France Dhélia (1894-1964) was a French actress of the silent cinema.
French postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson.
The Sultan of Love
France Dhélia was born Franceline Benoit in 1894, in a village near Blois, thus raised in the area of the famous French royal castles along the Loire river.
She made her film début under the name of Mado Floréal in L’Ambitieuse (Camille de Morlhon, 1912) with Gabriel Signoret.
Afterwards she played in various comedies with the character Fred, directed by René Hervil, who also played Fred himself.
During the First World War, she took the name of France Dhélia. She made her first film with director René Le Somptier and appeared in her first feature-length film: L’instinct est maitre/The Instinct is the Ruler (Jacques Feyder, 1917).
In 1918 she rose to stardom when she played Sultane Daoulah in La sultane d’amour/The Sultan of Love (René Le Somptier, Charles Burguet, 1918). It was the first film shot at the new Victorine studios in Nice. The film had sets designed by Marco de Gastyne.
This film was followed by Malencontre/Inopportune (Germaine Dulac, 1920), La montée vers l’Acropole/The Climb to the Acropolis (René Le Somptier, 1920), Le coeur magnifique/The Magnificent Heart (Séverin-Mars, Jean Legrand, 1921), La bête traquée/The Trapped Beast (René Le Somptier, Michel Carré, 1922) with Edmond Van Daële, the comedy Petite hôtel à louer/Little Hotel for Rent (Pierre Colombier, 1923) with Gaston Modot, the title role in La garçonne/The Flapper (Armand du Plessy, 1923), and Néné (Jacques de Baroncelli, 1924).
French postcard in the series Les Vedettes du Cinéma by Editions Filma, no. 4. Photo: Films Aubert.
The Queen of Sheba
Between 1923 and 1925 France Dhélia performed in many films by Gaston Roudès, her favourite director.
These films included La guitare et le jazz band/The Guitar and the Jazz band (1923), L’ombre du bonheur (1924) with Constant Rémy, Pulcinella (1925),La maternelle/The Nursery School (1925) with Lucien Dalsace, Le chemin de la gloire/The Road of Glory (1926), Cousine de France/Cousin of France (1927) with Jean-Louis Allibert, and La maison au soleil/House in the Sun (1928).
In those years Dhélia was often paired with actor Lucien Dalsace, as in La maternelle, Oiseaux de passage and Les petits.
Around 1925 she was at the peak of her success. When sound film set in, Dhélia continued to play mostly in films by Roudès, though she did not always play the lead anymore.
Her sound films include Le gamin de Paris/Paris Urchin (1932) with Alice Tissot, Roger la Honte (1933) with Constant Rémy, Flofloche (1934), and Le chante de l’amour/The Song of Love (1935).&
Her last film, was Une main a frappé/A Hand Hit (1939). An exception was the part of the Queen of Sheba in the biblical film Le berceau de dieu/The Cradle of God (Fred LeRoy Granville, 1926).
Other exceptions were the main female character, Blanche, in Jean Epstein’s late silent crime drama Sa tête/Her Head (1929), and a minor part in the early sound film Méphisto (1930, Henri Delbain, Georges Vinter) opposite a young Jean Gabin. At age 45, France Dhélia quitted cinema, and a quarter of a century later she died quietly in Paris in 1964.
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 177.
French postcard by Cinémagazine, no. 122.