August 02, 2015

#SUTS - Adolphe Menjou

TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 3 features the films of Adolphe Menjou beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.

Adolphe Jean Menjou (pronounced MAHN-zhoo) was an American actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award for The Front Page in 1931. Fluent in six languages, Menjou was nearly unrecognizable without some type of formal wear, and he was named Best Dressed Man in America nine times. His 1948 autobiography was titled It Took Nine Tailors.

Menjou was born February 18, 1890 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to a French father, Albert Menjou, and an Irish mother from Galway, Nora (née Joyce). He was a distant cousin of James Joyce. He had a brother named Henri who was a year younger.

Instead of acquiescing to his father's demands and obtaining an engineering degree at Cornell University, he abruptly changed his major to liberal arts and began auditioning for college plays. Attracted to the vaudeville stage, he made his movie debut in 1916 in The Blue Envelope Mystery. During World War I, he served as a captain in the United States Army ambulance service.

After the war, he broke into the top ranks in such films as The Sheik (1921) and The Three Musketeers (1921).

He became a star after playing the lead role in Charlie Chaplin's A Woman of Paris (1923), which established his screen persona: a dapper, suave man of the world complete with trademark waxy black mustache. He went on to play this role in more than 100 films, at first as a leading man and later as a character actor.

Menjou was a staunch Republican. In 1944 he became a co-founder of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, a group formed to oppose communist influence in Hollywood. Other prominent members of the Alliance included Robert Arthur, Martin Berkeley, Ward Bond, Walter Brennan, Clarence Brown, Charles Coburn, Gary Cooper, Laraine Day, Cecil B. DeMille, Walt Disney, Irene Dunne, Victor Fleming, Clark Gable, Cedric Gibbons, Hedda Hopper, Leo McCarey, James Kevin McGuinness, George Murphy, Fred Niblo, Dick Powell, Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan, Ginger Rogers, Morrie Ryskind, Norman Taurog, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, King Vidor, John Wayne, Frank Wead and Sam Wood.

Menjou was a "friendly" witness in the 1947 hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. His cooperation with HUAC hurt his later reputation.

Adolphe Menjou hosted and narrated Your Favorite Story, a TV anthology series that aired from 1953 through 1955. It premiered in December 1954 with the title Your Favorite Playhouse.

This program was adapted from the radio show Favorite Story which ran from 1946 through 1949. Menjou also acted in several episodes. It featured episodes originally written by Leonard St. Clair, William Makepeace Thackeray, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Frank R. Stockton.

His last film was 1960's Pollyanna. He played the rumpled recluse Mr. Pendergast. He died after a nine-month battle with hepatitis on October 29, 1963. He was survived by his wife Verree Teasdale and their adopted son Peter.

Interesting Facts

Trademarks: Waxy black mustache and impeccable taste in clothes.

Once boasted that his wardrobe included about 2,000 articles -- over 100 suits and 15 overcoats alone.

My mother got to meet Adolphe Menjou while he was on a war bond tour during World War II. She was doing war work at Union Switch and Signal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Mr. Menjou stopped there and met the ladies. She remembers him as witty and extremely well-dressed. She also said he had kind eyes.

Menjou was an avid and skilled golfer. Clark Gable was among his favorite partners on the links.

In the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, Jack Webb (as Artie Green) upon seeing his friend in evening clothes, asks William Holden (as Joe Gillis) "Judas E. Priest, who did you borrow that from? Adolphe Menjou?" to which Joe replies, "Close, but no cigar."

In "Irresistible Andy", the fifth episode of the first season of The Andy Griffith Show, Sheriff Andy Taylor compliments Barney Fife upon seeing him wearing his signature Salt and Pepper suit for the first time and calls him "The Adolphe Menjou of Mayberry."

Quote: "The [Marlon Brando] school are grabbers, not lovers. If it wasn't that the script says they get the girl, they wouldn't."

Adolphe Menjou Films on TCM August 3, 2015

Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (Rudolph Valentino) takes Lady Diana Mayo (Agnes Ayers) to his camp when he finds the beauty in the desert. Although drawn to the Sheik, Lady Diana is able to resist his amorous advances. When his former French school chum Dr. Raoul de Saint Hubert (Adolphe Menjou) convinces him to let Diana go free, she is kidnapped by the villainous Omair (Walter Long), who promises her a fate worse than death. Menjou was a rising star at Paramount Pictures when this film was made.

