Adolphe Jean Menjou (February 18, 1890 – October 29, 1963)
Adolphe was famous for his Sartorial exigence and his intelectual interests
Adolphe Jean Menjou (February 18, 1890 – October 29, 1963) was an American actor. His career spanned both silent films and talkies, appearing in such films as The Sheik, A Woman of Paris, Morocco, and A Star is Born. He was nominated for an Academy Award for The Front Page in 1931.
Menjou was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to a French father and an Irish mother from Galway. He was raised Catholic and attended the Culver Military Academy, graduating from Cornell University with a degree in engineering. 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 ambulance service.
Stardom Returning from the war, he became a star in such films as The Sheik and The Three Musketeers. When he starred in 1923's A Woman of Paris, he solidified the image of a well-dressed man-about-town, and was later voted the Best Dressed Man in America nine times. His career stalled with the coming of talkies, but in 1930, he starred in Morocco, with Marlene Dietrich. He was nominated for an Academy Award for The Front Page (1931).
McCarthy era 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. Other members included John Wayne, Barbara Stanwyck (with whom he co-starred in Forbidden in 1932 and Golden Boy in 1939) and her husband, actor Robert Taylor. Because of his political sympathies, Menjou came into conflict with actress Katharine Hepburn. Menjou appeared with her in the films Stage Door and State of the Union, which also starred Spencer Tracy. Hepburn was strongly opposed to Americans co-operating with the McCarthy hearings. It was reported by William Mann in his biography of Hepburn, Kate, that during the filming of State of the Union, she and Menjou only spoke to each other when required to in the film script.
Later years and death Menjou ended his film career with such roles as French General George Broulard in 1957's Paths of Glory, and as the town curmudgeon in Pollyanna in 1960. He guest starred as Fitch, with Orson Bean and Sue Randall as John and Ellen Monroe, in an 1961 episode, "The Secret Life of James Thurber", based on the works of the American humorist James Thurber, of the CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson. He also appeared in the Thanksgiving episode of NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, which aired on November 22, 1956. His final film, Disney's Pollyanna (1960) was one his best known roles. Mejou died on October 29, 1963 of hepatitis in Beverly Hills. He was interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Legacy In 1948, he published his autobiography, It Took Nine Tailors. Menjou has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6822 Hollywood Blvd. Menjou had a brother Henri Menjou (1891–1956) who made an attempt to become an actor. He made three films for Paramount in the mid 1930s.
The words "suave" and "debonair" became synonymous with the name Adolphe Menjou in Hollywood, both on- and off-camera. The epitome of knavish, continental charm and sartorial opulence, Menjou, complete with trademark waxy black mustache, evolved into one of Hollywood's most distinguished of artists and fashion plates, a tailor-made scene-stealer, if you will. What is often forgotten is that he was primed as a matinée idol back in the silent-film days. With hooded, slightly owlish eyes, a prominent nose and prematurely receding hairline, he was hardly competition for Rudolph Valentino, but he did possess the requisite demeanor to confidently pull off a roguish and magnetic man-about-town. Fluent in six languages, Menjou was nearly unrecognizable without some type of formal wear, and he went on to earn distinction as the nation's "best dressed man" nine times.
Born on February 18, 1890, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he was christened Adolphe Jean Menjou, the elder son of a hotel manager. His Irish mother was a distant cousin of novelist / poet James Joyce ("Ulysses") (1882-1941). His French father, an émigré, eventually moved the family to Cleveland, where he operated a chain of restaurants. He disapproved of show business and sent an already piqued Adolphe to Culver Military Academy in Indiana in the hopes of dissuading him from such a seemingly reckless and disreputable career. From there Adolphe was enrolled at Stiles University prep school and then Cornell University. Instead of acquiescing to his father's demands and obtaining a engineering degree, however, he abruptly changed his major to liberal arts and began auditioning for college plays. He left Cornell in his third year in order to help his father manage a restaurant for a time during a family financial crisis. From there he left for New York and a life in the theater.
Adolphe toiled as a laborer, a haberdasher and even a waiter in one of his father's restaurants during his salad days, which included some vaudeville work. Oddly enough, he never made it to Broadway but instead found extra and/or bit work for various film studios (Vitagraph, Edison, Biograph) starting in 1915. World War I interrupted his early career, and he served as a captain with the Ambulance Corps in France. After the war he found employment off-camera as a productions manager and unit manager. When the New York-based film industry moved west, so did Adolphe.
Nothing of major significance happened for the fledgling actor until 1921, an absolute banner year for him. After six years of struggle he finally broke into the top ranks with substantial roles in The Faith Healer (1921) and Through the Back Door (1921), the latter starring Mary Pickford. He formed some very strong connections as a result and earned a Paramount contract in the process. Cast by Mary's then-husband Douglas Fairbanks as Louis XIII in the rousing silent The Three Musketeers (1921), he finished off the year portraying the influential writer/friend Raoul de Saint Hubert in Rudolph Valentino's classic The Sheik (1921).
Firmly entrenched in the Hollywood lifestyle, it took little time for Menjou to establish his slick prototype as the urbane ladies' man and wealthy roué. Paramount, noticing how Menjou stole scenes from Charles Chaplin favorite Edna Purviance in Chaplin's A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923), started capitalizing on Menjou's playboy image by casting him as various callous and creaseless matinée leads in such films as Broadway After Dark (1924), Sinners in Silk (1924), The Ace of Cads (1926), A Social Celebrity (1926) and A Gentleman of Paris (1927). His younger brother Henri Menjou, a minor actor, had a part in Adolphe's picture Blonde or Brunette (1927).
