19 March 2017

Imported from the USA: Adolphe Menjou

Suave and debonair American actor Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963) with his trademark waxy black moustache was one of Hollywood's most distinguished stars and one of America's 'Best Dressed Men'. He started as a matinee idol in the silent cinema in such classics as Ernst Lubitsch's The Marriage Circle (1924). His sound films included Morocco (1931) with Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper, A Star is Born (1937), and Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory (1957) with Kirk Douglas. In 1931, he was nominated for an Oscar for The Front Page (1931).

Adolphe Menjou
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3337/2, 1928-1929. Photo: Paramount.

Adolphe Menjou
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3259/1, 1928-1929. Photo: Paramount.

Urbane ladies' man and wealthy roué

Adolphe Jean Menjou was born in 1890 in Pittsburgh. He was the elder son of hotel manager Albert Menjou. His Irish mother, Nora Menjou-Joyce, was a distant cousin of the famous Irish author James Joyce. Menjou had a younger brother, Henri Menjou, who made an attempt to become an actor and played in three films for Paramount in the mid-1930s.

Their French émigré father moved the family to Cleveland, where he operated a chain of restaurants. He disapproved of show business and sent his son to Culver Military Academy in Indiana in the hopes of dissuading him from an acting career. Later, at Cornell University, Menjou abruptly changed his major engineering to liberal arts and began auditioning for college plays.

He did some vaudeville work, and from 1915 on, he appeared as an extra for such film studios as Vitagraph, Edison and Biograph. During World War I, he served as a captain with the Ambulance Corps in France. After the war he found employment off-camera as a production manager and unit manager.

After six years of struggle, he finally broke into the top ranks with substantial roles in The Faith Healer (George Melford, 1921) and Through the Back Door (Alfred E. Green, Jack Pickford, 1921), starring Mary Pickford. He earned a Paramount contract and played Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers (Fred Niblo, 1921), starring Douglas Fairbanks, and the influential writer Raoul de Saint Hubert in Rudolph Valentino's classic The Sheik (George Melford, 1921).

Menjou established his slick prototype as the urbane ladies' man and wealthy roué opposite Edna Purviance in Charlie Chaplin's A Woman of Paris (1923). Paramount capitalised on Menjou's playboy image by casting him as matinee leads in Broadway After Dark (Monta Bell, 1924), Sinners in Silk (Hobart Henley, 1924), The Ace of Cads (Luther Reed, 1926), A Social Celebrity (Malcolm St. Clair, 1926) and A Gentleman of Paris (Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast, 1927).

Adolphe Menjou in His Tiger Wife (1928)
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4101/2, 1929-1930. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for His Tiger Wife (Hobart Henley, 1928).

Adolphe Menjou
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4101/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Paramount.

Rivalling Gary Cooper for the attentions of Marlene Dietrich

The stock market crash led to the termination of Adolphe Menjou's Paramount contract and his status as a leading man. Gary Brumburgh at IMDb: "MGM took him on at half his Paramount salary and his fluency in such languages as French and Spanish kept him employed at the beginning.

Rivalling Gary Cooper for the attentions of Marlene Dietrich in Morocco (1930) started the ball rolling for Menjou as a dressy second lead. Rarely placed in leads following this period, he managed his one and only Oscar nomination for Best Actor with his performance as editor Walter Burns in The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931)."

Other successful films include Forbidden (Frank Capra, 1932), Little Miss Marker (Alexander Hall, 1934), A Star is Born (William A. Wellman, 1937), Stage Door (Gregory La Cava, 1937) and Golden Boy (Rouben Mamoulian, 1939).

During the war, he entertained the troops overseas and worked for the radio. He played the slick and slimy lawyer Billy Flynn opposite Ginger Rogers in Roxie Hart (William A. Wellman, 1942). After the war he played secondary parts in The Hucksters (Jack Conway, 1947) and State of the Union (Frank Capra, 1948).

His last lead was in the crackerjack thriller The Sniper (Edward Dmytryk, 1952). His role was a San Francisco homicide detective tracking down a killer who preys on women in San Francisco. For the first time in nearly two decades, he appeared without his moustache.

In 1947, Menjou cooperated with the House Committee on Un-American Activities in its hunt for communists in Hollywood. Menjou was a leading member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a group formed to oppose communist influence in Hollywood.

His last notable film was the classic anti-war picture Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957) in which he played the villainous General Broulard. After Disney's Pollyanna (David Swift, 1960), featuring Hayley Mills, he retired from acting.

In 1963, he died in his home in Beverly Hills after a nine-month battle with hepatitis. He married three times. His second wife was actress and co-star Kathryn Carver. They married in 1928 and divorced in 1934. Since 1934 he was married to actress Verree Teasdale, with whom he had an adopted son, Peter. His autobiography was called It Took Nine Tailors (1947).

Adolphe Menjou and Kathryn Carver in Service for Ladies (1927)
British Real Hand-Coloured Photograph postcard, no. 3384/1. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Service for Ladies (Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast, 1927) with Kathryn Carver.

Adolphe Menjou
French postcard by Erpé, no. 398. Photo: Film Samuel Goldwyn.

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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