The film, an atypical drama film for its creator, was written, directed, produced and later scored by Charlie Chaplin. It was the first major failure in Charles Chaplin's career. Many believe the film would have been a success if he taken his name off the picture altogether. It was Chaplin's first film as a partner in United Artists with Edna Purviance starring and himself only appearing in a cameo. Chaplin conceived this film to help Edna Purviance's career independent of him. However, while the film did boost Adolphe Menjou's career considerably, it did little for hers. The role of Pierre Revel made Menjou a true star.

The Easiest Way is a 1931 American Pre-Code MGM drama film directed by Jack Conway. Adapted from the 1909 play of the same name written by Eugene Walter and directed by David Belasco, the film stars Constance Bennett, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, and Anita Page. It was considered utterly scandalous in its day. An impoverished, beautiful young working-class girl quickly learns that she can get to Easy Street as a mattress back. Constance Bennett shacks up with rich older man Adolphe Menjou. You can guess how well that went over in 1931.

Men Call It Love is a 1931 American romance film directed by Edgar Selwyn and written by Doris Anderson. The screenplay was based on the play Among the Married by Vincent Lawrence. The film stars Adolphe Menjou, Leila Hyams, Norman Foster, Mary Duncan and Hedda Hopper. Director Edgar Selwyn, one of the people who actually founded the studio that would become MGM ("Goldwyn" was originally an amalgamation of his and his brother's name with co-owner Samuel Goldfish, who liked it so well he renamed himself after the studio). As usual, Adolph Menjou gives a fine performance as Tony Minot, a philanderer who only falls in love with married women.

The Great Lover is a 1931 film starring Adolphe Menjou and Irene Dunne, and directed by Harry Beaumont. The supporting cast includes Ernest Torrence and Baclanova. It was written by Leo Ditrichstein and based on the play written by Frederic Hatton. Adolphe Menjou is superb as the womanizing opera star who finally succumbs to Cupid's arrow. His portrayal is full of ribald humor and sensitivity. Irene Dunne is also excellent as the naive young ingenue.

The Milky Way is a 1936 comedy film starring Harold Lloyd. Directed by comedy veteran Leo McCarey, the film was written by Grover Jones, Frank Butler and Richard Connell based on a play of the same name by Lynn Root and Harry Clork. An example of the popular screwball comedy genre of the time, and critically Harold Lloyd's most successful talkie, it tells the story of a Brooklyn milkman who becomes middleweight boxing champion. The Milky Way features supporting performances by real life husband and wife Adolphe Menjou and Verree Teasdale. Adolphe Menjou's Gabby Sloan is a manic whirlwind of neurotic tics and apoplexy-in-the-making.

Turnabout is a 1940 comedy film directed by Hal Roach and starring Adolphe Menjou, Carole Landis and John Hubbard. Based on the 1931 novel of the same name by Thorne Smith (of Topper fame), the screenplay was written by Mickell Novack, Bernie Giler and John McClain with additional dialogue by Rian James. The movie is a harmless, offbeat romp for the cast, led by Adolphe Menjou, whose scene stealing is almost matched by Menjou's real-life wife Verree Teasdale.

Broadway Gondolier is a musical film directed by Lloyd Bacon. The film was released by Warner Brothers, and featured Dick Powell, Joan Blondell and Adolphe Menjou. Menjou plays Professor Eduardo de Vinci, Dick Powell's voice teacher and friend. Menjou's performance is enjoyable, especially when he tries to fool radio executive Grant Mitchell and sponsor Louise Fazenda, owner of Flagenheimer's Odorless Cheese, and tries to sing like Dick Powell.