The stock market crash led to the termination of Adolphe's Paramount contract, and his status as leading man ended with it. 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. Rivaling 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 (1931). Not initially cast in the role, he replaced Louis Wolheim, who died ten days into rehearsal. Quality parts in quality pictures became the norm for Adolphe during the 1930s, with outstanding roles given him in The Great Lover (1931), A Farewell to Arms (1932), Forbidden (1932), Little Miss Marker (1934), Morning Glory (1933), Een ster wordt geboren (1937), Stage Door (1937) and Golden Boy (1939).
The 1940s were not as golden, however. In addition to entertaining the troops overseas and making assorted broadcasts in a host of different languages, he did manage to get the slick and slimy Billy Flynn lawyer role opposite Ginger Rogers' felon in the "Chicago" adaptation Roxie Hart (1942), and continued to earn occasional distinction in such post-WWII pictures as The Hucksters (1947) and State of the Union (1948). His last lead was in the crackerjack thriller The Sniper (1952), in which he played an (urbane) San Francisco homicide detective tracking down a killer who preys on women in San Francisco, and he appeared without his mustache for the first time in nearly two decades. Also active on radio and TV, his last notable film was the classic anti-war picture Paths of Glory (1957) playing the villainous Gen. Broulard.
Adolphe's extreme hardcore right-wing Republican politics hurt his later reputation, as he was made a scapegoat for his cooperation as a "friendly witness" at the House Un-American Activities Commission hearing during the Joseph McCarthy Red Scare era. Following his last picture, Disney's Pollyanna (1960), in which he played an uncharacteristically rumpled curmudgeon who is charmed by Hayley Mills, he retired from acting. He died after a nine-month battle with hepatitis on October 29, 1963, inside his Beverly Hills home. Three times proved the charm for Adolphe with his 1934 marriage to actress Verree Teasdale, who survived him. The couple had an adopted son named Peter. His autobiography, "It Took Nine Tailors" (1947), pretty much says it all for this polished, preening professional. IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh
CLARK GABLE’S FOREWORD TO ADOLPHE MENJOU’S IT TOOK NINE TAILORS Source: ADOLPHE MENJOU’S IT TOOK NINE TAILORS 1948
In Hollywood nothing less than sensation or colossal is considered worthy of recording, and legendary characters are as numerous as a pess agent’s adjectives. Although this fosters a quick turnover in “immortals” and a short memory for their deeds, I’m sure that my friend Adolphe Menjou, in hos own unique way will always be headliner in the saga of Movieland.
Adolphe’s nonstop career as an actor speaks for itself. He started in the business when any picture over two reels in length was considered a super-special, and he is still a leading film personality. It takes much more than a large and well-tailored wardrobe to stay on the screen for over thirty-five years.
But Adolphe is more than a good actor. He is, among other things, my favorite financial genius. Wall Street can its Morgans, its Rockefellers, and its Bernard Baruch. I’ll take Adolphe. He is very allergic to bad investments, and a falling market affects him like a falling barometer affects grandpa’s rheumatiz. He’s the only person I know who always buys at the bottom and sells at the top. A certain director once told me, “Menjou is expensive but worth every penny of his salary, because I not only get a good performance from him, I also find out what he’s doing in the stock market.”
Surprisingly enough, Adolphe is also a Hollywood intellectual. In fact, he is my favorite actor-intellectual. I have heard him discuss economics, history, political science, art, lierature, drama, and many other erudite subjects. Of course, there is a plethora of intellectuals in Hollywood and they will discuss any subject under the sun, but none of them is as fluent and entertaining as Adolphe. It takes quite a guy to discourse on Balkan politics of 1912 and make you like it. Adolphe will not only make you like it, he will also teach you how to say “hello” in Serbian, Rumanian, and Greek.
And he certainly my favorite raconteur. Turn him loose in a roomful of Hollywood’s loudest and most determined extroverts and in five minutes Adolphe will monopolize the spotlight and get more belly laughs than Donald Duck at a Saturday matinee.
Then, of course, he is my favorite fashion critic. He can tear a lapel apart with the most scathing and contemptuous adjectives I have ever heard. And he can cast a critical eye over your pants in a manner that makes you feel that you have come to dinner wearing baggy overalls.
Lastly, he is far and away my favorite actor-golfer. If he plays a good game, he radiates enthusiasm like the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and makes you forget he is taking your money. If he plays a bad game, his moans echo from the hills of Bel-Air Country Club like the cries of a man in mortal agony. Either way it is an enchanting experience.
When you inquire from most golfers how they played, you must be prepared for dull recapitulations of their misfortunes or triumphs and you soon wish you had never mentioned the subject. With Adolphe is different. If he has won, his resumé of the victory is always a dramatic achievement. If he has lost, his anguish and accusations of “robbery” are designed only to amuse you.
One day I was starting down the first fairway at Bel-Air Country Club and my path crossed Menjou’s as he was coming up the eighteenth. He was playing with a foursome eonsisting of Bob Montgomery, Frank Morgan, and George Murphy. Adolphe looked exceedingly grim and disconsolate.
“How are you doing?” I inquired.
“I’m being murdered!” he shouted indignantly. “A golf course is just a poolroom out of doors. I’ve been caught by a pack of rascals—a gang of golf-link sharpies. But it’ll be a good lesson to me.” He nodded sagely and continued, “I’ve observed these slickers very closely and I intend to remember their faces for the rest of my life. Never again will they trap me into a golf game.”
“How do you stand?” I asked, thinking he must have already lost his shirt.
“All even,” he declared. “Everything depends on this hole.”
I’ve always thought that somebody should write a book about Adolphe. And now that he has done it himself, I find that he is my favorite Hollywood autobiographer.