The brits called them fags! In the 20's and 30's, cigarettes were a dime a dozen, lit aflame and enjoyed one after another. Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson knew all about fags! After all, he sang about love being just like a cigarette. Hutch certainly enjoyed the fags, but once the pleasure was over, he ever so cavalierly extinguished their butts and smashed them underfoot. He often did that with the things he claimed to love including men, women, and children, too.
Leslie Hutchinson was born on the Caribbean island of Grenada, and by way of Harlem and Paris, immigrated to London in 1927 to become one of the UK's most popular and highest paid cabaret entertainers. As a youngster in Grenada, he was a child prodigy who carried the hopes and dreams of his family and countrymen, on his back. So, as a young adult he was whisked off to New York to study medicine, but in Harlem Hutch immersed himself in the jazz culture and established himself as a popular piano player in the style of Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.
When his parents found out that a switch had been made from medicine to music, they cut him off financially and he promptly cut them off forever. Legend has it that during a gig in Florida, Hutch was run out of the country on a rail by the Ku Klux Klan, hence his arrival in Paris in 1924. Once there, he made friends with the black American expatriates like Josephine Baker and Alberta Hunter. It was also in Paris that he met Cole Porter (right) and became his "protege" and bedmate. Porter encouraged him to sing, and during this time, it was Leslie Hutchinson who introduced many of the Cole Porter songs that would eventually become world famous, and "I'm A Gigolo" was composed precisely with the singer in mind.
Also around this same time, Hutch met the woman who would change his life forever - Lady Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma. The attraction was immediate! Edwina (right) suggested that Hutch follow her to London, and with her influence, his rise to fame (and notoriety) was extraordinary. Sexy, mellow, and immaculate in white tie and tails, his high-pitched crooning and piano dexterity seduced many female (and male) fans of the upper echelon of society. Headlining at the most exclusive clubs throughout Europe, it looked as though Hutch's savoir faire would allow him to transcend racial attitudes and bias, but to his dismay he found himself just another black entertainer at the end of the day. Still, he was able to launch a most successful recording career, and counted many royals among his closest friends. He even knocked up a few society debutantes along the way! He was soon fluently bi-lingual, flagrantly bisexual and satirized in the press and in books like Evelyn Waugh's Decline And Fall.
He was a SUPERSTAR now! And that caused him to forget all about the black American wife who tagged along behind him. She was soon relegated to the shadows of his life and he told people that she was his housekeeper. Hutch was now moving almost exclusively among high-society whites, and living on a grand scale.
They coveted his "exoticism" and he freely satiated their thirsts. Among those with a serious fever for his flavor were the legendary British actor/singer Ivor Novello, actress Tallulah Bankhead and another star hell-bent on forgetting her more colorful roots, the Hollywood temptress soon to be known as Merle Oberon.
Meanwhile, Lord Louis Mountbatten, and his wife Lady Edwina, were secretly enjoying an open marriage of convenience that was the subject of gossip and scandal since it began. They were also both equally bisexual. But it wasn't until a local paper alleged that Lady Mountbatten was whoring all over town with a well-known "colored" singer that folks really got upset. The story revealed how Buckingham Palace had issued orders for her to leave town so the steam from the affair could die down. Whether that was true or not, it just so happened that the Mountbattens were out of town when the headlines broke. King George V ordered the couple to come home immediately to address the brewing scandal and to clear the Royal Family of the allegation that Edwina had been ordered out of Britain because she had a black lover. Everyone who was anyone already knew Hutch and Lady Mountbatten were carrying on. Their public behavior was outrageous! But sometimes the papers got it only half right; they often identified the black man in question as the world-renowned concert singer-actor Paul Robeson.
Edwina kept Hutch in luxury and showered him with expensive jewlery. However, Mr. Hutchinson's own "family jewels" were legendary! Described as being like a "tree trunk" the Lady commissioned Cartier to design a diamond-encrusted sheath to protect them. Once, literally locked in the heat of passion, they were rushed to the hospital for vaginismus, a rare sexual phenomenon that caused them to lock genitals. This led to the couple being whisked flagrante delicto from the Mountbatten residence, to a private hospital where they were seperated only by the doctors.
Buckingham Palace had had enough! Backlash was imminent and severe! They issued orders that the name of Leslie Hutchinson was never to be mentioned again in the local press. He was forbidden to appear on any of the Royal Command Performance bills, and his immense WWII contributions were never officially recognized. In addition to his own personal extravagances and excesses, the decline of the music hall style that he'd become so famous for was swift, and Hutch ended up paying a heavy price.
If you've never heard of Leslie Hutchinson you are not alone. He was not a stateside star. But some say it's more likely because his bedroom talents often overshadowed and were as efficient as his singing and piano playing. The instrument that Hutch carried in his pants would ultimately end up destroying him socially and almost professionally. He seemed to take great revenge in his dalliances with British royalty, including Princess Marina, the Duchess of Kent (the aunt of the Queen) and later Princess Margaret , the Queen's youngest sister. They were all notches on Hutch's bedpost! However, the affair between Hutch and Lady Edwina Mountbatten (the wife of the Queen's cousin) would continue for the next thirty odd years!
Leslie Hutchinson's peak years were certainly behind him by the end of the late 1940's, but he continued to perform well into his last days. By 1967, with his bloated, heavily made-up face and dyed hair, Hutch was now a caricature of the once beautiful black Adonis that conquered Europe, the heights of British society and stardom. He died virtually penniless in 1969 of 'overwhelming pneumonia' and only 42 mourners showed up for his funeral. However, when it looked like there might be burial problems, help came from a very unlikely source - Lord Louis Mountbatten stepped in and paid for everything.
All official biographies of Lord and Lady Mountbatten are pretty much Establishment-friendly, and practically avoid any mention of their sexual proclivities and antics, much less any mention of Leslie "Hutch" Hutchinson. However, Charlotte Breese wrote Hutch (1999) the definitive biography on the forgotten superstar which sparked a renewal of interest in his life and career, and influenced the sensational documentary High Society's Favorite Gigolo (2008) which aired on British television. Gigolo is an absolutely riveting profile of a profoundly insecure, but physically beautiful and greatly talented, black man who developed a callous love 'em and leave 'em mentality. Comprised of vintage footage, wonderful photos, and re-enactments, there were also interviews with the many children he left behind - scattered like so many cigarette butts in the rain. It is currently posted in its entirety on Youtube!
(A slightly different mix of this joint previously fired in February 2009)