Entrancing, luscious-lipped Michèle Mercier (1939) worked with such famous directors as François Truffaut, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Mario Monicelli. And although she appeared in more than fifty films she will always be best known as seductive Angélique, ‘the Marquise of the Angels’. This star making role proved to be a blessing but also a curse.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/33. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Michèle Mercier was born as Jocelyne Yvonne Renée Mercier in Nice (France) in 1939, the oldest daughter of a French pharmacist father and an Italian mother. She initially wanted to be a dancer. She studied dancing and at 8 years she became a 'petit rat' (little chorus girl) at the Opera de Nice. At 15, she played a small part in the film J'avais sept filles/I Have Seven Daughters (1954, Jean Boyer) starring Maurice Chevalier, who predicted her a successful career. At 17, she moved to Paris, and studied dance with the company Ballets de la tour Eiffel under the direction of Roland Petit. At the same time she followed drama classes with Solange Sicard. After a stay in London, she had her debut in the theatre. When she went to her parents for a holiday, she met director Denys de La Patellière, who was filming Retour de manivelle/There's Always a Price Tag (1957) in Nice. He gave her a role – as the chambermaid Jeanne. Her birth name seemed too long and old-fashioned for a film career, so she adopted the name Michèle. This was the name of her younger sister, who had died at the age of five from typhoid fever, and also of the star of Retour de manivelle, the great actress Michèle Morgan.
East-German postcard by VEB Progress, no. 2912, 1967.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 937. Offered by Les Carbones Korès 'Carboplane'. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Shoot the Pianist
Michèle Mercier was noticed by Léonide Moguy, who offered her the leading part in his film Donnez-moi ma chance/Give Me My Chance (1958). Robert Lamoureux made her the leading lady of La brune que voilà/There Is the Brunette – both in the theatre (1958) and on screen (1960). In 1959 she was invited to go to Hollywood but she quickly returned to Europe and became a star in Italy. She played parts in such European coproductions as Ein Engel auf Erden/Angel on Earth (1959, Géza von Radványi) co-starring with Romy Schneider and Henri Vidal, and Le Notti di Lucrezia Borgia/The Nights of Lucretia Borgia (1959, Serge Grieco) starring Belinda Lee. In Tirez sur le pianist/Shoot the Pianist (1960, François Truffaut) she played the part of a prostitute next to Charles Aznavour. She continued her career in France, Italy and sometimes in England, in such films as Aimez-vous Brahms/Goodbye Again (1961, Anatole Litvak) starring Ingrid Bergman, Gli anni ruggenti/Roaring Years (1962, Luigi Zampa), I Mostri/The Monsters (1963, Dino Risi), Symphonie pour un massacre/Symphony for a Massacre (1963, Jacques Deray), L’aine des Ferchaux/An Honorable Young Man (1963, Jean Pierre Melville) with Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Alta infedeltà/High Infidelity (1964, Mario Monicelli). She also starred in two Mario Bava films: Le Meraviglie di Aladino/The Wonders of Aladdin (1961) and I tre volti della paura/The Three Faces of Fear (1963) in the sketch The Telephone.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/127.
French postcard by E.D.U.G., no. 472. Photo: Sam Lévin.
Michèle Mercier needed a role which could make her a real star of the French cinema. In 1963 she got her chance, when producer Francis Cosne decided to make a film of the sensational novel Angélique, by Anne & Serge Golon. Cosne considered Brigitte Bardot (refused), Annette Vadim (too unknown), Catherine Deneuve (too pale), Jane Fonda (too American), and Virna Lisi (busy in America) for the part, but the actress he most seriously considered was Marina Vlady. She almost signed a contract, but Mercier won the role after trying out for it - she did not appreciate this very much since she was being treated like a beginner at a time when she was already well-known in Italy. At the time she was contacted to play Angélique, she had already acted in over twenty films. Angélique, marquise des anges/Angélique (1964, Bernard Borderie) enjoyed an astonishing success. During four years Mercier made a cycle of five Angélique films. However the role of ‘the Marquise of the Angels’ proved to be both a blessing and a curse, as Ivar Kümnik writes at IMDb: "It catapulted her to almost instant stardom, rivalling Brigitte Bardot in celebrity and popularity", but the character of Angélique overshadowed all other aspects of her career. By the end of the 1960’s, the names Angélique and Michèle Mercier were synonymous.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/32. Photo: Sam Lévin.
German postcard by Krüger, no. 902/295. Photo: Georg Michalke.
You Can't Win 'Em All
Michèle Mercier attempted to break free from the Angélique character and accepted roles opposite Jean Gabin in Le tonnère de Dieu/The Thunder of God (1965, Denys de la Patellière), and opposite Robert Hossein in La Seconde Vérité/The Other Truth (1966, Christian-Jaque). Mercier then left France and tried to re-start her career in the United States. She played in You Can't Win 'Em All (1970, Peter Collinson) with Tony Curtis and Charles Bronson, but unfortunately it was a disaster. Her private life was disastrous too. She married the assistant-director André Smagghe in 1961. Sadly he turned out to be an alcoholic who was eventually hospitalized. They divorced in 1967. After a long relationship she married the well-known racing driver Claude Bourillot in 1970, but he disappeared one day with all her jewels and money, leaving her penniless. They divorced in 1976. Her other relationships were also disastrous. She claimed that her co-star Vittorio Gassman once tried to rape her, and an Italian Prince N. refused to marry her after many years of courtship. She was also pursued by Bettino Craxi and Silvio Berlusconi. In 1987 she published her autobiography Angélique a cœur perdu, prefaced by Roger Peyrefitte. She started a publishing house and in 1995 Merveilleuse Angélique a photobook is published. At the end of 1996 her second autobiography is released Angéliquement Votre. Unfortunately her business associate stole from her and she ended up with a large debt. She confessed in the French newspaper Nice Matin: "I am ruined, I'll be obliged to sell part of my paintings, my furnitures, my properties, my jewels and the costumes of Angélique". After a 14-year interval she returned to the screen in La Rumbera (1998, Piero Vivarelli). She returned to the area where she was born, and lives in Cannes. In May 2002 her new autobiography Je ne suis pas Angélique/I am not Angélique was published. On TV, she played parts in the Italian series Il Bello delle Donna/The Beauty of Women (2003, Luigi Parisi a.o.) with Stefania Sandrelli and Gabriel Garko, the Russian war series Krasnaya kapella (2004) and the French comedy series Vénus & Apollon/Venus and Apollo (2009, Pascal Lahmani) with Maria de Medeiros. This year she returned to the cinema in Celles qui aimaient Richard Wagner/Those Who Love Richard Wagner (2011, Jean-Louis Guillermou) featuring Jean-François Balmer as the famous composer. In 2006 Michèle Mercier was decorated with the French order of Chevalier dans l'Ordre national des Arts et lettres. In his speech the Minister of the Culture reverted to her "immense popular success" in the mythical series Angélique, in which she personified a "liberated woman, sensual and strong".
Trailer of I tre volti della paura/Black Sabbath (1963). Source: Danios12345 (YouTube).
Trailer of Angélique, marquise des anges/Angélique (1964). Source: Oldiestrailers (YouTube).
'Mini-trailer' for the film film Une veuve en or/A golden widow (1969, Michel Audiard). Michèle Mercier sings La Fille Qui Fait Tchic Ti Tchic. Source: Jinoschka (YouTube).
Sources: Ivar Kümnik (IMDb), Wikipedia, Michèle Mercier’s Fansite, and IMDb.