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12 June 2017

Emmy Lynn

Emmy Lynn (1889-1978) was a French stage and screen actress, known for her parts in the French silent films by Abel Gance, Henry Roussel and Marcel L’Herbier.

Emmy Lynn
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 419. Photo Sartony.

Henry Roussel


Born in 1889 in Barcelona, Emmy Lynn (originally Emily Leigh) had an English father, who was the English consul in Barcelona, and a half-Spanish and half-German mother. She arrived in Paris at the age of 1 year.

Emmy took theatre classes with Guillemot. Around 1907, she went on tour to South America with Marthe Brandès, Harry Baur, Henry Roussel, and Madeleine Lély, confined to playing the role of the young ingénue.

Back in Paris, she did the competition of the Conservatoire, but without success. Emmy Lynn first performed on the Parisian stage in La beauté du diable at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique in 1908, starring Paula Andral. Emmy Lynn also acted with Sarah Bernhardt in L’aiglon and Un Coeur d’homme.

She shared the stage with e.g. Charles Dullin in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (Odéon, 1910), with Gabrielle Réjane in Dario Niccodemi's play L’aigrette (1912), with Harry Baur in Francis de Croisset’s Le cœur dispose (Athénée, 1913), and with Max Dearly in Maurice HennequinMon bébé (1913-1914) and in Kit (Théâtre des Variétés, 1916).

Silent cinema turned Lynn into a star. From 1913, Emmy Lynn was a popular star in French cinema and reappeared regularly on the screens until 1922. Probably her first film was Vautrin (1913) by and with Charles Krauss. That year, she also acted in Le camée (1913) by Maurice Tourneur, and L’aiglon (1913) by Emile Chautard.

Later followed Le calvaire (André Liabel, 1915), Pardon glorieux (Gaston Leprieur, 1916), Vengeance diabolique (Charles Maudru, 1916), Le bonheur qui revient (André Hugon, 1917), Frères (Maurice Rémon, 1918), and Le destin est maître (Jean Kemm, 1919). Lynn also worked under direction of the British director George Pearson in the Anglo-French production Les gosses dans les ruines/The Kiddies in the Ruins (1918), shot at La Courneuve.

It is under direction of Henry Roussel, however, that Lynn made her mark as dramatic actress in the films La faute d’Odette Maréchal/Odette Maréchal’s Mistake (1919) with Romuald Joubé and Jean Toulout, Visages voilés, âmes closes/Veiled faces, closed souls (1920), a romantic drama shot in the South of Algeria, and La vérité/The Truth (1922), based on a novel by Émile Zola.

Emmy Lynn
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 265. Photo: G.L. Manuel Frères, Paris.

Abel Gance


Emmy Lynn was the protagonist of Mater Dolorosa/Sorrowful Mother (1917) and La dixième symphonie/The Tenth Symphony (1918), both directed by Abel Gance. In these two melodramas, the filmmaker sublimated the beauty of the actress and confirmed her real talent as tragedy actress.

Mater Dolorosa dealt with Gilles Berleac, a jealous and paranoid doctor (Firmin Gémier), who discovers his wife Martha (Lynn) has a lover (Armand Tallier) and has a child with him. While Claude, the lover, kills himself, the husband chases the wife but steals the child to pester her. Claude’s compromising suicide note becomes an important clou. Mater Dolorosa was so successful, that Gance did a remake himself in later years.

On the film Lynn said herself in an interview with Eve Francis: “When we discussed our contract (it is true that the producer Louis Nalpas did not risk much), I was awarded a flat fee of 2,000 francs, and Firmin Gémier 3,000, but that did not matter. We were very happy and full of joy in the work.”

La dixième symphonie dealt with a rich woman, Eve (Lynn), blackmailed by her lover Fred (Jean Toulout) for accidentally shooting his sister. After the affair with Fred, Eve marries a composer (Séverin-Mars), whose daughter Claire (Elizabeth Nizan) falls in love with Fred. While Eve tries to prevent Fred from marrying Claire, the composer – unjustly - suspects his wife is infidel, which gives him inspiration to compose his symphony. Fred blackmails Eve she must return to him as mistress, or he will reveal the murder.

On La dixième symphonie Lynn remarked to Francis: “Séverin-Mars was my husband, a great musician, who played at the time of my drama his last composition The Tenth Symphony. We had a pianist who played a Beethoven symphony behind the scenes during the stage, as the brave Séverin-Mars knew nothing of music, and was incapable of even playing just a musical song. The music was composed by Michel-Maurice Levy. Séverin-Mars played this symphony to express his grief, for he had understood that his wife no longer loved him!"


Excerpts from Mater dolorosa (1917). Source: Radio Santos (REM) (YouTube).


Excerpts from La dixième symphonie (1918). Source: Radio Santos (REM) (YouTube).

Marcel L'Herbier


When Marcel L'Herbier founded his own production company, Cinégrafic, he proposed to Emmy Lynn an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection. Unfortunately, filming was abandoned in 1923 when the director caught typhoid fever.

Lynn thus disappeared from the screen until a few years later, in Le vertige/Vertigo (Marcel L'Herbier, 1926), this time completed without problem by L'Herbier, who had not abandoned the idea of directing the actress.

In Le vertige, with production design by Robert Mallet-Stevens and Robert Delaunay and costumes by Sonia Delaunay, Lynn is the wife of a Russian general (Roger Karl), who during the Revolution has shot her lover (Jaque Catelain) before her own eyes.

Years after, at the French Cote d’Azur, the lover suddenly shows up again. But is it really him? The film may indirectly have inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Lynn’s last silent film was Luitz-Murat's La vierge folle/The Foolish Virgin (1928), taken from the famous play by Henry Bataille. Her character manages to recuperate her husband (Jean Angelo), who fell under the spell of a temptress (Suzy Vernon).

Lynn had her last leading role in the film L’enfant de l’amour/The Child of Love (1930), Marcel L’Herbier’s first sound film. Lynn interprets a music-hall star, whose son (Jaque Catelain) seeks revenge for his father who has abandoned them.

Subsequently, Lynn’s films came less frequent and her performances less important. One can still mention the melodrama Les deux orphelines/The Two Orphans (1932), in which she was reunited with the director of her early years, Maurice Tourneur, and in which she incarnated the Countess of Lignères, opposite Renée Saint-Cyr and Rosine Deréan.

Lynn’s last film dates from 1942, when she appeared as a distinguished socialite in Roland Tual's Le lit à colonnes/The Fourposter Bed (1942).

Forgotten, Emmy Lynn died in 1978, in Paris. She rests in the cemetery of Bagneux, with her husband Charles Peignot (1897-1983), founder of French typographical characters, manager of the foundry Deberny and Peignot and at the origin of the foundation of the International Typographical Association. He gave his name to an award. The actress had a daughter, actress Florence Lynn (1922-2002, born from her relationship with Henry Roussel.


Scene Le vertige/Vertigo (1926). Source: cinefania.com (YouTube).

Sources: Pascal Donald and Marlène Pilaete (Cinéartistes), Shadowplay, Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

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