Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Frenchmen

Let's take a look at some of the lesser known character men that were from France. Others may have played Frenchmen, but these fellows were the real thing... not a lot is known about them, so let's see what we can uncover about Jean Del Val, Louis Mercier, Eugene Borden, Peter Camlin, and Maurice Marsac.

Jean Del Val (at left, and sans toupee) was the oldest of this group of five Frenchmen. Born as Jean Jacques Gautier on November 17, 1891 in France, though one source suggest Belgium. He arrived in the United States in 1924 and has his first American film credit that same year in a film starring Rudolph Valentino. Del Val, under his own name Gautier, had done some film work in Europe as early as 1917.  He continued to work steadily amassing score of credits in big and small films alike, including Laurel & Hardy's Block-Heads, Casablanca (as a French police radio announcer), Action in the North Atlantic, Mission to Moscow, Song of Bernadette, Paris After Dark, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Passage to Marseille, Gilda, The Razor's Edge, So Dark the Night, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Funny Face (as a hairdresser), Wreck of the Mary Deare, Can-Can, and The Devil at Four O'Clock, to name just several. In 1966, at the age of 75, he performed a rather unique role in that he had almost no lines and yet was "in the film" from beginning to end. He portrayed Dr. Jan Benes in the sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage.  
      It is his body that the team of scientists is injected into after they are miniaturized. He made a couple of other feature film appearance after this, appearing in brief bits in Wait Until Dark and Darling Lili (1970). Del Val appeared in television from its earliest days, in shows as diverse as Perry Mason and Bonanza, as well as I Spy, Combat!, Mission: Impossible and others. His last know appearance is in a small part in a forgettable tv sitcom called Roll Out! in 1973. Little can be found about Del Val's private life. It is unknown as to whether he was married or had any children. He died in Pacific Palisades, California on May 13, 1975 at the age of 83. He's buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Photo of Del Val below with hair.    
     Only a little bit more is known about the actor Eugene Borden  He was born March 22, 1897 in  Paris as Elysee Eugene Prieur-Bardin. He came to the United States in 1914 and married his first wife Geraldine, a Pennsylvania native in 1918. He divorced and married a second time to a woman named Mae. He married a third time to Elva, who was from Cleveland, Ohio. He legally Americanized his name to Eugene Borden in 1935. The 5', 7" Borden often found himself playing waiters, porters, stewards, and various minor French officials. Some of his many small feature film parts include The Three MusketeersStory of Irene & Vernon Castle, Casablanca (as a Policeman), Mission to Moscow, Song of Bernadette, To Have and Have Not, The Dolly Sisters (as the Chauffeur, see photo), The Jolson Story, The Razor's Edge, The Bishop's Wife, Might Joe Young, All About Eve, An American in Paris, Titanic ('53), The Far Country (as Doc Vallon), To Catch a Thief (as a Waiter), Spirit of St. Louis, and Our Man Flint, just to name several over multiple decades. Television called in the early 1950s, and Borden worked until at least 1966 in the medium, appearing in such programs as The Burns & Allen Show, Have Gun-Will Travel, Perry Mason, Twilight Zone, and his last known appearance, the series Run For Your Life in 1966. Borden died July 21, 1971 at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 74. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica. Borden, below, left.
.  Louis Mercier was born as Louis Gabriel Mercier in Algiers, France on March 7, 1901. Slight of build, the 5', 7" Mercier came to the U.S. in 1922 and married an Indiana girl in 1931. Mercier appeared in over 100 films, from a part in a 1926 John Crawford film, Paris, to such features as Jezebel, Casablanca, Song of Bernadette, Passage to Marseille, To Have and Have Not (as Gerard), So Dark the Night, My Darling Clementine, To Catch a Thief (as the French blacksmith), An Affair to Remember, and Wreak of the Mary Deare. His last known appearance was a bit part in the 1977 film The Other Side of Midnight, playing a French cab driver. As with the other Frenchmen, he worked a lot on American television, appearing in such series as Adventures of SupermanAlfred Hitchcock Presents, Maverick, Bonanza, Perry Mason, Burke's law, Combat!, I Dream of Jeannie and Green Acres. Mercier died in Pasadena, California on March 25, 1993 at the age of 92. Mercier below, in a Hitchcock tv production in the 1950s on the left, and his bit part in Casablanca, on the right.   

In our next post, "whatever happened to" Peter Camlin? And the busiest Frenchman during television's classic years... Maurice Marsac.