Adolphe Menjou — He Refuses to be a Star (1931) 🇺🇸

Adolphe Menjou |

January 27, 2022

Adolphe Menjou prefers less honor and fewer worries.

by Jack Beverly

Adolphe Menjou refuses to be a motion-picture star. In four or five languages, Mr. Menjou declares that when it comes to starring, he is not having any.

Nothing like this has ever happened before in Hollywood.

If Mr. Menjou couldn’t be a star, had never been a star, it might seem easy to explain. You could get down your old copy of the Fables and read the one about the fox and the sour grapes and say, “There you have it.”

Far, far from such is the truth in this peculiar matter.

Mr. Menjou was a star. For four long years he was one of the great stars of the Paramount program. Then, after a jaunt to Europe, he returned to the cinema capital and was offered stardom by several different companies. In fact, for two months he didn’t work because the only jobs offered him were starring jobs. I verified that by the producers themselves.

“I will not be a movie star,” was Mr. Menjou’s theme song. “Why?” demanded a number of bewildered producers who had gone over his former box-office earnings and decided he was a great bet in the new medium of the talkies.

“Because I’ve been one,” said the suave Mr. Menjou.

Which only led to deeper bewilderment on the part of said producers.

It was not that Mr. Menjou wanted to retire. He had gone abroad with some idea that he might like to live on the Continent, dallying about the Riviera and wintering in Cairo and doing some traveling. But it had palled. He liked to work.

So when two months had gone by and he’d been selected only for star roles, Mr. Menjou took matters into his own hands. He promoted himself a lot of non-starring jobs.

He went and asked Irving Thalberg and Mr. Schulberg and several producers for a chance to play just parts. And he got them only by agreeing to do some foreign versions in which he would be starred. He speaks French, German and Spanish as well as English.

So now Adolphe Menjou, one time star, one time a general in the Hollywood army, is demoted to the rank of about a top-sergeant, and is he happy!

Hearing much discussion about all this, with some folks saying, “Poor Adolphe, imagine how he feels,” and others saying, “He’s an idiot,” I went to inquire for an expansion of his statements. Having found out on good authority that he actually had refused to be a star, I felt I had to know why.

Here is his explanation, brief, to the point, given to me in rapid-fire conversation.

“I don’t want to be a star. I won’t be a star. I never did want to be one in the first place. I was right then, but I lost my nerve. Now that I have been one, I’m more convinced than ever.

“I am more or less a type actor. I am to play the parts that are right for me. I want the very best parts I can play. I’d rather play a real good part than a star part. Often those aren’t good parts. Often they aren’t in good stories.

“I want to work. I like to work — if it’s fun, if I enjoy it. I don’t need a lot of money. I’m not rich, but I don’t need to worry any more. I was up there in that big money for quite a few years and I’ve managed things so that I can always be comfortable. Still, I like to work and it’s always a good thing to have the bread-and-butter money coming in on top of your income.

“But I don’t want to do unpleasant work, I don’t want to be worried and harassed and nervous and on edge. I don’t want to play in rotten stories. And, by golly, I don’t have to.

“When Mr. Lasky came to me years ago and said he wanted to star me, I said I didn’t want to be starred. They thought I ought to be. So I said I would, but they’d have to pay high. Not, you understand that I thought “ was so great. But that I intended to collect for the worry of being a star, and for the harm it would probably do me in the end.

I figured out that a man like myself — not an all-round actor, who can go on playing thousands of kinds of stories, but one who is necessarily bound by physical qualifications to certain roles — would do better over a long period of years not to be starred. I am unquestionably a character actor. It’s difficult to get a long succession of good stories in which to star a character actor.

“It proved so in my case. In the four, almost five years, I starred for Paramount, we exhausted every good story for me not only of the present and in English but for fifteen years back and in every language. We combed the literature of all nations. In the end, we found our stock exhausted. There would, of course, be an occasional new story written in which I could star. But to make four good pictures a year with me was an impossibility. There simply were not the stories.

