Cabaret Queen, Bricktop Is Dead

Huntington Herald-Dispatch
February 2, 1984

New York Funeral Services will be held tomorrow for the woman called Bricktop, whose shapely legs captivated Cole Porter and whose hospitality drew the elite to cabarets in Paris, Rome and Mexico City.

Bricktop-born Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Smith in what she "Alderson, West, by God, Virginia" died in her sleep early Tuesday at her apartment on Manhattan's West Side. She was 89 and had suffered from arthritis and heart disease in recent years.

"I'll tell you this," she once said "I know I'm going to die a coward screaming and hollering because God has given me everything in this life."

She numbered Porter, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and F. Scott Fitzgerald among her friends. Her proteges included Josephine Baker, Mabel Mercer and Duke Ellington. Her red hair and cigars were her signature.

When she was a child, she told her mother, "I want to be in the back room of a saloon." And when she grew old enough, she went north, to Harlem, to sing and dance at Baron Wilkins Club and Connie's Inn.

Cole Porter once walked into the cabaret and ordered a bottle of wine. "Little girl, can you do the Charleston?" he asked. Yes, she said. And when she demonstrated the new dance, he exclaimed, "What legs! What legs!"

Porter hired her to give Charleston lessons to his guests and took her to Venice, where she sang and danced at private parties on his barge.

By 1926, she had opened Chez Bricktop on Rue Pigalle and had perfected her role as a hostess. She'd stop by each table for a few minutes to chat. But, she once said, "I never have a drink with a guest unless they've begged me three or four times." She called the Duke of Windsor "Sire," but everyone else was "darling."

Writer John Steinbeck was once thrown out of her club for "ungentlemanly behavior." He regained her affection by sending a taxi full of roses.

Bricktop left Paris as the Germans marched down the Champs Elysee in 1939. In 1944, with the help of heiress Doris Duke, she opened a cafe in Mexico City; when that one closed, in 1949, she opened another on the Via Veneto in Rome.

She closed Bricktop's for good in 1961.

She sang from time to time after that, but as she once said,"I'm not a singer. I'm not a dancer. I'm a performer and a saloon-keeper."

James Hoskins, who helped write her autobiography, "Bricktop By Bricktop." published last year, said Bricktop was active right up to her death, talking by phone with friends just hours before she died.

Sources on Bricktop