Great European Lives with Charlie Connelly
Great European Lives with Charlie Connelly is brought to you by the award-winning newspaper, The New European. It delves into the lives of some of the greatest, and sometimes forgotten, Europeans ever lived.
Tamara de Lempicka
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka. Her Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti has been said to define the 1920s in a single image, becoming the personification of the Jazz Age. Her aim was never to emulate, but to create a new style with bright, luminous colours, drawing out elegance from the models she used. However, the following decade was defined by a rise in autocracy and, troubled by the Hitler youth, she and her husband left for America. However, the country didn’t quite understand her and gossip columns named her ‘the Baroness with the brush’. Still, she continued to epitomise the time between the Russian revolution and Nazism.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly examines the life of Spanish professional golfer Seve Ballesteros. There haven’t been many golfers like him, and perhaps there will never be one like him again. He possessed a self-belief and willingness to attempt the impossible that landed him 87 tournament victories, including three Opens and two Masters. His unprecedented talent changed the face of the game into the glamourous spectacle it is known for today. But, this undeniable genius did not save him from moments of sporting decline and loss.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of French singer Sacha Distel. According to a contemporary, he was underrated as a musician and composer, uncomfortable with the image he had traded off of for 40 years. With his green eyes, cheekbones and dazzling smile, he captured the hearts of 70s housewives, much to the dismay of their husbands. But, despite this charming appearance and life revolving around french resorts and restaurants, the man was not all it seemed. A contradictory character, he was always happiest playing jazz guitar, rather than his cheesy tunes, surrounded by family for the quiet life. A yearning that was a consequence of a hole ripped in his life at an early age as a result of war and anti-semitism.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly looks at the life of ballet dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. His performances oozed presence and, in a time before televised performances, he gained his reputation by word of mouth. His health, however, deteriorated as he got older, being diagnosed as schizophrenic by the man who invented the disease and he eventually died of kidney failure at the age of 61. Nonetheless, he is remembered as the dancer who defied gravity and soared, as if released from the bonds and cares of the world itself.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of American-born Greek soprano Maria Callas. As the greatest operatic soprano of the 20th century, she had a unique star quality. While her voice divided critics and audience members alike, it was incomparable. As one adoring fan called out from the Carnegie bleachers, Callas was opera. Everything she did, she did for the benefit of her audience, and she did so with magnificence.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of Russian painter Zinaida Serebriakova. With her mother being a talented sketch artist and her father a noted sculptor, art was a part of her life from the offset. 1917 should have marked her creative peak, however, the revolution broke out before her nomination for membership of the Academy of Arts could be ratified and her husband Boris Serebriakov was arrested, dying in prison of typhus. In 1965, more than 40 years after she left, she returned to Russia to see her exhibition in the Capital – she returned a different person and in a different time.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly examines the life of French naval commander and privateer Jean Bart. Made a Knight of the Order of St. Louis by Louis XIV, he is remembered as one of Europe’s most extraordinary maritime figures. By the end of the Nine Years’ War, he was responsible for the sinking of 30 enemy warships. Today, a statue of him resides in the square of the town which carries his name, his sword raised and his gaze focussed out onto the English Channel.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly delves into the life of Soviet-Russian singer-songwriter Viktor Tsoi. In the 1991 attempted Russian coup, his song Khochu Peremen blasted out from speakers at the barricades. 20 years later in Belarus, the song became the soundtrack to the uprising against the autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko. But, the singer-songwriter never saw his music as being overtly political, he was focused on a different type of change – the one that occurs within an individual.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly looks at the life of Austrian-born American actress, inventor, and film producer Hedy Lamarr. British actor George Sanders once said that “she was so beautiful, that when she walked into a room, everyone would stop talking”. But, despite being one of the most famous women of the golden age of cinema, it is only recently that she has received credit for some of her greatest achievements, her contribution to modern technology. As you listen to this episode on your electronic device, you owe Lamarr a debt of gratitude. To this day the question remains, was she an actor who invented, or an inventor who acted.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of German actress Brigitte Helm. She had barely acted when turning in one of the greatest performances of the silent era in Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis. However, despite her talent and versatility, she was constantly being miscast as a femme fatale or vamp, which did not go unnoticed by film critics. After marrying and having a child, she lived out her life in a Swiss town nearing the Italian border, escaping the rising anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany and refusing any interviews. Defined by a decade of her life she couldn’t control due to tight contractual agreements, once she then regained this control she would not relinquish it anytime soon.