The Lady Vanishes
From NEWSWEEK magazine - April 10, 1950
Melodramas have long been the stock in trade of the fusty old 272-seat Grand Guignol theater in the Pigalle section of Paris. Next to the Folies Berger and other music halls, it is the biggest theatrical magnet for tourists. No matter how sketchy their French, they can always react to screams, shadowy hands clutching throats, and bodies toppling out of secret cupboards.
One night last week the Grand Guignol audience was abruptly told between the second and third acts of James Hadley Chase’s lurid “No Orchids for Miss Blandish” to get its money back at the box office. The play could no go on because its star, a 22-year-old blonde, Nicole Riche, playing her first big part as an heiress kidnapped and raped by an American gangster, had suddenly vanished from the theater.
My Excuses. Backstage gossip reported: Nicole Riche was handed a note while dressing for the third act. She read it, turned pale, flung on a mousseline negligee, and ran to the stage door. There she talked with a tall blond man in a camel’s hair coat. While the doorman’s back was turned, she disappeared.
The dressing-room floor yielded the note: “Mademoiselle, my excuses for bothering you, but I wish to see you urgently about your mother. I shall await you in the passage outside. Best wishes.” It was signed Tesso or Messo. There were also two unsigned notes. One denounced the play as salacious; the second read: “You have no right to appear in an immoral production.”
Next day a new actress, Liliane Ernout, who learned the part in a few hours, announced that she had received threatening telephone calls. Then the male lead, 25-year-old Jean-Marc Tennberg swallowed too much sleeping potion and was taken to the hospital, where doctors thought they might pull him through.
After two days of mystery, Nicole, still wearing her negligee, walked into a Paris police station at 4 a.m. on April Fool’s Day. Her kidnapper had abandoned her without food in a house an hour’s drive outside the city, she said, and finally turned her loose in the forest. Friendly gypsies helped her find her way back. The Pigalle police commissioner was unsympathetic. “Sheer poppycock,” he said.