Today is the birthday of the great screen star Adolphe Menjou (1890-1963). The son of a French-American restaurateur, Menjou defied his father by switching his major from engineering at Cornell in order to audition for college plays. For a time he worked at odd jobs and performed on the vaudeville stage, where he gained enough experience to use his mellifluous voice with confidence when talking pictures came in. (Surprisingly, he didn’t appear on the “legitimate” stage in straight plays at the professional level — strictly vaud),
Starting in 1915 he began to work as a film extra. Following brief service in World War One, he rejoined the film industry in Hollywood, where he finally broke through to stardom in 1921, in such films as Douglas Fairbanks The Three Musketeers and Rudolph Valentino’s The Sheik. Charlie Chaplin’s 1923 A Woman of Paris helped establish the indelible Menjou persona, the dashing, impeccably attired man about town (often a cad). So strong was this image that Menjou became one of the very few Hollywood stars to step across into the sound era with his career completely intact. One is able to look at his silent career and his talkie career as a single piece. Just a few of his memorable sound pictures included Morocco (1930) with Marlene Dietrich, the original version of The Front Page (1931), Harold Lloyd’s The Milky Way, Stage Door (1937), Golden Boy (1939), Roxie Hart (1942), State of the Union (1948), Paths of Glory (1957), and Polyanna (1960).
Menjou’s third and final wife was Verree Teasdale.
Now here he is with Edna Purviance in a scene from A Woman of Paris:
To find out more about vaudeville past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and on early film, don’t miss my book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media