Romania may take pride with many women whose appearance in history left traces that cannot be deleted by the passing of time. Some of them are Maria Tanase, the artist that impressed all influential men of her time, Smaranda Braescu, Romania’s first female pilot and Christine Valmy, the lady nicknamed “The Queen of Cosmetics”.
Maria Tanase, the nightingale of the Carpathians
Once Maria Tanase hit the stage, folklore music experienced an enthusiastic revival. Her studio work and live recordings include a highly personal and deeply touching performance of over 500 masterpieces from the Romanian folklore legacy of all regions of Romania and the distinctive tone of her voice made her passionate fans of all ages and cultural circles – indeed, she was one diva to impress poor and rich people alike! – nickname her the Edith Piaf of Romania. Lyrical jewels known not by the inhabitants of these regions but also by people living in various places all around the world were promoted by her unmistakable voice, that impressed people throughout the years, all over the world.
The queen of Romanian folklore songs, a complete artist and an emblematic personality of the Romanian culture was born on September 25, 1913, in Bucharest, in the Moulders’ Suburb and entered the stage for the first time in the year 1921.
The glorious start of Maria Tanase’s career owes a lot to Romanian folklore collector Harry Brauner, painter Victor Brauner’s brother, who had conceived Maria’s repertoire until the beginning of the 1940s.
In May 1934, she was employed by the “Carabus” Theatre and by the “Carabus-Express” revue as Mary Atanasiu – a stage name selected by the great Constantin Tanase to avoid name confusion.
Starting in 1935, she attended the Royal Conservatoire of Music and Dramatic Art, as a student of Ion Manolescu, with whom she performed on the stage of the Municipal Theatre.
Her fame grew after her tremendous success in Johann Strauss’ city, yet her voice became notorious all over Romania after her debut on radio. After the recital held by Maria Tanase at the end of summer classes at the Popular University in Valenii de Munte, Prahova County, historian Nicolae Iorga nicknamed her “The Magic Bird”.
While visiting Paris, Maria Tanase met Constantin Brancusi and they had a short, yet passionate love affair. It seems that the master of sculpture adored her voice so much that he refused to hear her “wailing” any longer and he wanted her to sing on the stage of the Opera. Yet, Maria had a different career choice. Besides the famous violin virtuoso and composer Grigoras Dinicu (1889 – 1949), the artist was the ambassador of Romanian folklore music at the World Exhibition in New York, in 1939, where she was highly acclaimed by the American media after performing in front of President Franklin Roosevelt and former President Hoover. The other attendants to the exhibition were George Enescu, professor Dimitrie Gusti and Brancusi himself.
Although she was already considered a diva, Maria Tanase inclined in front of George Enescu and kissed the great composer’s hand. Later on, he would be the one to praise her amazing talent.
In 1940, the Iron Guard destroyed Maria Tanase’s all existing recordings at the Radio Company and their stamps.
In 1941, she went on a tour in Turkey and enjoyed tremendous success.
According to documents in the Security Archives, the artist had been a collaborator of the Special Intelligence Service (SSI) and was under supervision by Soviet authorities and by the newly-founded Communist regime. She was arrested for espionage but she was released due to lack of evidence.
At the peak of her glory, Maria Tanase performed for King Mihai, Marshal Ion Antonescu and other personalities in Romania and abroad. Her rooms were always filled with flowers, but she never hesitated to sing in order to alleviate the pain of war casualties and to provide education to young people.
In 1952, she became a teacher at the Medium Music School No. 1 in Bucharest. In April 1954, the Arts Department in the Ministry of Culture proposed that Maria Tanase would be decorated with the Order of Work, Class III, and in 1955, she was granted the State Award. In 1957, the famous artist was offered the supreme title, that of emeritus artist.
Due to the fact that she was tormented throughout her life by the regret of not being able to have children, in 1960, she professionally adopted a 17 year-old girl who had impressed her. The young girl’s name was Minodora Nemes and she was singing in a folklore ensemble. Unfortunately, the role of symbolic mother only lasted for three years. During a tour, the artist was diagnosed with lung cancer. The woman with a golden voice and a simple, unspoiled soul, the elegant lady with no inhibitions and a magnetic presence, irremediably in love with Romanian folklore and her beloved outskirts passed away on June 22, 1963, not having reached the age of 50. Her funerary cortege consisted of dozens of thousands of people who marched on the boulevards of Bucharest.