“So if I went on starring it meant continuing to do pictures I didn’t like, didn’t approve of, didn’t enjoy.

“Besides, for four years I had had the worries and responsibilities of a star. No matter whose fault a mistake might be, it was my name that appeared on the picture. It was an Adolphe Menjou picture. There were literally a thousand and one things to be considered. I never had a day’s peace. I was always searching for stories, reading stories, discussing them, fighting for or against them with producers.

“Then there were casts. Who should play this part, who should play that? What leading lady was best? What director? Sometimes I felt they were mistaken in forcing certain actors or actresses upon me. Sometimes they felt I was wrong in refusing their selections. Maybe I was. Maybe they were.

“But it was all a trial, believe me. I don’t believe there’s any other life in the world that has as many trials as a movie star’s. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

“Do you know something? Since I stopped being a star, I feel ten years younger.”

I studied him a moment. I remember a day a couple of years ago when I talked with him for an hour or so in his office at the Paramount studio, when he was still a star.

“You look ten years younger than you did then,” I said, and meant it. He actually did. The worried look was gone from his eyes, the lines from his mouth. He looked happy and carefree. What change had come about in less than a year!

“Why shouldn’t I? I’m better off in every way, except financially, and I daresay in the end I’ll be better off that way, too. I have nothing to do now but say yes or no, and then work. I read the story. If it’s no good, I say, ‘No, I don’t want to play in that’ and then I forget it. I don’t have to explain why I don’t like it. I don’t have to worry and fret while nine scenario writers make treatments of it trying to make me like it. I don’t have to begin sweating wondering where we are going to get a story that I do like.

“When I say yes, all I have to do is arrive when I’m called and do my work, which is acting. I have no responsibility.

“It’s a great life. I never “was so happy. I have some time to myself. I live normally. I love to come to the studio, because I like to act, and now I don’t have to be bothered with anything else. I sleep at night.

“As for the glory — I wonder, after all, how much there is in that? The fact that I’m not starring doesn’t make any difference to the people who liked me. I hope they’ll enjoy the roles I play now. I don’t see why they shouldn’t. I have an infinite variety to select from. I can do a little part if I want to, if it’s a fine bit and can be made something of I can play a supporting role, if it gives me good dramatic opportunities. Moreover, I can play opposite or with great women stars, and we can build up much better scenes than I could when I had to take some leading woman who wasn’t as experienced. If I’d been a star would I ever have gotten to play in a picture with Marlene Dietrich? “Would I have had a story like ‘Morocco’ and a director like Von Sternberg.

“Not much! Under the star system, as a rule, the star’s salary is such that money has to be saved other places. If they get a great story and pay a lot of money for it, they give it to actors who aren’t so expensive. A star who earns big money is apt to be given inexpensive casts and directors, to even up the cost of production.

“That’s the reason, perhaps, that a lot of stars are killed. That some studios are graveyards of promising stars. When you’re a star, you can’t have the people you want, that you know would be the best for the role. They’re tied up, they’re too expensive.

“Well, anybody can have me now for any part they think Adolphe Menjou is the one to play. If it’s a good story and a good part, I’ll play it, and so I’ll be in better pictures. I shall be able to work as long as I want to. And when I want to quit and travel, I can. I’ve nothing to worry about.

“So I think I’ve been very wise. I’m very happy, anyway. And that’s the main thing eh?”

I agreed it was, and he dashed off, shouting in various languages at his friends and looking like a boy again.

Hollywood can think he’s crazy.

I think he’s the smartest man I’ve met around here in a long time.

For four years Adolphe Menjou was a star. Then he tired of the worries and problems of a screen luminary. He has decided that he merely wants to play good roles — and he means it.

New Movie Next Month Presents an Authoritative Article on


Hollywood sets the modes for the world. What is the movie colony going to wear? This makes the first definite statement on the new fashions and what they will mean to women throughout the land.

Source: New Movie Magazine, March 1931