05 February 2015

Michèle Alfa

Michèle Alfa (1911-1987) was one of the most beloved stars of the French cinema during the Second World War.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by Greff Editeur, Paris, no. 57. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by Editions E.C., Paris, no. 98. Photo: Pathé.

A future on stage

Michèle Alfa was born as Josephine Blanche Alfreda Bassignot in Gujan Mestras, France, in 1911. Her stage name Alfa is short for one of her first names, Alfreda.

At the age of 15, she became smitten with the theatre when she attended the play Felix by Henri Bernstein at the Théâtre du Gymnase (Theatre Gymnasium). The play’s star was the popular Gaby Morlay.

When Alfa was refused permission to enter the Conservatoire, she tried to commit suicide. She was sure her future had to be on stage. Wisely, she applied for lessons from Raymond Rouleau.

At 20, she began with a stage tour of France. She participated in good plays including L'Héritière, a French adaptation of the play The Heiress by Louis Ducreux, Mademoiselle de Panama (Miss Panama) by Marcel Achard , La Machine à écrire (The Typewriter) by Jean Cocteau, and Huis Clos (Locked) by Jean Paul Sartre.

From 1932 on, she also appeared in films. Her debut, La Belle Aventure/The beautiful adventure (Reinhold Schünzel, Roger Le Bon, 1932) was the alternate-language version of the German comedy Das Schöne Abenteuer (Reinhold Schünzel, 1932), both starring Käthe von Nagy.

Her first leading lady part was in the dramatic comedy Lumières de Paris/Lights of Paris (Richard Pottier, 1938) opposite singer Tino Rossi. She also played the leading lady opposite Charles Boyer in Le Corsaire/The Corsican (Marc Allégret, 1939), but this film was never finished because of the Second World War.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 79. Photo: Studio Piaz.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by Ed. Chantal, Rueil, no. 98. Photo: Pathé.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by EPC (Editions et Publications Cinematographiques), no. 216. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Mistress of Goebbels' Nephew

Under the Occupation of France by the Nazis, Michèle Alfa became the mistress of Bernhardt Rademecker. This nephew of Josef Goebbels was appointed at the Propagandastaffel as head of the Paris theatres. Alfa knew him from before the war, when he had been a jazz trumpeter in Pigalle. During the war years, he would protect Jews like the actor Henry Murray, father of Anouk Aimée.

In the cinema, Alfa starred in 13 films, both comedies and dramas. These included L'homme qui vendit son âme/The Man Who Sold His Soul to the Devil (Jean-Paul Paulin, 1943) with André Luguet, and L'ange de la nuit/Angel of the night (André Berthomieu, 1943), in which she offers herself for a soldier (Jean-Louis Barrault) who returns blind from the war.

Her strange, sometimes sad face, her blonde hair and her talent, made her a darling of the public. Very popular was the two-parter Le comte de Monte Cristo/The Count of Monte Cristo (Robert Vernay, 1943), based on the famous novel by Alexandre Dumas. Alfa played Mercedes the fiancée of Edmond Dantes (Pierre Richard-Willm).

James Travers at French Films Site: “The Monte Cristo story has been adapted so many times for cinema (28 versions between 1907 à 1971) that some of the best adaptations have been almost overlooked. Vernay's film certainly deserves a higher profile than it has enjoyed to date, even if it lacks the star names which make some of the other versions more saleable.”

After the war Michèle Alfa starred in only four more films, including the drama Sombre dimanche/Gloomy Sunday (Jacqueline Audry, 1948). Her final film was the ensemble comedy Agence matrimonial/Matrimonial Agency (Jean-Paul Le Chanois, 1952). She continued to appear on stage till the mid-1960s.

From 1942 to 1946, Alfa was married to actor Paul Meurisse. In 1959, she married her second husband, corporate director Philippe Plouffe. Michèle Alfa died in 1987 in Le Vésinet, a suburb of Paris. She was 76.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 129. Photo: Pathé-Cinema.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by S.E.R.P., Paris, no. 57. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Michèle Alfa
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 129. Photo: Star.

Sources: Caroline Hanotte (CinéArtistes – French), Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

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