A Star is Born is a 1937 American Technicolor romantic drama film produced by David O. Selznick and directed by William A. Wellman, with a script by Wellman, Robert Carson, Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell. It stars Janet Gaynor as an aspiring Hollywood actress, and Fredric March as an aging movie star who helps launch her career. Other members of the cast include Adolphe Menjou, May Robson, Andy Devine, Lionel Stander and Carole Landis. Adolphe Menjou (Oliver Niles) is the studio head who sees a winner in Janet Gaynor (Esther Blodgett) and renames her Vicki Lester. A Star is Born is one of the screen's most enduring tales of tragic love. An honorary Oscar selected by a panel of cinematographers went to Howard Greene's Technicolor work, helping to change Academy rules two years later to recognize color cinematography as a separate category from Black and White. The film won an Academy Award for Best Writing (Original Story): William Wellman and Robert Carson. It was the first color film to be nominated for Best Picture. Some film historians believe that the marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay was the film's real-life inspiration. John Bowers has also been identified as inspiration for the Norman Maine character and the dramatic suicide-by-drowning scene near the end of the film (Bowers drowned in November 1936). The film entered the public domain in 1965 due to Warner Brother's failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication. A Star is Born has already been remade twice, in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.

Father Takes a Wife is a 1941 American comedy film starring Gloria Swanson and Adolphe Menjou. It was directed by Jack Hively and written by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Menjou stars as a shipping magnate who has fallen for stage star Swanson; all business for decades, he is now in his second youth with this new romance. Menjou is in fine form in this fluffy "B" RKO comedy. Menjou called parts like this one "dress suit roles" in his autobiography.

Gold Diggers of 1935 is a Warner Brothers musical film directed and choreographed by Busby Berkeley and starring Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Stuart and Alice Brady, and featuring Winifred Shaw, Hugh Herbert and Frank McHugh. The film is best known for the famous "Lullaby of Broadway" production number, which features Shaw singing the song which won Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics) an Academy Award. Hilarious Adolphe Menjou steals his every scene as Nicolai Nicoleff, the penniless Russian impresario.

Stage Door is a 1937 RKO film, adapted from the play of the same name by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, that tells the story of several would-be actresses who live together in a boarding house at 158 West 58th Street in New York City. The film stars Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier, Andrea Leeds, Samuel S. Hinds, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Ann Miller. Hepburn's famous lines during the play within the film, "The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died," are from The Lake (1934), the play for which Dorothy Parker panned Hepburn's performance as "running the gamut of emotions from A to B." Adolphe Menjou was an ideal choice to play the genial cad making casual lecherous advances and deceitful promises.

The Hucksters is a 1947 MGM film directed by Jack Conway and starring Clark Gable that marked Deborah Kerr's American film debut. The supporting cast includes Sydney Greenstreet, Adolphe Menjou, Keenan Wynn, Edward Arnold and Ava Gardner. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Frederic Wakeman, Sr. Bosley Crowther praised Adolphe Menjou, calling his contribution to the film "entertaining and fascinating." Craig Butler says, "Adolphe Menjou is practically perfect as an agency executive living in a pressure-filled world."

The Tall Target is a 1951 MGM crime film starring Dick Powell as New York Police Sergeant John Kennedy who tries to stop the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was directed by Anthony Mann and was written by George Worthing Yates (story and screenplay), Daniel Mainwaring (story, as Geoffrey Homes) and Art Cohn (screenplay). It also stars Paula Raymond, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson, Ruby Dee, Richard Rober, Leif Erickson, Will Geer, and Florence Bates. It is based on the Baltimore Plot, an alleged conspiracy in late February 1861 to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln en route to his inauguration. Allan Pinkerton, founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, played a key role by managing Lincoln's security throughout the journey. Though scholars debate whether or not the threat was real, clearly Lincoln and his advisors believed that there was a threat and took actions to ensure his safe passage through Baltimore, Maryland. Adolphe Menjou is outstanding and quite believable as the corrupt Colonel Caleb Jeffers.

New Moon is a 1930 black and white American musical filmization of the operetta The New Moon with music by Sigmund Romberg and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and others. The original stage version premiered on Broadway in 1928. The 1930 film, directed by Jack Conway, starred Lawrence Tibbett, Grace Moore, Adolphe Menjou, Roland Young, Gus Shy, and Emily Fitzroy. It had an entirely different plot to the original play and is set in Russia. A 1940 film of the same name, also based on the operetta directed by Robert Z. Leonard and W. S. Van Dyke (uncredited), starred Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Adolphe Menjou is a fine presence as Governor Boris Brusiloff.

