-Black and half-Irish dancer, singer, vaudevillian, and - as she called herself - saloon-keeper, who took Chicago then New York then Paris by storm, during WWI and WWII.

Bricktop gave Duke Ellington one of his first big breaks in the nightclubs of NYC by getting him booked at clubs there early in his career, then moved to Paris in 1924, where she started out teaching the latest dances, such as the Charleston and the Black Bottom, to guests at Cole Porter’s parties.

Bricktop soon ran popular Paris jazz clubs the The Music Box and Le Grand Duc before opening Chez Bricktop, at 66 rue Pigalle. She worked with Langston Hughes when he was just a busboy, hired Mabel Mercer to headline at Chez Bricktop, and put on other soon-to-be-famous performers such as Josephine Baker, Fats Waller, Django Rheihardt, Stephane Grappelli, and many others.

Bricktop had clubs in Paris AND Mexico City AND Rome!

Cole Porter wrote “Miss Otis Regrets” expressly for Bricktop. Rheinhardt and Grappelli wrote the song “Bricktop” for her. F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions Chez Bricktop in his short story, Babylon Revisited. She taught the Duke & Duchess of Windsor how to do the Charleston in the middle of her club one knight. She threw John Steinbeck out of her club for “ungentlemanly behavior” and only allowed him back after he sent her a taxi full of roses!

Bricktop had a popular radio program in Paris, which she stopped at the beginning of WWI, when she relocated to Mexico City and opened a club there. After that war she moved back to Europe, opening Bricktop’s, in Monaco, until the second world war began. She eventually moved back to the United States.

Bricktop appeared in Jack Jordan’s 1974 film, Honeybaby, Honeybaby, playing herself. She also made a cameo appearance - once again, as herself - in Woody Allen’s 1983 film, Zelig. She died well into old age, in her Manhattan apartment, and is buried in the Bronx, at Woodlawn cemetary.

Some of Bricktop’s papers and personal effects can be found in the Manuscripts Archives And Rare Books Library (MARBL) at Emory University, in Atlanta, GA.

So now you know - you ain’t really fly until you’re Bricktop Fly!

Happy Black History YEAR!


Final farewell to the Eleventh Doctor’s Era: Countdown of My 25 Favorite Episodes and Minisodes.  Number 17 - The Crimson Horror

This episode is a showcase for Vastra and Jenny serving as the Doctor-light and (even more so) companion-light episode of this series, but the true heart of this episode, and the reason this episode makes my list, is Ada Gillyflower - the woman abused by her mother as she selects the righteous to save while planning to rid the earth of the sinful. An outcast herself, Ada finds the Doctor, also a victim of Ada’s mother, in his damaged state and takes claim over him as her “monster.”

“You are all I have, monster, but all will be well. Imperfect as we are, there will be room for us in the new Jerusalem.”

Given that our core cast of this episode includes two lesbians, an alien who has committed great atrocities despite being a good man, and a damaged woman being told she is sinful, the point made here that there is room for the imperfect in the new Jerusalem is an important one.

The villain of this episode is the woman destroying people with a fake sense of righteousness and justice while the imperfect people are the heroes.

Vastra and Jenny aren’t immune to the society they live in but don’t let it victimize them as they have knowledge that the world is both greater and stranger than the Victorian Values around them and largely treat this as another case to solve in a messed up world. On the other side of the case, Ada and the Doctor are caught in the middle of it and unfortunately, Ada believes her mother’s words until the very end.

The emotional damage left on this woman by her mother manages to outweigh the physical scars she suffered in being used as an experiment. Not only did her mother cause her injuries, she made her think that her father drunkenly hurt her because she was sinful rather than telling her the truth. So, she turns to the Doctor, a monster even more disabled than herself, for comfort.

Ada goes through such a range of emotions in this episode - from the beaten down victim to the vengeful woman who tries to reclaim her life upon learning the atrocities committed to her by her mother.  Spending so much of her life as victim, Ada does not instantly recover, but we’re left with the sense that she will be fine. We’ve seen the inner strength she’s capable of.

And the Doctor’s relationship with her is nearly perfectly portrayed. She took him in as a monster where he witnessed her true character and in return he treats her with such respect and kindness. He may no longer look like a monster by the end of the episode, but if there is one thing we know about the Doctor it’s that he often does feel like a monster for the things he’s done. It’s easy to see how he sympathizes so deeply with Ada - the outcast who tried to save her monster.