You might think you know all about your family’s past thanks to an ancestry website or a dense photo album, but there are always surprises out there. The de Florians were saddened when their family matriarch passed away, but theynwere also shocked to learned that she’d been keeping a secret her entire life — right in the heart of Paris. With just the turn of a key, they learned the truth of their ancestral identity.
What’s it like to live a double life? The de Florians, asked themselves that after they bid farewell to their mother and grandmother, Mrs. de Florian. The process of sorting out her estate revealed that there was a side to her that she kept hidden for decades.
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French privacy law has concealed Mrs. de Florian’s full name, but many suspect she is Solange Beaugiron, a playwright who wrote under the stage name Solang Beldo. The finer details of her life, and that of another ancestor, were all contained within a single room.
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Mrs. de Florian’s children learned after her passing that their mom owned an apartment in Paris. She hadn’t set foot inside for decades although she had been living in southern France the whole time. The children, who were now adults, put a team together to investigate the apartment.
Mrs. de Florian’s children gathered a team, led by auctioneer Olivier Choppin-Janvry. At the apartment, they were to evaluate their mother’s assets, but they had no idea the treasure trove of history and family secrets they’d uncover.
When they entered through the apartment’s door, it was as if they were transported back in time. Furniture and personal belongings dating back to the 19th century were left untouched and in perfect condition. Aside from the persistent dust and some torn wallpaper, it was as if the owner had never left.
Paintings, vases, and taxidermy all made it clear that this was the home of a wealthy socialite. The tall windows let in the perfect amount of natural light and were covered with such elegant curtains. Illuminated by a chandelier, the apartment had the perfect atmosphere to light a fancy party.
The de Florians also sifted through old toys, clothes, a vanity complete with perfumes and make-up. There was evidence that began to put together the whole story of Mrs. de Florian’s life, starting with newspapers announcing the start of World War II.
The documents showed Mrs. de Florian’s life nearly fell apart. She once lived happily in Paris, but around the age of 23, she and her father Henri Beaugiron fled to the South of France to escape the violence of the invading Germans.
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There was not much more in the apartment of Mrs. de Florian’s life after that, as she never returned. But one glamorous artifact did lead historians to an exciting journey through the family’s past.
Among the paintings in the apartment, one piece struck the team and sparked an incredible revelation. A painting of a woman in an elegant, pink satin dress, was a part of the de Florian collection, but Choppin-Janvry and the team speculated that it was the creation of famous artist Giovanni Boldini.
While the auctioneer’s team searched for proof that it was the work of the famous artist, they also wondered who his beautiful subject could be. They soon learned her name was Marthe de Florian. She was Mrs. de Florian’s grandmother, and the owner of the incredible apartment — and an incredible story.
Marthe de Florian was born in the 18th district of Paris back in 1864. The neighborhood was well-known for its cultivation of art, and also for the infamous red-light district, where the renowned Moulin Rouge lies.
Marthe struggled early on in life. She gave birth to two sons without finding herself a husband to support her. Sadly, her firstborn did not live past 3 months. Despite her unfavorable position in life, Marthe found the resolve to move forward.
Marthe wanted to ensure a better life for her now only child, whom she named Henri, after her mother, Henriette Eloïse Bara. At the time, Marthe was a seamstress, but that would not provide her enough money to take care of her child.
She would have to go down the only other career path that was given to unmarried women. At the time, that was down the path of the red-light district as a prostitute, but Marthe de Florian would not become your garden variety street walker.
Marthe became what is called a “courtesan,” which is, simply put, a prostitute of the elite class. Marthe met the most esteemed people in high society, and made her money from the relationships. She was a classy lady, who did what she had to in order to raise her son properly.
Marthe lived a fine life with her son Henri. Filled with the riches of socialite society, she also had many special relationships, aside from her clientele. They helped furnish her luxurious apartment too.
The team investigating Marthe de Florian’s home uncovered letters like they’d never seen before. Each one was color coded based on which one of Marthe’s lovers sent it, and these admirers weren’t just any hoity-toity guests from her parties. They were famous.
One letter was, in fact, from the famous artist Giovanni Boldini — the same man experts believed to have created that striking portrait. The de Florian family secret had been unveiled! Marthe de Florian was not only the model for Giovanni’s painting; she was his muse and his lover.
While Marthe became a huge news story, the Boldini painting was sold in an auction for more than $2,500,000 — the most that any Boldini work has ever sold for. Marthe will forever be remembered in history as a beautiful muse, a loving mother, and an independent woman. Her story also got other families thinking about their own pasts.