Adolphe Menjou in The Front Page (1931)

The Front Page is a 1931 American Pre-Code comedy film, directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. Based on a Broadway play of the same name written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the film was produced by Howard Hughes, written by Bartlett Cormack and Charles Lederer, and distributed by United Artists. The supporting cast includes Mary Brian, George E. Stone, Matt Moore, and Edward Everett Horton. At the 4th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Picture, Milestone for Best Director, and Menjou for Best Actor.

No one ever wrote better dialogue than Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. This film shows them at the top of their form. Lewis Milestone uses clever and creative camera angles and transitions to distract from the fact that this was originally written for the stage. The cast is delightful——especially Adolphe Menjou and Edward Everett Horton. The pacing is lively, driven by the crisp and cynical interplay of the reporters. The film is only slightly dated——most notably in the occasional cruel ethnic slurs by the reporters. A definite must-see. Watch the film below.

Adolphe Menjou on the Radio

"The Front Page" on Academy Award: June 22, 1946 with Pat O'Brien and Adolphe Menjou

"Conversation Piece" on Lux Radio Theatre: November 16, 1936 with Lily Pons, Adolphe Menjou, Marjorie Gateson, and George Sanders

"The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" on Lux Radio Theatre: May 11, 1942 with Norma Shearer, Walter Pidgeon, and Adolphe Menjou

"Morning Glory" on Lux Radio Theatre: October 12, 1942 with Judy Garland, John Payne, and Adolph Menjou

"A Star is Born" on The Screen Guild Theater: November 17, 1940 with Loretta Young, Adolphe Menjou, and Burgess Meredith

August 01, 2015

#SUTS - In This Our Life

TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 2 features the films of Olivia de Havilland beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.

TCM is showing In This Our Life on August 2, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. It's one of my favorite Olivia de Havilland films. Bette Davis has the showier part but she's outdone by Olivia de Havilland, whose quiet, understated work anchors the film and ultimately makes the greater impression. It's terribly fine film acting, and immensely satisfying to watch.

About the Novel In This Our Life

In This Our Life was a 1941 novel by Ellen Glasgow. Glasgow was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1873. Although her family was very well-off, due to poor health she was educated at home, where she read widely in philosophy, politics and the classics. During her teens, Henry George's book Progress and Poverty converted Glasgow to Fabian socialism, and she became highly skeptical of the social values of her native American South.

Ellen Glasgow

Glasgow published her first work, The Descendant, in 1897. She went on to publish sixteen more novels, which taken as a whole present in fiction a social history of Virginia since 1850. Many of her works have feminist overtones, and reject the outworn code of Southern chivalry and masculine superiority. Indeed, Glasgow is now seen as one of the most valuable chroniclers of the American South for the period between the American Civil War and World War II. Among her best-regarded novels are Barren Ground (1924), The Romantic Comedians (1926), and The Sheltered Life (1932). In 1942, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel In This Our Life (1941).

Glasgow died in 1945, having spent parts of her later life involved with the female suffrage movement. Her obituary in TIME magazine called her "a really important figure in the history of American letters; for she has preserved for us the quality and the beauty of her real South."

First Edition Dust Jacket

In This Our Life is an analytical study of the feeling of kinship as it is manifested in the Timberlake family, decayed aristocrats living in Virginia. The story of how two marriages are wrecked and a great wrong done to an innocent black man, Parry Clay, is told largely as it is viewed by Asa Timberlake. Asa is sixty years of age and is the husband of Lavinia Fitzroy Timberlake, a hypochondriac. They are the parents of two daughters with masculine names (the odd naming is never explained). Stanley is utterly selfish and feminine. Roy is courageous and gallant but confused and unhappy.

The title is a quote from the sonnet sequence Modern Love by George Meredith: "Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul/ When hot for certainties in this our life!"

About the Film In This Our Life

In This Our Life is a 1942 American drama film, the second to be directed by John Huston. Raoul Walsh also worked as director, taking over when Huston was called away for a war assignment after the United States entered World War II, but he was uncredited. The cast includes established stars Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland as sisters and romantic and life rivals.

