Michael ArlenWednesday, February 27, 2019
Michael Arlen (16 November 1895 in Ruse, Bulgaria – 23 June 1956 in New York City), born Dikran Kouyoumdjian (Armenian: Տիգրան Գույումճյան), was a British essayist, short story writer, novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter of Armenian origin, who had his greatest successes in the 1920s while living and writing in England.
Arlen is most famous for his satirical romances set in English smart society, but he also wrote gothic horror and psychological thrillers, for instance "The Gentleman from America", which was filmed in 1956 as a television episode for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Near the end of his life, Arlen mainly occupied himself with political writing. Arlen's vivid but colloquial style "with unusual inversions and inflections with a heightened exotic pitch" came to be known as 'Arlenesque'.
Very much a 1920s society figure resembling the characters he portrayed in his novels, and a man who might be referred to as a dandy, Arlen invariably impressed everyone with his immaculate manners. He was always impeccably dressed and groomed, and was seen driving around London in a fashionable yellow Rolls Royce and engaging in all kinds of luxurious activities. However, he was well aware of the latent suspicion of foreigners, mixed with the envy with which his success was viewed by some.
His works became an inspiration for famous Hollywood movies such as A Woman of Affairs (1928), starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert; The Golden Arrow (1936), starring Bette Davis; and The Heavenly Body(1944), starring William Powell and Hedy Lamarr.
Fame and fortune
After "The London Venture", Arlen worked on romances, spicing them with elements of psychological thrills and horror, including The Romantic Lady, These Charming People, and "Piracy": A Romantic Chronicle of These Days. In These Charming People, for instance, Arlen wrote tales which included elements of fantasy and horror, in particular "The Ancient Sin" and "The Loquacious Lady of Lansdowne Passage". The volume also introduced a 'gentleman crook' reminiscent of Raffles in the story "The Cavalier of the Streets". The title of another story, "When a Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square", was the inspiration for the popular song of the same name.
These works culminated in the book that would launch Arlen's fame and fortune in the 1920s: The Green Hat, published in 1924. The Green Hat narrates the short life and violent death of Iris Storm, a femme fatale and dashing widow, the owner of a yellow Hispano-Suizaas well as the green hat of the title. Arlen adapted the novel for a 1925 Broadway play, starring Katharine Cornell and Leslie Howard in his most successful Broadway appearance to date. An almost simultaneous but less successful adaption in London's West Endstarred Tallulah Bankhead. The book figures in A Question of Upbringing by Anthony Powell as representative of life in Shepherd Market.
The novel was adapted for the silent 1928 Hollywood film A Woman of Affairs starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. The The Green Hat was considered provocative in the United States; hence, the movie was not allowed to make any references to it. The film obscured or altered plot points in the novel concerning homosexuality and venereal disease. It was adapted a second time in 1934, as Outcast Lady, with Constance Bennett and Herbert Marshall in the main roles.
After the publication of The Green Hat, Arlen became almost instantly famous, rich, and as with celebrities today, incessantly in the spotlight and newspapers. During this period of his fame, the mid-1920s, Arlen frequently travelled to the United States and worked on plays and films, including Dear Father and These Charming People.
According to Noël Coward's biographer Sheridan Morley, in 1924 Arlen rescued the play The Vortex by writing Coward a cheque for £250 when it seemed that otherwise the production would collapse (according to Coward himself—“Present Indicative,” p. 188–it was for £200). The Vortex made Coward's name.
Naturally, after all this fame and attention, Arlen felt somewhat anxious to write the book that would follow The Green Hat. Notwithstanding, Arlen wrote Young Men in Love (1927) and received mixed reviews.
After Young Men in Love, Arlen continued with Lily Christine (1928), Babes in the Wood (1929), and Men Dislike Women (1931), none of which received the enthusiastic reviews that The Green Hat had received. Arlen also wrote a volume of Ghost Stories (1927), which were influenced by Saki, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Machen.