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of French inventor and balloon flight pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. He always believed he was destined for greatness, developing a keen interest in engineering and physics at an early age with serious ambitions to be an inventor. In 1785, Blanchard, along with American Dr John Jeffries, became the first person to cross the channel by air. It was a historic achievement that became a key moment in British relations with the rest of Europe as suddenly the continent seemed closer than ever before.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly examines the life of Italian actor Rudolph Valentino. As the greatest screen heartthrob in history, his cinematic charisma captured the hearts of women around the world, while threatening men and their views on masculinity. He began his career as an extra, occasionally landing smaller speaking parts, before screenwriter June Mathis saw his talents and landed him his first major role in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Despite this, it was not all glitz and glamour, he battled a bigamy scandal and constant media insinuations about his masculinity.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly delves into the life of Danish author Karen Blixen. “I am not a novelist or even really a writer; I am a storyteller,” she once said. It was a trait she inherited from her father, Wilhelm Dinesen, and led to literary success including Out Of Africa, an account of the years she spent running a coffee plantation in Kenya. In fact, when he accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, Ernest Hemingway said that he would have been far happier had it gone to Karen Blixen.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of French wax artist Marie Tussaud. Her fascination with the human face began at an early age and stemmed from stories of her father. An established soldier, he was killed in the Seven Years’ War two months before she was born. After his death, her mother kept the silver plate he had fitted as part of his jar after previously losing it in battle – and the young Marie was fixated. It became an obsession that, decades later, led to the opening of the permanent exhibition of her waxworks in Baker Street, known today as the iconic Madame Tussauds.
Sophie and Hans Scholl
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly looks at the lives of siblings and members of the White Rose Sophie and Hans Scholl. Today, there are roads, squares and schools across Germany that carry the name of Sophie and her brother and in 2003 they placed fourth in a national poll determining the most important Germans of all time, trumping Johann Sebastian Bach. They are remembered as symbols of German resistance against the totalitarian Nazi regime, tried and executed by guillotine for treason. A fate that was caused by a rapid chain of events elapsing during the time it took for a single letter to travel from Bavaria to Russia.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of French classical composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. He lived an extraordinary life in extraordinary circumstances, performing for and with European royalty and president John Adams called him the most accomplished man in Europe. So, why is it so few have heard of him? The answer lies in the payoff line of a 1786 newspaper feature on the musician that called him a ‘mulatto, the son of an African mother’. He was constantly referred to as the Black Mozart and experienced tropes that are still familiar today constantly whispered behind his back, and even sometimes to his face.
Maria von Trapp
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly looks at the life of stepmother and matriarch of the Trapp Family Singers Maria von Trapp. Hers was a story of rags to riches, back to rags and progressing to riches once again. The turbulent life of her and her family was the inspiration for the 1959 iconic Broadway musical The Sound of Music, and later 1965 film version. While others profited from the feature, she did not. Nonetheless, she welcomed the film’s arrival. In fact, if audiences gaze into the background of the scene where a cautious Julie Andrews sings away her troubles as she leaves the nunnery, they can see the real Maria von Trapp, wearing traditional Austrian clothing leading her daughter and granddaughter across the street.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly examines the life of Swedish-American actress Greta Garbo. She was always called a recluse, but this was not strictly true. Residing in the heart of Manhattan, she could often be found in art galleries and auction houses alike. She may have had her eccentricities, such as making her coffee in a casserole dish, but she still had a familiar presence in the city. She portrayed characters whose lives had been battered by injustice, with their stories often ending in tragedy. Needless to say, it was a sentiment she captured with skill as by the outbreak of the Second World War, she was earning $270,000 per film.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly delves into the life of Czech–born British actor Herbert Lom. He was most identified for his performance as Charles Dreyfus in the Pink Panther series, an endearing character that was a welcome change from sinister accusations Lom constantly received as a Czech residing in Britain during the Second World War. He knew what it was to be an outsider, working hard to stand out in the industry and snatch a place at the heart of British society after gaining citizenship. Still, away from the stage and studio, he remained perpetually in transit between the Czech and British identity.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. The mystery of the Earth’s poles has long tantalised explorers and Amundsen was no exception. Unquestionably a man of the North who spent years obsessed with the Arctic at the top of the world, curiously he was the first man to reach the South Pole. The answer as to how this hardy and methodical Norwegian made this unexpected discovery lies in money, glory and pragmatism. To this day, he remains one of the 20th century’s greatest explorers, if not one of the greatest ever.
