An Avenue and a hotel totally “cinema”
Ties between the Avenue Montaigne and the silver screen are well known. The world of fashion, treatment represented by the avenue’s many prestigious Maisons and the presence of exceptional cultural institutions such as the Théâtre and the Comédie des Champs-Élysées are symbols that give it a very special glamour. Only recently, Danielle Thompson chose the avenue for the setting of her film Fauteuils d’Orchestre (2006), starring Cécile de France, Valérie Lemercier and Albert Dupontel. Different aspects of local life colored the plot, from the daily routine of the waitress at the Bar des Théâtres to the problems of a wealthy client of the Drouot auction house. The relationships between this avenue and cinema sometimes manifest themselves in less expected ways. At Artcurial, the other great auction house of the neighborhood, a collection of paintings owned by Gérard Oury, French producer known for his legendary film, La Grande Vadrouille, (he is also the father of Danielle Thompson, who was his screenwriter) was auctioned following his death. It included superb paintings by Raoul Dufy.
Mad about Rudolph Valentino
In fact, there’s nothing new about this mutual attraction between the Avenue Montaigne and the seventh art. From the beginning of “moving pictures”, actors frequented the neighborhood and many were particularly fond of one of the grand Parisian palaces, the Plaza Athénée. One of the great stars of silent films, the “latin lover”, Rudolph Valentino, stayed here on three memorable occasions between 1923 and 1926. The Italian actor had lived in the French capital in 1912, long before he was famous. The young man of 18 years old earned a meager existence from deliveries and other odd jobs. Near the end of 1913 (the same year that the Plaza Athénée was inaugurated), he sailed for New York. Ten years later, he returned to Paris crowned by his Hollywood success in “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” or “The Sheik”. When he arrived in Paris in August 1923, accompanied by his wife Natacha Rambova, the daily newspaper “Le Temps” described his popularity: He was “the world’s most handsome man”, he “earned 125,000 dollars per film in America”, and he “received 2000 letters a day”…
Marlene Dietrich, the angel of Avenue Montaigne
When Rudolph Valentino died at the height of his glory on the day of the premiere of “The Son of the Sheik” in 1926, Marlene Dietrich was a young German actress of 25 years old. She had already been noticed by several directors, but at the time her career was limited to singing, to stage roles and a few fleeting appearances in films. In 1929, she appeared in Curtis Bernhardt’s “The Woman Men Yearn For”, a silent film. Her big chance came the following year when her role in Josef von Sternberg’s film, “The Blue Angel”, made her an international star overnight. Her attachment to the Avenue Montaigne was more lasting than that of Rudolph Valentino. She too was a regular at the Plaza Athénée, where the ledgers registering her numerous stays here (in August 1933, she occupied 7 rooms for three weeks!) are preciously preserved. Later she took up permanent residence on the Avenue in an apartment located at number 12. She withdrew from public life in the 1970’s, but she remained loyal to this address, where she continued to receive a circle of close friends until her death in 1992
Arletty, Hitchcock, Sofia Loren…
An unusual aspect of Palace hotels that might surprise neophytes who imagine them as the scenes of perpetual turnover, is the length of certain stays. Greek shipbuilders, during the height of their epoch, were known for booking long stays. They would reserve suites for an entire year, if only to guarantee that they would never be without a room. Actors often did the same. Some here still remember when Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor took up residence in the hotel for six months in 1971. At that time, they formed the most glamorous couple of the “planet cinema” and their entourage occupied several rooms. The famous French actress Arletty, archetypal Parisian, was also a regular. In his monograph of the hotel, Pascal Payen-Appenzeller relates that one of the managers of that era, François Dupré, made provisions in his will to leave two rooms in the hotel permanently available for Arletty until her death. And there were so many others who came and went, without ever really leaving: Gina Lollobrigida, Laurence Olivier, Sofia Loren, and Alfred Hitchcock, who could puff on big cigars here in times before no-smoking laws.
From Cocteau to Travolta
Among other cigar lovers, there were, of course, the great American producers and directors, to whom we owe some of the greatest Hollywood movies: Darryl Zanuck (“The Grapes of Wrath”, “Eve”), David Selznik (“Gone with the Wind”), John Ford, the king of westerns, King Vidor or Otto Preminger. The list is endless, the hotel’s guest book reads like a resume of the jet set, the wealthy, and the intelligentsia of the 20th century. And in what seems like an impressive generational gap, there are the world’s most beautiful women (Ava Gardner or Vivien Leigh), Europe’s old world culture with its eclectic and aesthetic talents (Federico Fellini, Fritz Lang, Jean Cocteau), and even more, the latest idols of the young generation. And, most incredible, is the Plaza Athénée and the Avenue Montaigne’s ability to bring together talents that seem to have little in common. Imagine who was one of the guests of honor at Arletty’s birthday party in 1987, John Travolta, who had stayed here ten years earlier when he starred in “Saturday night Fever.”