Smaranda Braescu, Romania’s first female pilot
Smaranda Braescu was Romania’s first female pilot, the first accredited female parachutist of our country and European parachute jumping champion in 1931, as well as world parachute champion in 1932. She was born in 1897 and allegedly she died in 1948.
Nobody would have believed that a graduate of the Decorating Art and Pottery Section of the Belle Arte Academy in Bucharest would exhibit such manly hobbies. Nonetheless, on July 5, 1928, Smaranda Braescu performed her first parachute jump at a height of 600 metres.
Owner of two planes, a Pevuz biplane and a Milles Hawk double-engine plane, she established in 1932 a world record by crossing the Mediterranean Sea in six hours and ten minutes, on a distance of 1,100 kilometres, from Rome to Tripoli. In 1932, she also won the world parachute jump championship, after having jumped with a parachute manufactured in Romania at a height of 7,400 metres and landing in 25 minutes. This record was surpassed only 20 years later. She was an instructor of military parachutists at Battalion No. 1 of Parachutists in Baneasa.
During the war, she was a pilot in the “White Squadron” of medical planes on the Eastern Front and then on the Western Front. Communists convicted her to prison for contempt of Court, as she was not found guilty of having any connection in the National Resistance Movement in the “Black Capes” trial. Her final days are uncertain, as she went missing without a trace. There are rumours that she was buried in the Central Cemetery in Cluj Napoca, as Maria Popescu.
Christine Valmy, The Queen of Cosmetics
Christine Valmy was born Cristina Xantopol in Bucharest in 1926. She graduated the Law School of the University of Bucharest in 1946. Duringthis period, she took a course in dermatology and skin care, which will later form the foundation of her career as an esthetician. In 1948, she opens her first salon in Bucharest, offering skin treatments based on traditional botanical remedies. To avoid the Communist pressures imposed by the Soviet Union, along with her mother and young daughter Marina,she emigrated to Greece in 1959. After working as the representative of a cosmetics company for Greece and Israel, Valmy and her family emigrated in the United States in 1960 penniless and unable to speak the language.
In New York, she changes her name to Christine Valmy, inspired by the victory of the French against the Austrians during the French Revolution. After working in various places as a esthetician, she opened her own salon, but found teaching more rewarding. She persevered with her own techniques, now collectively known as the ‘’Valmy method’’, with a philosophy to ‘’reveal not to conceal’’ the natural beauty of a healthy, well-functioning skin.
In June 1966, Christine Valmy opened her first skin care school in New York.
Her first step was to create an American association of skin care specialists (estheticians), an association that gained the respect of the international governing body of skin care professionals, CIDESCO.
In 1985, Christine Valmy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to serve on the United States National Council on Vocational Education, in recognition of her contribution in the education field, to assist in developing the country’s policies of vocational education.
In April 1968, Christine Valmy was awarded a special merit honor by the French Congress of Aesthetics held in Versailles, France for promoting the esthetics profession in the United States. She was also given the outstanding Republican Ethnic Woman of the Year award in 1981. In 1976, President Gerald Ford nominated Christine Valmy as the Business Person of the Year for the State of New Jersey, where her second school and laboratories are located.
Valmy was a member of many boards of different groups. She was also a trustee of the Famous People and People International, an organization founded by President Eisenhower to promote friendship and understanding in the world. She took part in the functions of the American Beauty Association (ABA) and acted as a chairperson of a politically active group of former Romanian immigrants, Concerned Romanian Immigrants for a Strong America.
Christine Valmy is the author of three books on skin care and esthetics.
In 1992, Marina Valmy, her daughter, became Director of Christine Valmy International School in New York.
Christine Valmy’s name traveled all over the globe, as the became one of the most influential female personalities of all times. On January 18, 2015, the Queen of Cosmetics passed away, leaving behind a fortune estimated at approximately USD 70 million and numerous facial treatment receipts that helped millions of people worldwide.