Though Johnny Quan was shattered by his grandmother’s passing in 2020, he knew the 93-year-old lived a long, happy life. Since his grandma, Leung Ping, who also went by Teresa Leung, was a very private woman, he always wondered if she was hiding something, just like Mrs. de Florian.
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Leung Ping grew up in China before eventually moving to and retiring in San Francisco where the rest of the family also lives. Johnny, who resides in the Bay Area, works as a freelance artist and teacher and connects his love for the arts to his grandmother.
Johnny Quan / Facebook
It was no secret that Grandma Leung was a gifted musician, as she’d occasionally sing and play piano at family gatherings. But this was the extent of what Leung Ping revealed to her family, which always left Johnny wanting more.
While Leung Ping would let Johnny and the rest of the family flip through some of her photo albums, she had several that were always off limits. A frustrated, curious Johnny pried, begging his grandmother to see the secret albums, to which she replied “You can see them when I go.”
And when Leung Ping finally did go of natural causes, her family read through the behind-the-scenes chapters of her story. The album held photos that highlighted her life during the “Golden Age” of Shanghai, a time of prosperity and growth.
After studying at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, she was signed to Pathé Records (which was later taken over by EMI Group). The blooming talent signed her first record deal in 1942, at just 15 years old.
The singer and musician was formally trained in shidaiqu, a genre of fusion music originating in Shanghai in the ’20s. It combines aspects of Chinese folk music with jazz instrumentals, creating a unique hybrid sound. Shidaiqu vocals are sung in a high-pitched, almost babyish tone, one that requires a skilled voice.
Johnny and the family were dumbfounded to discover she recorded music and performed in nightclubs across Shanghai in the 1930s, wooing the mesmerized Western businessmen who often attended her shows. With hits like “Spring Does Not Come,” “My Youthful Days,” and “Wang Zhaojun,” Leung was a star. But her life was not without low points.
At the end of World War II, China endured a brutal civil war between the Communist Party of China and the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang. Chaos at the end of the ’40s made it difficult for China’s people to prosper, as foreign business and investments declined rapidly.
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After a costly battle in 1949, the government lost control of Shanghai to the Communists, forcing Leung and her family to flee to Hong Kong, a place many Chinese people were looking to as a refuge.
Escaping the political debacle in Shanghai was necessary for Leung’s career. See, the modern style of music that made her famous was deemed “yellow music,” as it contained materialistic nods that were looked down on by the Communist government.
“In Chinese, ‘yellow’, 黄, is a pun for ‘pornographic,'” Johnny stated. Thankfully, Hong Kong in the ’50s celebrated controversial arts and culture, making it a perfect place for Leung, a famous shidaiqu star, to thrive.
After a short run in Hong Kong, Leung and her family moved to Singapore, where she met philanthropist and entertainment mogul Sir Run Run Shaw. Aside from his immense influence in Asian entertainment (pioneering kung-fu films), he also co-produced certain American films like 1982’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner.
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Sir Run Run Shaw saw something in Leung Ping, so when classic Hollywood superstar Elizabeth Taylor visited Singapore in November 1957, he asked Leung to be one of the representatives of the Singaporean entertainment industry to welcome Liz Taylor.
Though Johnny and the family knew somewhat of Leung’s fame in China, they thought it was quite niche and underground. They had no idea she partied with American stars like Elizabeth Taylor and legendary contralto singer Marian Anderson. These prominent interactions only made Leung more famous in Asia.
And that fame took her places — like international beverage advertisements. German beer brand Beck made Leung the face of one of its ads, showing her accepting a beer off a platter while sporting a sleek black dress with a slit up the leg.
But with every page Johnny turned, more surprises followed. Amazingly, according to a tucked-away newspaper clipping, Leung also competed in the first-ever Miss Universe pageant in 1952. And while her career in the entertainment, music, and modeling industries was important, Leung had one other strong passion.
In the midst of her growing fame and cultural influence, Leung got married and became a mother. After more than three decades of success, she decided to immigrate to the U.S., thinking her children and future grandchildren may find greater opportunity there. San Francisco was their new home.
Because Leung Ping was a strong, zealous woman, she continued to pursue singing in America despite not speaking English fluently, and even gave music lessons. Though she was most eminent in Asia, Leung was invited to perform for adoring audiences in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, along with Canada and Australia.
Johnny and his family were flabbergasted at the rich history Grandma Leung Ping’s photo albums held. She hid so much from them, and though they’ll never know the reason as to why, they’ll forever celebrate her legacy and look up to her as a role model. She followed her dreams and let nothing stop her from shining.
