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08 June 2015

Émile Dehelly

French stage and screen actor Émile Dehelly (1871-1969) was a sociétaire of the Comédie-Française from 1903 till 1928 and had a prolific career at Le Film d’Art between 1909 and 1913. He is the father of film actor Jean Dehelly.

Émile Dehelly
French postcard, no. 17. Photo: Cliché Bert. Publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan.

Les Trois Mousquetaires 1
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan.

Propaganda tours


Emile Léon Auguste Dehelly was born in 1871 in Fresnoy-le-Grand, France. At a young age he moved with his father to Epernon.

In 1893, he was drafted and performed his military service at the 102nd Infantry Regiment in Reuilly. Later, he remained a reservist, and Dehelly was drafted in 1915 for the 30th Territorial Regiment Chartres. He would be released in 1917, after which he focused on acting at the Théâtre aux Armées. He performed on propaganda tours in Norway and Sweden, and for interned soldiers in Switzerland.

In 1890 Dehelly entered the Comédie-Française. Between 1903 and 1928 he was sociétaire, a regular member of the organisation and as such receive a pension after 20 years of service. He acted mostly in the typical Comédie classics by Molière such as L'École des maris (The School for Husbands) but also plays by William Shakespeare and Victor Hugo.

In 1928 he became sociétaire honoraire and in 1931 he said goodbye to the Comédie. As a farewell he once more performed his famous role of Dorante in Le menteur (The Liar) by Pierre Corneille.

In 1909 Dehelly started to act at the newly founded Le Film d’Art, initially often under the direction of André Calmettes. He acted in several short films on historical characters who previously had inspired the stage and history painting (Delaroche et. al.).

Examples are Rival de son père/Rival to his father (André Calmettes, 1909), based on Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos, Louis XI (André Calmettes, 1909) with Rolla Norman, Héliogabale/Heliogabalus (André Calmettes, 1909), Les enfants d’Édouard/The Children of Edward IV (André Calmettes, 1910), La reine Margot/Queen Margot (Camille de Morlhon, 1910) with Berthe Bovy in the lead, and Camille Desmoulins (Henri Pouctal, 1911) with Dehelly himself in the lead.

At the Éclair company, Dehelly also acted in short comedies such as Un coup de vent/The gale (Émile Chautard, 1910) with Suzanne Goldstein, and Amour et science/Love and Science (?, 1912) with Renée Sylvaire.

Les Trois Mousquetaires 5
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan, Marcel Vibert (Athos), Adolphe Candé (Porthos) and Stellio (Aramis).

Les Trois Mousquetaires 8
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan and Guizelle as Constance Bonacieux (at right).

D’Artagnan


In 1913, Émile Dehelly had the lead as D’Artagnan in the two-part, lengthy feature film Les trois mousquetaires/The three musketeers, produced by Le Film d’Art.

André Calmettes had been replaced as the main director at the Film d'art by Henri Pouctal. With Pouctal he previously had acted in the short La comtesse Sarah, a Georges Ohnet adaptation, which starred Nelly Cormon, who would become Dehelly’s antagonist in Les trois mousquetaires as Milady De Winter.

Though Les trois mousquetaires was intensely promoted and internatonally well received, Dehelly stopped his film acting for some years.

He returned in only one more silent film, Graziella (Marcel Vandal, 1926), and two early sound films: Maurin des Maures (André Hugon, 1932), and Chair ardente/Burning flesh (René Plaisetty, 1932). In Graziella he played the writer Alphonse de Lamartine in his older years, while the young Lamartine was played by his own son Jean Dehelly, Graziella by Nina Vanna and Graziella’s lover Cecco by Antonin Artaud.

Chair ardente was director Plaisetty’s last film and was not a huge success. This may have contributed to the fact that Dehelly afterwards didn’t act in film anymore. He was past 60 by then and had already stopped at the Comédie française the year before.

His son Jean Dehelly, born in 1896, had a prolific career in French silent cinema of the 1920s. He also stopped his film acting in 1932. There may be a connection here.

Émile Dehelly died in 1969 in Paris, at the extreme high age of 98. He survived his son Jean by five years.

Les Trois Mousquetaires 9
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan.

Les Trois Mousquetaires 16
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan and Nelly Cormon as Milady.

Les Trois Mousquetaires 2
French postcard. Photo: publicity still for Les trois mousquetaires (Henri Puctal, André Calmettes, 1913) with Émile Dehelly as D'Artagnan and Jacques Volnys as Count De Rochefort.

Sources:  Ciné-ressources (French), Gallica (French), INA (FRench), Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

Watch also this television interview of 1958 in which a lively Dehelly recalls his work at the Comédie but also a radio performance of Le menteur he once did.

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