Louise Weber 1866 – 1929) was a French can-can dancer who performed under the stage name of La Goulue (“the glutton”). She also was referred to as the Queen of Montmartre. In our production of My Paris La Goulue is portrayed by Nikka Graff Lazarone. Very little is known about her early childhood, but it is believed that Louise Weber was born into a Jewish family from Alsace that eventually moved to Clichy, near Paris. Her mother worked in a laundry. As an impoverished young girl who loved to dance, Weber is said to have enjoyed dressing up in laundry customers’ expensive clothing and pretending to be a glamorous star on a great stage. At age 16, she was working with her mother in the laundry, but behind her mother’s back began sneaking off to a dance hall dressed in a customer’s “borrowed” dress.
Dancing at small clubs around Paris, Louise Weber quickly became a popular personality, liked for both her dancing skills and her charming audacious behavior. In her routine, she teased the male audience by swirling her raised dress to reveal the heart embroidered on her panties and would do a high kick while flipping off a man’s hat with her toe. Because of her frequent habit of picking up a customer’s glass and quickly downing its contents while dancing past their table, she was affectionately nicknamed “La Goulue” (The Glutton). Eventually she met the Montmartre painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir who introduced her to a group of models who earned extra money posing for the community’s artists and photographers. Louise Weber was taken under the wing of Jacques Renaudin, a wine merchant who danced in his spare time under the stage name “Valentin le Désossé”. They danced at the renowned Moulin Rouge in Montmartre when it first opened, performing an early form of the Cancan known as the “chahut.” The two were instant stars, but it was Weber who stole the show with her outrageously captivating conduct.
Booked as a permanent headliner, La Goulue became synonymous with the Cancan and the Moulin Rouge nightclub. The toast of Paris and the highest paid entertainer of her day, she became one of the favorite subjects for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, immortalized by his portraits and posters of her dancing at the Moulin Rouge. Having achieved both fame and fortune, in 1895 Weber decided to part company with the Moulin Rouge and strike out on her own. She invested a considerable amount of money into a show that traveled the country as part of a large fair; but her fans who had lined up to buy tickets at the Moulin Rouge did not take to the new setting, and her business venture turned into a dismal failure. Following the closure of her show, La Goulue disappeared from the public eye. Suffering from depression, she drank heavily and dissipated the small fortune she had accrued while dancing. Alcoholic and destitute, La Goulue returned to Montmartre in 1928. She eked out a living selling peanuts, cigarettes, and matches on a street corner near the Moulin Rouge; no one recognized the severely overweight and haggard former Queen of Montmartre. She died a year later.