In 1939, the novel ‘No Orchids for Miss Blandish’ (No Orchids for Miss Blandish), written by James Hadley Chase (one of the many pseudonyms of the London writer René Lodge Brabazon Raymond) became an authentic bestseller, being designated as one of the best written crime fiction books and that managed to envelop the reader in the sordid atmosphere of the plot, which was set during the difficult years of the Great Depression in Kansas City and centered around the kidnapping of a wealthy heiress (Miss Blandish) by unscrupulous gangsters. The account of that story contained a good dose of sexual component, which was one of the assets that most attracted the millions of readers who bought a copy of the book.
(images via newspapers – willstraw)
The success was such that a decade later a film version had already been shot (with the author’s own script) and a famous theatrical adaptation that was performed in the main theaters of a good handful of European and American capitals.
One of those theatrical adaptations was the French version that premiered on January 2, 1950 in ‘Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol’ in Paris, being the one chosen to interpret the main role of Miss Blandish the young actress, 22 years old, Nicole Riche, who had a promising career (by then he had already appeared in half a dozen films).
The staging of the theatrical version in France was a success, receiving numerous compliments and excellent reviews from specialized critics (some described it as ‘masterpiece’), but weeks after its successful premiere a review was published in Times magazine that emphasized the sexual character of the play, describing Nicole Riche’s performance as’ two hours in panties and a bra on stage, successfully pursued by the drooling gangster Slim Grisson ‘(role played by actor Jean-Marc Tennberg).
The theatrical montage had already received some complaints about the high sexual level of some of its scenes but they had not ceased to be simple comments, but the review in Times caused some more puritanical sectors of Parisian society to begin to boycott the work, reaching receive the actress and her co-stars some threatening anonymous notes that qualified the work of ‘immoral production’.
Driven by these written threats, someone from the cast came up with a very bad idea that consisted of simulating the kidnapping of the actress, something that would get the attention of the press, appearing in the main newspapers and attracting numerous audiences in the following representations.
On the night of Wednesday, March 29, 1950, during the short break between the second and third act of the play, the manager of Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol appeared on stage to announce to the public that the play should be suspended in that very moment, apologizing to those present and indicating that the amount of the tickets would be refunded. Minutes later, several inspectors from the gendarmerie appeared at the theater after receiving a call informing them of the mysterious disappearance of Nicole Riche.
According to the witnesses, the actress went to her dressing room (as was customary) after finishing the second act, being given a note by a theater employee and he had been given it by a man who was in the back door (for where the cast entered and left). Nicole Riche came to attend to the aforementioned gentleman and nothing else was heard from her.
The police began the investigation in order to solve that mysterious disappearance and the only clue they found was the note that indicated to the actress that someone needed to speak with her about a matter related to Nicole’s mother.
The press the following day published the disappearance and alleged kidnapping of the actress, becoming a media issue that drew the attention of many people, something that was reflected in the performance that same night in which all the seats and the role were sold. Miss Blandish’s would be played by a stand-in actress.
Two days after the disappearance (early on Friday, April 1) Nicole Riche appeared at the Pigalle district police station (very close to the theater). She was dressed in the clothes of the theatrical performance and was wearing a coat that she had put on when she went out to attend to the man who brought her the note.
Nicole (looking terrific) told police officers that she was forced into a car by two unknown men who took her to a place where she was locked in a room for hours. He also related how they were recriminating the immorality of the play, being able to deduce that it was about some puritanical types. Later she was taken to the Fontainebleau forest, being abandoned there and after a long walk the young actress reached a road hotel, where she asked for help and a guest, who happened to be a journalist, offered to take her to that Paris police station.
The story explained by Nicole Riche had neither head nor tail, in addition to the fact that the actress showed a rested appearance, clean clothes (including the shoes she was wearing, since as she had indicated she walked through the forest for several hours and there was no trace of dust. ). The police also learned that a few hours before reporting to the police station, the actress had been seen drinking champagne in the company of other people in a nightclub in the French capital.
Obviously, the kidnapping was ruled out and after being questioned by the police, the young actress ended up confessing that it had been quite a montage in order to publicize the work she starred in. The press was at ease with Nicole Riche, dismissing that story as a bad joke (it should be noted that the day of April Fools and jokes in France is celebrated on April 1). For most experts, that farce was an idea of the theater director, Alexandre dundas, who directed the play.
Nicole Riche’s brilliant and promising career came to a halt, being penalized by the French actors’ guild, which suspended her from the profession for a time and when she resumed it, she no longer got leading roles (although she did take part in some film productions, but as a secondary). It should be noted that her voice did become popular, as she managed to work as a voice actress, giving voice to the American actress Shirley MacLaine (among other famous artists of the time) in France (for the next two decades) and even in films. animated characters from the Disney factory such as ‘Mary Poppins’ or ‘The Aristocats’.
Reference sources and images: grandguignol / Blood on the Stage (Googlebooks) / hoaxes / newspapers / willstraw