“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

How Some Show Girls Stuck it to the Nazis in 1936 Shanghai

Posted: October 22nd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

The A.B. (Abe) Marcus Show was once a well known “Ziegfeld-like” touring company of showgirls (mostly American and British) that played around the world on long and grueling tours taking American burlesque and vaudeville global. Their Far East tours took in China, as well as destinations as disparate as Japan, Fiji, the Straits Settlements, Singapore, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Java, Borneo, India, New Zealand and Australia before heading to South Africa, up to the West Indies, and then across the United States and Hawaii. Legend has it that Abe Marcus was a New England dry cleaner who got stuck with a load of theatre costumes nobody ever came to collect so decided to start his vaudeville show. Their shows took inspiration (loosely – both in style and clothing) from all these places. They also recruited dancers in all the locations too – by the time they got to America in 1936 the show boasted several “Soo-chow Gals”. They were always running close to politics wherever they went – they were banned from landing in Japan in 1939, being considered too much of a display of “Occidental culture” for the authorities in Tokyo and Osaka. Their shows were invariably sell-outs, themed around “L’Orient”, “La Vie Paris” and the like but always with the headline “GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS“. The traveling company was usually composed of seventy-five people, and played two, two and a half hour performances per day. A few later stars, notably Danny Kaye and Fat Jack Leonard, started out with the Marcus troupe.

In 1936 the Abe Marcus show “La Vie Paris” hit Shanghai – sadly I’m not sure where it played – but it was a sell out. But there’s always one curmudgeon. And this time it was the German Consul in Shanghai, the rather dour Hermann Kriebel, who complained. It seems one of the Marcus showgirls came out on stage in a rather militaristic helmet the committed Nazi took offense to. It was slightly odd that Kriebel should object to militarism as he was one of the first members of the Nazi Party, had participated in the 1923 Munich Beer Hall Putsch and was a German delegate at the peace negotiations in Paris in 1919 where his infamous parting shot to the press was “see you in 20 years time!” It seems things also got a bit touchy in Hong Kong (though this was somewhat later on a tour in 1939) when a clown appeared on stage with an umbrella – to anyone who’d ever seen a newsreel an umbrella and a British accent meant that old appeaser Neville Chamberlain.

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Hermann Kriebel – confirmed Nazi and German Consul to Shanghai

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The Abe Marcus girls line up…

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4 Comments on “How Some Show Girls Stuck it to the Nazis in 1936 Shanghai”

  1. 1 Bill Porteous said at 12:40 pm on December 1st, 2015:

    While Abe Marcus came from what was then Russia to New England there is no evidence that he was ever in dry cleaning. It would seem to be more likely that the story was made up be people that did not understand how he got started.

  2. 2 Nancy Zisquit Grando said at 2:40 pm on June 7th, 2017:

    Bea Marcus was my Grandfather’s sister.
    My Mother spent a summer on the show.
    I have many photos of Bea and Abe Marcus. Bea was a concert pianist.

  3. 3 Paul French said at 4:46 pm on June 9th, 2017:

    what marvellous ancestors!

  4. 4 Bill Porteous said at 3:18 am on December 3rd, 2018:

    Near as I can determine Abe Marcus made 2 trips to Asia. One in 1934 and another in 1937/8. He certainly played Shanghai in ’34 and I am not sure about the second trip. The suggested 1936 date is probably in error, but playing Shanghai is documented along with the theater.


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