Guadalupe Aballe

The true Sadie Baron Wakefield

t’s not simple to write about Sadie Baron Wakefield. Rivers of ink have flown about this mysterious woman and her relationship with Carlos Gardel. So much so that her real figure was blurred to be replaced with the appearance of an imaginary character, of fiction, that has a place of its own in the Gardelian mythology: the «Baroness Wakefield», «Madame Chesterfield», the «Millionaire widow». In fact, she was neither a baroness, nor a widow nor the owner of Chesterfield cigarettes.

Sadie Baron was born in Baltimore, United States, on June 19, 1879; daughter of Bernhard Baron, a businessman born in Russia who lived in the United States until he settled in England around 1895. There he headed the Carreras tobacco company (one of his most known trademarks was Craven A) and, thanks to him, the enterprise grew and imposed itself on the market.

Sadie was married to George Wakefield, an American industry man, and one of her sisters, Bertha Baron, married Edward Levy, taking the fiancé the name Baron to satisfy her father-in-law. A granddaughter of Edward and Bertha is today the writer Elizabeth Luard.

Bernhard Baron died in 1929, a period when Sadie came to know Carlos Gardel. Everything seems to indicate that the singer was introduced to the Wakefields during a season he spent in France between 1928 and 1929.

Armando Defino said about George Wakefield: «This gentleman knew Gardel since his first voyage to Paris, where he was based». And if we take into account what Manuel Pizarro says: «Gardel met Sadie on one of his trips to the Côte Azure. We may date that event in February 1929».

The friendship between Gardel and Sadie Baron originated comments of all kinds, many of them ill-natured and spread without verifying the authenticity of the information. They said she was infatuated with him, that she admired and protected him in every sense, that she afforded all his expenses and that she financed all his movies, that she had given him a luxurious cigar-box as a gift, and a car or that she used to send him gardenias in gold flowerpots to his hotel. So the legend of «Madame Chesterfield» was born relegating to oblivion the authentic Sadie Baron and her husband.

If we believe what Manuel Pizarro says, the gossiping that did no good to Gardel would have begun since the very moment Carlos was acquainted with the lady. The musician used to say that even the guys who frequented El Garrón referred to Carlos with hardly pleasant nicknames. In his testimony, Pizarro, was cruel describing Sadie: «An old dame with exaggerated makeup and who had more money than numbers are in the phone directory... The old woman was as wide as tall». However he recognized in her something positive: «One gets used to anything and, finally, the old lady was quite discreet and generous. For instance, when I opened my own cabaret, the Villa Rose Pigalle, she turned up with a nice lamplight. She knew how to choose gifts».

By 1931 their friendship was well consolidated. Gardel spent his time with the Wakefields and probably the Chrysler engine 12070 was a present from Sadie or from the couple.

While Melodía de arrabal was shot, Sadie used to visit the singer in the studios, and this would have caused, according to what José Sentis said years later, an angry comment by Imperio Argentina. Gardel had arrived at the studio on a black car and Imperio stopped him saying: «Have you become an undertaker by way of going out with old women?». The singer did not answer but the following day they say he came on a green car like the one Imperio owned.

When Gardel visited Nice, he used to frequent Villa L’Oiseau Blue, the magnificent chalet that the Wakefields owned on the Cap de Croix Avenue, neighborhood of Cimiez. This country house, bought by Sadie and her husband on December 14, 1928 from the Fiedlers, was a splendid estate with two stories, a big garden, a tennis court, with a total area of 4.665 square meters.

In April 1931, Gardel met at the Palais de la Mediterranée another friend of Sadie's: Charles Chaplin. On one occasion, Sadie paid homage to Chaplin by inviting him to their magnificent chalet. Gardel was present at that spectacular evening, along with other forty persons, in a room lighted by Chinese lamps he would have sung to honor the immortal comic actor.

Irineo Leguisamo, the great friend of El Zorzal's, recalled an anecdote at Sadie's home in Nice, when, during one of the dinners when the ice cream was brought, Pierotti —Gardel's agent— tried to be polite and handed it to the lady host, but he failed in calculating the distance and instead of placing it on the dish, the ice cream fell on Sadie's lap. She received the incident with humor, laughed and left to change clothes.

Mario Battistella was another friendship who visited Villa L'Oiseau Blue, due to an encounter with Carlos Gardel, after the shooting of Melodía de arrabal. He remembered a cocktail with champagne and a small bar counter in Japanese style, richly incrusted in mother-of-pearl and ivory, on a red and black background on which there was a photo which showed Gardel and Chaplin with Sadie.

Battistella also recalls that when the singer was in Paris and she went to the Côte Azure, she offered to all of them the floor she owned in the mansion on Victor Emmanuel III Street in front of the Grand Palais in the Champs Elisées.

In 1933 Gardel visited shortly Paris especially invited by Sadie. She paid all the expenses either for him or for his accompanists. On December 18 Sadie offered to him a dinner as farewell in a private room of the Café de Paris. The attendants were Defino, Horacio Pettorossi, Castellanos, two couples acquainted with her, and her chaperon. They had caviar, a very good cuisine, wines, liquors and champagne. Classical compositions were performed on piano and Carlos sang French songs. They even danced for a while and, of course, made a toast for the future success of Gardel in New York.

The last voyage of Gardel to France took place in 1934. A letter that Carlos sent to Alfredo Le Pera from Paris in its letterhead is the address, 5, Avenue Victor-Emmanuel, possibly, the apartment that Battistella mentioned in his book.

George Wakefield contributed money for Carlos's movies. He was the main shareholder of the Exito's Spanish Pictures, whose director was Gardel himself. After Carlos's death, Armando Defino had to fulfill certain proceedings in the city of New York and there he was helped and advised by some acquaintances of the singer's. The main one was George Wakefield's. Defino regarded him as a close friend and the one «who most stood out» helping.

The Wakefields left France in 1940 and settled in the United States. Sadie Baron died in Caldwell, county of Warren, state of New York on November 2, 1942.

Among the preoccupations of his husband, was the destiny of the famous chalet of the neighborhood of Cimiez. In his will, George Wakefield had decided to bequeath it to his nieces and nephews and, in case of relinquishment, to the city hall of Nice to be used as a center of rest for convalescent mothers or children. In any case the estate had to be used for a charitable purpose under the name «Sadie Baron Wakefield Home».

George Wakefield died in Monaco on March 5, 1947 at age 71, the heirs relinquished the ownership of Villa L'Oiseau Bleu and the city of Nice was the legatee according to the provisions of the will. Now and since 1968 there is a day nursery that keeps the original name.

I thank the contribution of Georges Galopa, vice-president of the Association Carlos Gardel of Toulouse and of Louis-Guilles Pairault and Dominique Demangel, of the Municipal Archive of Niza.