07 August 2013


Dranem (1869-1935) was a French comic singer, music hall, stage and film actor. He started film career with silent shorts for Pathé Frères and played in a series of early sound films by Alice Guy. In the early 1930s he returned to the cinema for screen roles featuring his popular singing routines.

French postcard. Photo: Studio G.L. Manuel Frères. Caption: "Quand Paris est la ville lumière, Campari est le Roi des Amers." (When Paris is the capital of light, Campari is the king of the bitters.)

Leading Music Hall Entertainer
Dranem or Armand Dranem was born Armand Ménard in Paris, in 1869. He began working as an apprentice jeweller in a local shop before embarking on a career in entertainment. Adopting the singular stage name of Dranem, an anagram of Menard, he made his debut performance in 1894 at the Concert de l'Epqoue. In 1895, he performed with fellow newcomers Félix Mayol and Max Dearly in the Concert Parisien from where he went on to become a leading music hall entertainer in his own comic absurdist genre. In 1899, he was signed to perform at the famous Eldorado Club where he appeared regularly for the next twenty years. Dranem's comedic singing routine brought a loyal following and his work made him a very wealthy man. In 1910 he purchased the Château de Ris in the town of Ris-Orangis, south of Paris. He established a charitable foundation to operate the large building as a senior citizens home for retired performers. On the grounds, a bandstand and an open-air theatre provided entertainment. His Dranem Foundation continued to operate until the year 2000 and the property remains a government operated retirement home open to all members of the public. During World War I, Dranem continued his benevolence by performing for the troops at music halls and for wounded soldiers at military hospitals.

French postcard by F.C. & Cie., no. 121. Photo: Paul Darly.

French postcard. Photo: Paul Darly.

Pathé Silents
Active in variety shows, café-concerts, and as a performer in operettas, Dranem also acted and sang in live theatre and in film. According to Alison McMahan, Dranem already acted in 1900 in the Pathé Frères silent Ma Tante/My Aunt, though Laurent Mannoni in Encyclopedia of Early Cinema dates this film as 1903. According to Mannoni, Pathé launched his film career in 1901 with Le salut de Dranem/Dranem's Salute to the Audience (Ferdinand Zecca, 1901), followed by several silent shorts by Pathé. These shorts showed sometimes Dranem in drag, and often as the title character as well. Mannoni mentions: Histoire grivoise racontée par une concierge/Saucy Story as Told by the Concierge (1902), Ma Tante/My Aunt (Ferdinand Zecca, 1903), Le mitron/The Baker's Boy (Ferdinand Zecca, 1904), Le rêve de Dranem/Dranem's Dream (Ferdinand Zecca, 1905) to Le tondeur galant/The Gallant Shearer (1912). McMahan also mentions Man Eating Pomegranates (1903). IMDb also lists Les souliers de Dranem/Dranem's Shoes (Ferdinand Zecca, 1908), Dranem fait ressemeler ses ribouis (1910), Le mariage de Dranem/Dranem's Marriage (Ferdinand Zecca, 1912) and Dranem sténo-dactyle/Dranem as shorthand dactyle (1912), and the Molière adaptation Le médecin malgré lui/The doctor in spite of himself (1913). In 1905, Dranem performed in a series of 11 early sound films, 'phonoscènes'. They were produced by Gaumont and directed by Alice Guy. The titles were Allumeur Marche/Lighter-on, Le trou de mon quai/My Quay's Hole, Valsons, V'la retameur/V'la the tinker, Les p'tits pois/Little Peas, L'enfant du cordonnier/The child of a shoemaker, Etre légume/Being vegetable, Le cucurbitacée/Cucurbit, Le boléro cosmopolite/The cosmopolitan bolero, Bonsoir, M'sieurs, dames/Good evening ladies and Gentlemen, Le Vrai Jiu-jitsu/Dranem Performs 'The True Jiu-Jitsu', and Five O'Clock Tea.

French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 79. Photo: Paramount.

A Misfortunate Ostrich Breeder
Alison MacMahan writes, "Dranem was a very energetic performer, moving around the entire stage, combining whole body language with pantomime and caricature. Although he wore the same 'bum' or 'clown' costume in each of his films, he had a different prop (a bucket, a poncho, a vegetable) in each one." In the 1920s, Dranem only acted in two films. He had a small part in La clé de voute/The keystone (Roger Lion, 1925) with Gina Palerme, but he played the lead in the late silent comedy J'ai l'noir/Le suicide Dranem (Max de Rieux, 1929), in which Dranem is a misfortunate ostrich breeder. The advent of synchronized sound film in the late 1920s made Dranem much in demand for screen roles featuring his singing routines. In the 1930s he played in some 13 films. In several he played the lead, such as La poule/The Hen (René Guissart, 1932) with Arlette Marchal, and Ah! Quelle gare!/Ah! What a station! (René Guissart, 1933), or at least as the main male antagonist. He acted in sound film until his death. Dranem died in Paris in 1935 at the age of sixty-six and was buried at the Château de Ris.

French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 740. Photo: Paramount.

Sources: Alison McMahan, Alice Guy-Blaché. Lost Visionary of the Cinema, Laurent Mannoni, Encyclopedia of Early Cinema, Wikipedia (English and French), and IMDb. See also Dranem-alice-guy.blogspot.nl/, which shows the film Le Vrai Jiu-Jitsu.

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