Her Pet Chiquita Cheetah

Josephine Baker and Chiquita
Well, after all these years of thinking I was being poetic and original, I find out I am not the first to come up with a certain crucial phrase. In my book, Pretty Ballerina, the chorus goes like this:

It’s a pretty ballerina
with a little ocarina
and her pet chiquita cheetah
singing Auld Lang Syne.

This morning, sitting reading a history book, I nearly coughed my tea across the room. It turns out, the singer, dancer and actress, Josephine Baker, who gained fame in the 1930s with her risqué performances, loved animals. She kept exotic pets, such as a snake named Kiki, a chimpanzee (Ethel), a pig (Albert) and… a cheetah named Chiquita. (Ms. Baker even wore a skirt made out of bananas when she performed.) Chiquita often appeared with her on stage and even jumped off into the orchestra pit once, which I’m sure came as quite a shock to the musicians.

According to Wikipedia, “She was the first black woman to star in a major motion picture, Zouzou (1934)… Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences in the United States.”

During her career she was one of the most photographed women in the world and her huge popularity gave her a comfortable salary, which she spent on fine clothes, jewelry and pets. She adopted twelve multi-ethnic children whom she called her “Rainbow Tribe”.

She was extremely active serving in France during the Second World War and in the American civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s.

From her estate’s website: “More than 20,000 people crowded the streets of Paris to watch the funeral procession on its way to the Church of the Madeleine. The French government honored her with a 21-gun salute, making Josephine Baker the first American woman buried in France with military honors.”

So when you’re reading this silly book of mine, give a kind thought to Josephine Baker, who loved art, animals and children. She was a strong woman who stood up for what was right and deservingly, was admired the world over. You can’t say that about too many people who wear bananas.

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