22 April 2013

Yvonne Arnaud

Yvonne Arnaud (1890 – 1958) was a French-born actress, singer and pianist, whose warmth, humour and talent gave her an unrivalled position on the English stage for forty-six years. She was one of the players in the Aldwych farces in the 1920’s and 1930’s, but also had dramatic roles. During the 1930’s and 1940’s she played in several British films and she continued to act into the 1950’s.

Yvonne Arnaud
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, no. 378A. Photo: Dorothy Wilding.

Charming French Accent
Germaine Yvonne Arnaud was born in 1890 in Bordeaux, France. She was the daughter of Felix Leon Paul Arnaud, a colonel in the French army, and his wife, Antoinette de Montegu. She was raised in Paris and entered the Paris Conservatoire at age 9, studying piano under Alphonse Duvernoy and other teachers. In 1905, she won the conservatory's Premier Prix for piano. Beginning that year, at age 12, until 1911, she performed with leading orchestras throughout Europe and USA, under conductors such as Édouard Colonne, Willem Mengelberg, Gustav Mahler and Alexander Siloti. In 1911 she decided to try the stage instead of the concert hall and obtained an engagement at London's Adelphi Theatre. She was understudy to Elsie Spain in the role of Princess Mathilde in The Quaker Girl. She next played the leading role of Suzanne in the musical The Girl in the Taxi (1912), earning popularity with her vivacity and charming French accent. This was followed by roles in more musical comedies, farces and operettas, including as Noisette in Mam'selle Tralala (1914), two revivals of The Girl in the Taxi (1913 and 1915), and Phrynette in L'Enfant Prodigue, in which she also played the piano. She also had a lead in Kissing Time (1919). However, an operation damaged her vocal cords, and so she switched from musicals to plays, beginning with the role of Louise Allington in the farce Tons of Money, which ran for nearly two years at the Shaftesbury Theatre from 1922. Arnaud’s success in this play led to her appearance in some of the Aldwych farces by Ben Travers, including Marguerite in A Cuckoo in the Nest (1925), as well as in other comic roles, such as Mrs. Pepys in J.B. Fagan's And So to Bed (1926) and the title Role in Fagan's The Improper Duchess (1931). In 1927 she travelled to New York where she repeated the Mrs. Pepys part on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre.

Ralph Lynn, Winifred Shotter
Winifred Shotter and Ralph Lynn. British postcard in the Film Partners Series by Real Photograph, London, no. 81. Photo: British & Dominions.

Mon Oncle
Yvonne Arnaud also appeared in British films, beginning with the role of Pauline in Desire (1920, George Edwardes-Hall), opposite Dennis Neilson-Terry. In 1929–1930, she played the role of Elma Melton in the stage version and then the film version of Canaries Sometimes Sing (1930, Tom Walls). That year she co-starred with Walls in the film comedy On Approval (1930, Tom Walls) also featuring Winifred Shotter and Robertson Hare, and in Tons of Money (1930, Tom Walls) starring Ralph Lynn. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Arnaud made more films, including film versions of some of the successful plays in which she had starred, such as A Cuckoo in the Nest (1933, Tom Walls) and Lady in Danger (1934, Tom Walls). She also appeared in some dramatic parts, including some Shakespearean roles. In 1940, she played a lead role in the war film Neutral Port (1940, Marcel Varnel) with music hall performer Will Fyffe, Leslie Banks, and Phyllis Calvert. She continued to act on stage as well into the 1950’s. She also occasionally performed as a pianist later in her career, for example, with the Hallé Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli in Manchester in 1948. She was also the soloist at the premiere of Franz Reizenstein's pastiche Concerto Popolare at the 1956 Hoffnung Festival. In 1958 she played a small part as the housekeeper in the classic French comedy Mon Oncle/My Uncle (1959, Jacques Tati). Mon Oncle won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, a Special Prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award. Yvonne Arnaud was married the actor Hugh McLellan, since 1920. She was also godmother to the writer Oriel Malet, and was the subject of Malet's book Marraine: a portrait of my godmother (1961). For many years Yvonne Arnaud lived in Guildford, England, and died at the National Hospital in Holborn, in 1958, never recovering from a cerebral haemorrhage. She was 67. In 1965 the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre was opened in Guilford.

Scene from Princess Charming (1934, Maurice Elvey) with George Grossmith Jnr. and Yvonne Arnaud. Source: GalleryDreams (YouTube).

Trailer Mon Oncle (1958, Jacques Tati). Source: NuovoCinemaGiornico(YouTube).

Sources: Robert Sharp (BritMovie), AllMovie, Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

What an interesting woman...and a concert pianist as well!