Zsa Zsa Gábor
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of Hungarian-American actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gábor. With one of the most unforgettable personalities of the 20th century, she helped create a modern celebrity. Marrying nine times, she is remembered as a serial bride who would shoot off one-liners about her various husbands on multiple talk shows. Henry Kissinger called her one of the brightest women he had ever met, regardless of her fiery Hungarian temper that often landed her in hot water. But, Gábor could never understand why this shocked people, after all, she often quipped, Hungarians are descendants of Genghis Khan and Atilla the Hun.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly examines the life of French novelist, playwright and screenwriter Marguerite Duras. Feeling uncomfortable at home with her mother’s obvious favouritism of her brother, she found solace in the cinema from an early age – in particular in Charlie Chaplin’s films. One day, she caught a glimpse of Elizabeth Striedter, wife of the new regional governor, as she made her way back from the cinema. Fascinated by the woman, she soon began writing characters directly based on her. In fact, she often credits Strieder as the very reason she became a writer and the world witnessed her never-failing literary precision and clarity.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly looks at the life of Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali. By his own admission, at the age of seven, he wanted to be Napoleon and his ambition only grew from this age. His combination of flamboyance, wit and talent made him one of the most recognisable artists of the age, a fame that was further assisted by his gravity-defining and always immaculate moustache. To this day, the quality of his work endures as potently as the self-belief of the man himself.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly delves into the life of German vocalizer Klaus Nomi. Much like his heroes Maria Callas and Elvis Presley, he taught himself to sing, eventually leading to his new York debut at Irving Plaza’s New Wave Vaudeville show in 1978. He soon rose to fame in the New York club scene with his offbeat covers of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead and Chubby Checker’s The Twist, and his original electronic pop and operatic arias filled venues. However, diagnosed with AIDS when the disease was in its infancy, he died in 1983 at the age of 39, and just five years after his iconic debut performance.
Josephine de Beaumarchais
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of Empress of the French and wife of Emperor Napoleon I Josephine de Beaumarchais. She may have gained the title of Empress but she was the queen of reinvention, narrowly escaping death by guillotine during Robespierre’s Reign of Terror. Going from the daughter of a struggling Caribbean sugar planter to the ultimate darling of Parisian society, she was a master of personal evolution.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of writer, journalist and pianist Ève Curie. In Paris, she was renowned for her beauty, talent and, naturally, her name. As the daughter of Marie Curie, despite her own success, she never shook off the guilt that she was the only member of her family to avoid working with radiation and its harmful effects. She took the Curie name across the world, but its legacy never stopped weighing heavily on her.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly explores the life of Finnish-born American singer, actor and voice artist George Gaynes. He may have been best known for his performances in Tootsie, Cheers and Policy Academy, but this late break-through into the limelight left him fighting a career-long battle between not being well-known enough and being too well-known. Still, this remains one of the least interesting things about him. Before launching a career that took on opera, film and broadway, he endured some of Europe’s stormiest times.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly delves into the life of Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff. In the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany, his footballing skills outwitted Swedish right-back, Jan Olsson, with a move that still bewilders the Swede to this day. It remains one of the most replayed World Cup moments in history and his skill, vision and innate Dutchness allows him to be regarded today as one of the geniuses of the game.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly looks at the life of Swiss explorer and author Isabelle Eberhardt. Born in 1877, her desire to find out where she belonged, and why, took her from the Sahara Desert to Algeria. She spent her life thumbing her nose at convention and if she had been born a century later she would’ve been quite the rock star.
In this episode, host Charlie Connelly discusses the life of French pilot Hélène Boucher. She took to the skies when aviation was still in its dangerous infancy in the 1930s, and while she came from privilege, she wanted the best for all women regardless of status. Today, a bust of her gazing upwards sits in her resting place of Yermenonville cemetery.