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ADOLPHE MENJOU

By Susan M. Kelly

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1928 Westminster Film Favourites Adolphe Menjou Tobacco CardAdolphe Menjou 5x7 Fan PhotoA cultured air, a sophisticated sounding name and an impeccable sense of style were all the building blocks Adolphe Menjou needed for the greatest role of his life - as Hollywood’s penultimate Beau Brummell.  It was a role he would play with panache and flair to his dying day.

Young Adolphe was born to a French father and an Irish mother in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 18th, 1890.  His father was a successful hotel manager and wanted his son to follow him into the family business, but Adolphe was not interested.  He attended the Culver Military Academy and went on to earn a degree in engineering from Cornell University.  When friends suggested he try acting, he found he enjoyed it and he was soon trying out for parts in vaudeville and in film.

In 1916 he made his film debut in “The Blue Envelope Mystery”, but with the outbreak of World War I, he put his career on hold to join the military, serving in the American Ambulance Corps.  When he returned from the service he worked on stage before returning to the screen and appearing opposite two of the silent era’s classic stars.  He played Rudolph Valentino’s friend in “The Sheik” and King Louis XIII opposite Douglas Fairbanks in “The Three Musketeers”, both in 1921.

The exposure quickly got him noticed and in 1923 Charles Chaplin cast him as the lead in “A Woman of Paris”.  Chaplin’s first independent production as a writer and director, the film set new standards in silent dramatic acting and directing.  With his performance as the sophisticated French gentleman Pierre Revel, Menjou made his mark on Hollywood and solidified his image as a well dressed man of the world.  He worked steadily throughout the decade appearing in films such as “The Marriage Circle”, where he convincingly played a hurt and betrayed husband, and D.W. Griffith’s “The Sorrows of Satan”, in which he played a dapper Devil.

His cultured voice helped Menjou easily navigate the transition into sound.  He made several notable films over the next few years, and scored a hit with his turn as a world-weary army officer opposite Gary Cooper in “Morocco” in 1930.  The mysterious film, set against the exotic backdrop of the Moroccan desert, pitted Menjou against Cooper as romantic rivals for the affection of Marlene Dietrich.  Not surprisingly, the tall, handsome Cooper got the girl.  The following year he received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of scheming, less than ethical newspaper editor Walter Burns in “The Front Page”.

1920's-30's Manoli Adolphe Menjou Tobacco CardLate 1920's Adolphe Menjou Kashin Fan PhotoThe roles kept coming throughout the 30’s, usually alternating between urbane producers – “Morning Glory” (1933), “Stage Door” and “A Star is Born” (both 1937) and hard drinking lowlifes – “Little Miss Marker” (1934) and “Golden Boy” (1939).  One of his rare breaks from this cycle was to play a thinly disguised John Barrymore in the 1936 musical comedy “Sing, Baby, Sing”, where he delivered one of his finest and funniest performances.  He put that same talent to work playing Ginger Rogers’ lawyer in “Roxie Hart” (1942), another memorable performance.

His career continued to flourish into the 40’s with films such as “The Hucksters” (1947) and “State of the Union” (1948), even as he became active in political causes.  In 1944, he co-founded the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, but his biggest political statement came in 1947 when he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee during their infamous investigation into Hollywood.  He didn’t endear himself to many of his colleagues as he took a smug, hard line anti-communist stance, but surprisingly his career managed to take the hit and survive.

In 1951 he played a traitorous Union officer in the Civil War drama “The Tall Target” and the following year, without his now trademark “Menjou Moustache”, he was surprisingly realistic as a police detective in “The Sniper”.  As the 50’s wore on, roles became more scarce for the aging actor but he turned in a memorable performance as a hypocritical WWI French officer in Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” in 1957.  Three years later, he made his final big-screen appearance in Walt Disney’s “Pollyanna”.

The 50’s also saw him making several forays into television, including appearances on “The DuPont Show with June Allyson”, “The Secret Life of James Thurber” and “Science Fiction Theater”.  He also appeared as a guest panelist on “What’s My Line?”.

Sadly, Menjou passed away in 1963, just three years after completing “Pollyanna”, but not without leaving his unique mark on Hollywood.  Having been voted Best Dressed Man in America nine times throughout his life, it came as no suprise when he titled his 1947 autobiography “It Took Nine Tailors”.  For a man who built a successful career on a foundation of style, class and elegance, it seemed only fitting.  And from Adolphe Menjou, we’d expect nothing less than a perfect fit. 
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Susan M. Kelly has been working as a freelance writer for the last 12 years, during which time she has written everything from press releases and brochures to newspaper articles and web text.  She currently lives and works in Dunellen, NJ and can be contacted at smkwriter@worldnet.att.net. Watch for her profiles in The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.