5 Fascinating Facts About Josephine Baker

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Singer and dancer Josephine Baker—who was born on June 3, 1906—was probably the closest thing the Jazz Age had to a mega-star. Known as "La Baker" in her adopted France, Josephine was a worldwide celebrity and devoted civil rights activist who first rose to fame by dancing in a "skirt" of artificial bananas and very little else. While Baker's activism and military service were commendable, they often took a back seat in the contemporary media to her bizarre personal life. Let's take a look at five things you might not have known about Josephine Baker.

1. Josephine Baker worked as a spy.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When World War II rocked her adopted France, Josephine Baker didn't simply move to a more peaceful country. Instead, she stuck around and did her part for the war effort. Since she had initially publicly supported Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia, the Axis powers mistakenly thought she was "one of them," and Baker took full advantage of this misconception. In fact, her fame made her the perfect spy. When Baker would travel Europe while touring, she obviously had to carry large quantities of sheet music with her. What customs officials never realized, though, was that a lot of this music actually had secret messages written on it in invisible ink. Fawning immigration officials never thought to take too close a look at the diva's luggage, so she could sneak all sorts of things in and out of countries. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear. This invaluable intelligence work eventually helped Baker rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and when the war was over, she received both the Croix de Guerre (a first for an American woman) and the Medal of the Resistance in 1946.

2. A duel was fought in Josephine Baker's name.

General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Lots of stars have devoted fans, but how many would be willing to fight a duel for their favorite diva? In 1928, a Hungarian cavalry officer and an Italian count did just that in Budapest. According to a contemporary account from TIME magazine, "the ogling and attentions of Hungarian Cavalry Captain Andrew Czlovoydi became too fervently gallant to be stomached by La Baker's manager, Count Pepito di Albertini." Rather than just ask Czlovoydi to knock it off, the Count took the reasonable step of challenging the soldier to a sword-fighting duel. Fittingly, the two duelers met in a cemetery for their showdown while Baker cheered on the Count from a perch atop a tombstone. According to TIME, the two men battled with swords for a solid 10 minutes before the Count took a light blow to the shoulder. At that point, Baker intervened and forced the two men to set aside their differences.

3. Josephine Baker adopted a dozen children.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Celebrities adopting children from underprivileged backgrounds may be old news at this point, but what Baker did in the 1950s is still shocking and fascinating. In an effort to combat racism and provide an example for the rest of the world to follow, Baker started adopting orphans from all corners of the world. Baker started by adopting two Japanese children, and kept going until she had assembled a family of 12 children from a variety of countries and ethnicities; Baker dubbed them "the Rainbow Tribe." The Baker family lived in a chateau in southwestern France, which the star turned into a sort of resort/theme park with a multicultural theme, but it didn't catch on quite as well as Epcot did. By 1968, the operation was hemorrhaging money, and Baker's creditors had to sell the mansion out from under her.

4. Josephine Baker and Grace Kelly were close friends.

Although Baker lived and worked in France, she still made frequent touring trips back to the United States. During one 1951 visit to New York, Baker found herself at the Stork Club at the same time as rising actress Grace Kelly. When the racist staff refused to wait on Baker, Kelly, who was dining with a large party of her own, flew into a rage and walked out of the club in support of Baker. From that moment on, Kelly and Baker became close friends. In fact, when the Rainbow Tribe's chateau was on the rocks financially, Kelly—who by that time had become Princess Grace of Monaco—tried to bail Baker out with her creditors. When Baker ended up losing the house, Kelly didn't abandon her friend. Instead, she arranged for the singer to have a villa in Monaco.

5. Baker was devoted animal lover.

Fox Photos/Getty Images

When a club owner gave Baker a pet cheetah named Chiquita to use as part of her dance show, she was delighted. In fact, she liked Chiquita so much that the cat stayed with her long after the act ended; eventually the cheetah traveled the world with Baker, always riding in her car and sleeping in her bed. That wasn't Baker's only pet, though. She had a goat named Toutoute who lived in her dressing room at her nightclub, and at the same club she had a pet pig named Albert. Albert was no ordinary pig. Not only did he live in the club's kitchen and munch on food scraps, but Baker also liked to gussy him up with fancy perfumes. At one point Albert got so hefty from living this high life that he couldn't make it out of the kitchen's door any longer, so the door's frame had to be broken down.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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The World’s Last Blockbuster Has Been Transformed Into an Airbnb—and It Costs Just $4 Per Night

The Last Blockbuster on Earth is located in Bend, Oregon.
The Last Blockbuster on Earth is located in Bend, Oregon.
Airbnb

In March 2019, a Blockbuster store in Bend, Oregon, became the last remaining Blockbuster on Earth. If you aren't satisfied just browsing the shelves and the candy selection of the rare '90s relic, soon you'll be able to book it for a night for the cost of a movie rental.

As CNN Travel reports, the last Blockbuster location will be available to rent on Airbnb for $4 a night beginning August 17. Sandi Harding, the manager of the video rental store since 2004, has set up the space to recreate the experience of renting a VHS tape and having an old-school movie night at home.

Settle in for an old-school movie night at The Last Blockbuster in Bend, Oregon.Airbnb

A sofa in the makeshift living room features a pull-out mattress complete with retro Memphis pattern sheets. After getting cozy in bed, guests can enjoy their choice of movie from the store's robust VHS collection on a big, boxy TV. And naturally, popcorn and other movie theater snacks are available onsite.

Be Kind. Rewind.Airbnb

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Bend Blockbuster's opening. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, having a big celebration was impossible, so Harding found a way to mark the occasion with a more intimate event. "With everybody being stuck at home and re-experiencing family time together, we thought it would be fun to enjoy some family time in a throwback '90s environment," she told CNN.

When the bookings open on Airbnb on August 17, guests will be able to reserve their one-night stay for September 18, 19, or 20. The space is limited to four people, with guests from the same household preferred.

[h/t CNN Travel]