We don’t typically view our elderly grandparents as these adventurous, audacious beings, whether or not they were like that in their previous life as Leung Ping was. But it was this waltz with the wild that fueled 97-year-old Ingeborg Neufeld.
In fact, the Austrian grandma was more like Leung Ping than other seniors her age. Though she didn’t ride in hot motorcycles, she did sing her guts out…in a death metal band.
“Old people are often excluded from life,” she explains. “When you’re old, life is a lonely land. All your relatives are gone, your friends are gone, and no one really cares. People don’t want to hear the truth.” But she was going to give it anyway .
You see, eighty years prior to this memorable television event, Inge’s world was rocked forever. She was a 16-year-old Jewish girl living in Vienna when World War II broke out and took her father away forever.
After several years of living in hiding, her mother took her to Switzerland where they lived as refugees. “I saw four years of Hitler, of prosecution, and I escaped over the mountains where I almost froze to death.”
Eventually, Inge managed to get a job as a housekeeper in a villa used by American spies. After the war, she was offered American citizenship, so she and her new husband Otto moved to Hollywood where they made quite an impression.
The two were musical prodigies who ended up writing for Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Doris Day. “Otto and I composed because we had nothing left except for our talents,” she said in an interview.
“After a while, I got very tired of that Hollywood life,” she said. “It’s all fake. So I left.” Inge instead focused all her energy into a new project that she has started with a couple of younger friends.
While some may find it hard to believe, Inge has taken her love for music and her passionate words to become the frontwoman of a heavy metal band called the TritoneKings — and she is having the time of her life.
“It’s important to stay active and surround yourself with young people and keep trying new things,” she explained. She never dreamed of being in a band, but she proved that it’s never too late to tread a new path.
“I met Inge almost 15 years ago in school,” her bandmate says. “One summer she started writing these poems about blood and death, and I told her ‘these sound like death metal lyrics,’ she said ‘death metal, what is that?'”
Inge’s poems, or lyrics as they’ve become, cover her views on the world, and she has seen quite a lot of it. “Let me stay here some more time,” she sang. “I have a message for humankind, learn a lesson from my forefathers’ wisdom.”
Since she doesn’t believe she can sing well, she screams her lines about growing older, about violence, about the slow destruction of the Earth and about how much life itself changes over time.
“Every one of my songs has a message,” she said. The first one is: don’t destroy what you can’t replace. The second is an even heavier message: you can’t avoid death, so you might as well laugh about it.”
Although Inge makes it look easy, leading a metal band in your 90s is no walk in the park. She can only record a few lines at a time and once forgot her own lyrics during a performance. “My spirit is very willing but my flesh is very tired…”
Nevertheless, TritoneKing has already produced 4 singles that all come with music videos, in which Inge rocks out as if she was only 72. They are called Totenköpfchen (skulls), Trümmer (rubble), I’m Still Here, and The Universe Echoes Back.
“You have to do something which makes you happy,” she said. “Some people drink, some people party… I write poetry. If I just wrote my poetry, nobody would hear or read it, but if I perform them on competitions, millions of people will hear it on YouTube.”
Inge was right; she and her band became a sensation despite her recently celebrated 97th birthday. “We know that this gives her energy, that this keeps her alive,” her bandmates said.
“I am alive,” Inge responded. “I don’t have to do special things to prove that. My concept of heaven and hell is that if in the moment of death you realize your life was full and good, you are in heaven. If you think ‘I should have done this or that,’ that is hell.”
When people asked her how they can obtain that heavenly feeling she said, “naturally, I always smiled. I smiled my way from poor to rich. I smiled my way out of the Holocaust. When you’re down and out, everybody tramples you.”
So confident in her message, Inge spread it on Switzerland’s Got Talent. As she walked onto the stage, a room full of questioning eyes stared back at her. “I am Inge and my biggest talent is not singing, but surviving,” she said. “You may laugh at me, but not until you do the same thing when you’re 94.”
And then she sang — and blew the judges way. “Forget the worm, forget the tomb, drink and eat and sing and laugh, then the devil will go back to hell.” While Inge’s age is relevant to her current stardom, her words stand incredibly powerfully on their own.
How long she will continue to record with the band is unclear, but it doesn’t matter to her — she is happy. “I’ve said that old age is a lonely land, but it can also be a beautiful land. There is total freedom.”
“Love affairs are rare, now it is the wind that caresses my hair, but the scent of a flower and the song of a bird are still there. Old friends are mostly gone, replace them with the young, they appreciate your stories of times gone by.”