L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Rocky Twins

Courtesy the private collection of Gary Chapman.

Paal and Leif Roschberg (27 February 1909, Oslo - 21 March 1955, New York (Paal) and 10 May 1967, Oslo (Leif)), Norwegian identical twin brothers, dancers and performers, known professionally as the Rocky Twins. The sons of an army colonel, they showed creative impulses from an early age, studying ballet and dance in their hometown of Oslo, with possible further study in London and Paris. They made their professional debut in "Les Ailes de Paris" at the Casino de Paris in December 1927 - where they first performed their impression in drag of the famous Dolly Sisters - and by the following summer they were engaged at the Concert Mayol in "La Volupté de Paris" which starred Gina Palerme. They were a big hit with the Parisian public, described as "two tall, disturbingly attractive youths […] On stage and off it was impossible to tell them apart."

Costumed for their impression of the Dolly Sisters. (Five images.)
With Pasquali (?) in "Les Ailes de Paris."
 Costume design for the Rocky Twins by Gesmar, circa 1927. Courtesy the private collection of Gary Chapman.
In "La Volupté de Paris" at the Concert Mayol, with Gina Palerme at center, 1928.

They were then off to Vienna to perform in a revue at the Stadt Theatre, as well as sharing a bill with Joséphine Baker at the Royal Orfeum in Budapest. On their return to Paris in the spring of 1929, Mistinguett, the reigning queen of the Parisian music hall, took them to London where they performed at various venues and, later in the year, scored a big success in André Charlot’s cabaret revue at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The were a big success socially as well: "They were unbelievably handsome and so alike you couldn’t tell which was which. As one hostess remarked, you could never be sure which one you were talking to or had gone to bed with."

Outside of the Royal Orfeum Theatre in Budapest where they were appearing with Joséphine Baker, 1928. Courtesy the private collection of Gary Chapman.
Courtesy the private collection of Gary Chapman. (Two images.)

At the end of the year they were back in Paris, appearing with Mistinguett at the Casino de Paris. The star of the show later recalled that "they were so ravishing that each night after the show they would allow themselves to be kidnapped by beauty enthusiasts of both sexes"; at the time one of the brothers was having an affair with the Chilean millionaire aesthete Arturo López Willshaw. They continued performing with Mistinguett through the next year and were a part of her European tour in the spring and summer of 1931. Then they appeared with Mona Lee in an act that toured Scandinavia.

With Mistinguett.
With Mistinguett in "Paris·Miss", the Casino de Paris, 1929-30. (Two images.)
With Mistinguett in Budapest, circa 1931. Courtesy the private collection of Gary Chapman.
With Mona Lee, 1931.

They had previously made overtures to America, the European scout for the Shuberts reporting that, "their ideas of salary were rather exaggerated." But by the end of 1931 they were in New York, although it’s unclear how they occupied themselves until their arrival in Los Angeles the following spring. There they joined their friend, actress Julanne Johnston, as a trio, securing engagements for exhibition dancing at society functions. At one such event, the brothers were spotted by director Edmund Goulding who cast them in the Marion Davies feature "Blondie of the Follies." That same year they opened the Club New Yorker with Johnston, the star attraction being the celebrated drag performer Jean Malin. During their stay in Los Angeles, they continued their frantic and rather madcap lifestyle, frequenting private clubs and late night parties, socializing with the likes of Tallulah Bankhead and William Haines; at the time they were described as "absolute madmen", completely wild, playing pranks and, as they had been in Paris, "pursued by international swingers of the day and admired as male courtesans."

With Marion Davies (and Billie Dove) in "Blondie of the Follies", 1933. (Two images.)

By the fall of 1933 they were back in New York in rehearsals for the Ziegfeld Follies until Actors Equity found that their participation broke some sort of rule. They continued playing cabarets and other venues mostly in New York for the next two years, but with gradually diminishing success. Shortly after their last appearance in New York in March of 1936, they returned to Europe where they continued touring cabaret nightspots. But by the following year, it appears they had split up permanently.

With Nayan Pearce, Denmark (?), 1937.
Paal in "Es leuchten die Sterne" with the film's star La Jana (née Henny Hiebel), 1938. (Two images.)
In "Es leuchten die Sterne."

Paal appeared in a German film in 1938 before returning to the United States, where he married in 1941 - the couple later divorced - before going home to Norway for the remainder of the war. He spent three years in the Norwegian air force, one-year in the American air force, six months with the occupational troops in Frankfurt, and was awarded several medals. He then returned once again to Norway where he wrote a memoir of his childhood and worked at screenwriting, before his death in New York at the age of only forty-six. (He was allegedly murdered, though I haven't been able to find any further information about this.)

Paal, Berlin, 1938. (In Germany he was billed as "Paul Roschberg.")
Leif, 1963. Courtesy the private collection of Gary Chapman.

After the pair parted company, Leif spent two years in Sicily before marrying in 1939. He soon returned to New York, though, and now divorced, he remarried in 1944; that marriage also ended in divorce. He took up painting and exhibited twice in New York during 1952. He later returned to Norway where he continued to paint and worked as a tour guide in Oslo. He apparently lived a very secluded life after his brother's death and died at the age of fifty-eight.

Portrait drawing by Nils von Dardel, 1928.
Photograph by Atelier d'Ora.


I've only presented the briefest outline of the brother's story here. The acknowledged expert on the subject is British author Gary Chapman, who's spent more than a quarter century researching their lives and careers. In addition, he possesses certainly the most comprehensive archive of Rocky Twins photographs and print memorabilia; beyond those I've specifically identified, his collection includes many more of the images featured here. This post would not have been possible without the important work he's done. All of which has resulted in the book he published two years ago, The Rocky Twins: Norway's Outrageous Jazz Age Beauties. The book is available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Chapman also maintains Jazz Age Club, a website devoted to the same era and milieu that the Rocky Twins inhabited. The site contains much information about the popular culture and personalities of the day, with particular focus given to the celebrated Dolly Sisters. 

Finally, I wanted to share the video of the talk Chapman gave in Norway last year, part of "OUTing the past" in Bergen. Very interesting!

Friday, September 25, 2020

Picturing importance - two portraits by Mattheus Verheyden, 1755

Gerard Cornelis Van Riebeeck (1722-1759), Secretary of Delft. He is shown standing in front of his country house "Essensteyn" in Voorburg; the building was demolished in the nineteenth century. His portrait is paired with that of his second wife, Charlotte Beatrix Strick van Linschoten (1732-1795).


Mattheus Verheyden (1 July 1700, Breda - 3 November 1777, The Hague), Dutch painter. The youngest of seven children, his mother died when he was two years old. His father, also a painter, died when he was eleven, and he was made a ward of the city of Breda. The regents of the orphanage sent him to The Hague where he studied with several prominent artists; it appears he was working as a professional by the age of seventeen. At twenty-two, planning a trip to England, he returned to Breda to paint portraits of the orphanage regents who had sponsored him, and to accept his inheritance, the. money with which he was to travel. But in addition to the regent's portraits, he received commissions from many of the city's leading citizens, as well as falling in love and marrying, and he never made the planned trip to England.