For me it was the film ‘Le Samourai’ that made me a fan of the work of the actor Alain Delon. In it, he simply looks magnificent. A superficial comment you say? Guilty as charged. But as much as that, his controlled acting style drew me in to completely believe the character he was playing.For me and others, it is once seen, never forgotten. I got a little obsessed and was off down a rabbit hole, looking for more of his films and wanting to know more of the man and his work, and trust me, he was a busy boy.
So, plump up a cushion and I will begin…
He was born Alain Fabien Marcel Delon in November 1935, into a disruptive family background. Mum, Edith and Father Fabien were divorced by the time he was four and he was then shuttled between foster parents and then with his now remarried parents and their offspring, until he was placed in a Catholic boarding school. Not surprisingly giving how his life had kicked off, he was expelled from there and many subsequent others. Giving up on school aged 14, he worked briefly as a butcher, before joining the French Navy at 17 as a marine and served in the first Indochina war in 1953. The conflict, which in time, developed into the Vietnam War. Fair to say that Delon had an interesting time doing his military service. During his 4 years, so undisciplined was he that 11 months of that time was served in military jail.
Once out and back in France, he drifted from job to job. From a waiter to a shop assistant, before going the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 with actress Brigitte Auber. His good looks got him spotted pretty quickly. First by a representative for American producer David O. Selznick, who screen tested him and offered him a contact. And then by French director Yves Allegret, who Delon eventually signed with for his first film ‘Quand la Femme s’en Mele’ in 1957.
‘ I had no idea what to do,’ said Delon ‘Allégret stared at me, just like that, and told me: ‘Listen to me, Alain. Speak as you are speaking to me. Stare as you are staring at me. Listen as you are listening to me. Don’t act. Live.’ It changed everything. If Yves Allégret had not told me that, I would never have had this career.’
Those self-same good looks that attracted the film business, were also gaining him a lot of attention from a lot of the women and boy did he know it.
‘I was very, very handsome. Women were obsessed with me.’
In 1958, he met the actress Romy Schneider on the set of ‘Christine’ and they began a romance in real life. ‘She was the love of my life’ he later said.In 1962, the singer Nico gave birth to a son, Christian, known as Ari, with Delon being named as the father. Delon denied this, though his parents brought up the baby.
In 1960, he appeared as Tom Ripley in ‘Plein Soleil’, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ which earned him international acclaim. He followed that up playing ‘Rocco’ in the excellent ‘Rocco and his Brothers’ in the same year. There was also talk of Delon taking the lead role in the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ though he lost out to Peter ‘O’Toole in the end of course. ‘Any Number Can Win’ did good business for him personally and professionally, as did ‘The Leopard’ starring alongside Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale. He tried to further his career in Hollywood, but found his accent slowed that process down somewhat.
‘Because of my accent I would not attempt to play Americans. I am working on removing the distinctly French inflections from my speech so that I can play all continental nationalities.’
‘Is Paris Burning?’ was a massive success in France, but did little at the box office elsewhere, and though he was very popular in Japan, right up there alongside the likes of Steve McQueen and Sean Connery, he failed to make much of an impression in the US.
‘I became an emperor over there (Japan). All the boys were crazy about Delon. They styled their hair like Delon. A taxi driver in Tokyo told me, ‘So you are a Frenchman? Like Alain Delon?’ They only knew two French names in Japan: de Gaulle and Delon.’
After the aforementioned ‘Le Samourai’ by Jean Pierre Melville in 1967, he appeared in ‘The Girl on a Motorcycle’ with Marianne Faithfull in 1968 and then run into a press scandal after his bodyguard Stevan Markovic was found dead. Delon and a Corsican gangster François Marcantoni came under investigation, after a letter from Marković to his brother Aleksandar stated : ‘If I get killed, it’s 100% the fault of Alain Delon and his godfather Francois Marcantoni.’ Nothing was proved however, and no charges brought, but it established that Delon had close ties to the underworld. During the investigation, police uncovered sex party rumours, involving Delon and future French prime minister Georges Pompidou and his wife Claude, with her being the subject it is said of a series of very compromising photos . Allegations of further gangland involvement and Delon’s homosexual affairs followed. When asked about it Delon replied…
‘So, what’s wrong if I had? Or I did? Would I be guilty of something? If I like it, I’ll do it. We have a great actor in France named Michel Simon and Michel Simon said once, ‘if you like your goat, make love with your goat.’ But the only matter is to love.’ Ummm…
Once the dust settled, he came back fighting, starring in a series of tough guy roles such as ‘Jeff’ in 1969, ‘Borsalino’ in 1970, and ‘Le Circle Rouge” also in that year. In 1976, Delon starred in ‘Monsieur Klein’ for which he was nominated for the César Award and for many years he was the highest paid actor in France.
Off screen, he had many and varied business interests. Clothes, cigarettes, a helicopter company and promoting boxing and horse racing. He also released a couple of singles, ‘Paroles Paroles’ with Dalida and ‘Thought I’d Ring You’ with Shirley Bassey. He continued to work all over, but the big hits were now evading him, as his film career lulled and in recent years he has mainly made TV movies.
He became a Swiss citizen in 1999 and now resides in both Geneva and France, splitting his time there between Paris, and his country estate in Douchy. He was made an Officer in the French Legion of Honneur in 2005 for his contributions to cinema. He suffered a stroke in 2019, but he has recovered well. That year, in Cannes he was awarded an honorary Palme d’Or.
‘For me, it’s more than the end of a career. It’s the end of a life. It feels that I’m receiving a posthumous tribute while being alive.’ He received the award from his daughter Anouchka, one of his four children.
‘Look, I had incredible luck. I’ve been happy all my life; I filmed with the best. I did what I wanted, with who I wanted, when I wanted. I dwell on the past more than I think about the future, yes, because my past was extraordinary. Today just doesn’t compare. A life like I had doesn’t come around twice. That’s why when it comes to retirement, I have no regrets.’
Amen and merci.
The Mumper of SE5
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