Directed by John Huston (credited) and Raoul Walsh (uncredited)
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Written by Howard Koch and based on the novel by Ellen Glasgow
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography by Ernest Haller
Edited by William Holmes
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: May 8, 1942
Running time: 97 minutes


Bette Davis as Stanley Timberlake Kingsmill
Olivia de Havilland as Roy Timberlake Fleming
George Brent as Craig Fleming
Dennis Morgan as Peter Kingsmill
Frank Craven as Asa Timberlake
Billie Burke as Lavinia Timberlake
Charles Coburn as William Fitzroy
Ernest Anderson as Parry Clay
Hattie McDaniel as Minerva Clay
Lee Patrick as Betty Wilmoth
Mary Servoss as Charlotte Fitzroy
William B. Davidson as Jim Purdy
Edward Fielding as Dr. Buchanan
John Hamilton as Inspector
William Forrest as Forest Ranger

In case you haven't seen the film, I'm not going to spoil it for you by giving an in-depth plot summary.
TCM says: A neurotic southerner steals her sister's husband then vies with her for another man.
Leonard Maltin says: Fine drama of neurotic family with husband-stealing Davis ruining sister de Havilland's life and eventually her own; Davis at histrionic height. Based on Ellen Glasgow novel. Walter Huston has cameo role as bartender in one scene.


Olivia de Havilland plays true to form as Roy, the good sister. Her quiet and understated portrayal of Roy is reminiscent of her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind. Bosley Crowther said, "Olivia de Havilland gives a warm and easy performance as the good sister who wins out in the end."

Bette Davis is sensational as Stanley Timberlake and at her wicked, over the top, best. She is absolutely smashing in her portrayal of the amoral Stanley, the woman the viewer loves to hate.

Billie Burke is marvelous as the emasculating, harpy, invalid mother. Frank Craven is credible as the patient and weary father. Charles Coburn is terrific as the uncle who spoils Stanley and seems to want more than a niece/uncle relationship with her. Dennis Morgan plays the errant and handsome surgeon to perfection, while George Brent is tailor made for the role of Stanley's long suffering suitor, who ultimately finds happiness with Roy. Ernest Anderson, as the young black man, and Hattie McDaniel, as his mother, are terrific.

Interesting Facts

In This Our Life is one of the few films of the era in which an African-American male is not portrayed as a Stepin Fetchit caricature. The film was praised in 1942 for offering a positive portrait of a black character (Ernest Anderson), though by modern-day standards this treatment still comes off as condescending.

Bette Davis aided the project by finding the right person to play Parry Clay. John Huston had reviewed some African-American actors but was not satisfied with any. One day when Davis was in the studio commissary, she noticed Ernest Anderson working there as a waiter. She believed he had the right look and presence for the role and encouraged Huston to screen test Anderson. The director did, and cast the young man. Anderson won the 1942 National Board of Review Award for his performance.

Warner Bros. was named to the Honor Roll of Race Relations of 1942 because of its dignified portrayal of African-Americans in this film. However, scenes in which Ernest Anderson's character was treated in a friendly fashion were cut for showings in the South to avoid offending those viewers. The film was initially disapproved for export by the Office of Censorship in Washington, D.C., because it suggests that the Negro's testimony would be totally disregarded by the jury when it was disputed by a white person, which, in the South at the time and for long afterwards, was true.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times felt "the one exceptional component of the film" is the "brief but frank allusion to racial discrimination" which "is presented in a realistic manner, uncommon to Hollywood, by the definition of the Negro as an educated and comprehending character."

Both Bette Davis' and Olivia de Havilland's characters have masculine given names -- "Stanley" and "Roy," respectively. Interestingly, the film never hints that there is anything unusual about their names, nor does it offer any explanation.

The Ellen Glasgow novel, for which Warner Bros. paid $40,000 for the screen rights, portrayed William Fitzroy's incestuous desire for his niece Stanley, as well as racist attitudes in the society. Recommended by the director John Huston, the screenwriter Howard Koch believed he had to tone down these elements to satisfy the current Motion Picture Production Code.

Barack Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro, was named "Stanley" not after her own father, Stanley Dunham, but after the Bette Davis character in the movie In This Our Life. President Obama's maternal grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, saw the movie while pregnant with Obama's mother, and thought the name sounded sophisticated for a girl.

In This Our Life was directed by John Huston, and if you watch closely during the roadhouse sequence you'll spot Huston's father, Walter, as a bartender and most of the cast of Huston's The Maltese Falcon as atmospheric extras.