Renowned French businessman and actor, Alain Delon was born in Sceaux, Seine, Île-de-France on November 8th, 1935. By the age of four, both his parents had divorced and remarried giving Delon a half-sister and two half-brothers. Growing up in a suburb of Paris, Delon attended numerous boarding schools for most of his early years, having to switch as he was expelled from one and then another due to his inappropriate behavior. By the age of fourteen, he had enough and quit school to work in his stepfather’s butcher shop. By the time he turned 17, he enlisted in the French Navy and served as a fusilier marin during the First Indochina War. His unruly past from boarding school continued to haunt him, and he spent just shy of an entire year in prison for being what the Navy called “undisciplined”. In 1956, he was dishonorably discharged from the Navy and returned to France. Over the course of the next few years, he took many odd jobs working as a waiter, a porter and even in sales and as a secretary.
An Entrance to Stardom
It was during his time working odd jobs that he met actress Brigitte Auber and accompanied her to the famous Cannes Film Festival where he was seen by a talent scout for David Selznick who offered him his first contract on the condition he learned how to speak fluent English. Delon agreed and returned to Paris with the intention of learning how to speak the language. However, upon his arrival he met Yves Allégret, a French director who convinced him that he could become just as famous if he stayed in France. Surprisingly, Selznick agreed to allow Delon to cancel his contract, and Allégret gave him a role in ‘Quand la femme s’en mêle’. His performance was a success, and he was offered a second role in the movie ‘Women are Weak’ which introduced his face to American moviegoers.
It was an instant hit, and he almost immediately shot to fame. By the age of 23, he was being compared to French legends such as Jean Marais and American star James Dean.
In 1958, Delon starred in the film Christine where he met Romy Schneider and subsequently fell in love with her getting engaged in March of 1959.
As the 1960s rolled in, Delon made two more hit films when he appeared in ‘Purple Noon’ based on The Talented Mr. Ripley followed by ‘Rocco and His Brothers’. Both roles earn him positive reviews by some very discerning film critics. Delon took this opportunity to enter the live stage and played alongside his partner Romy Schneider in the play ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore’ which broke box office records in Paris.
During the engagement with Schneider, Delon had an affair with a German model, singer and actress named Nico, which resulted in a pregnancy. In August 1962, Nico gave birth to Delon’s son Christian who handed responsibility over to his parents to care for the child.
Finding the affair too difficult to try and get past, Schneider broke off the engagement by the end of 1963. Just a few months later, Delon married Nathalie Barthélemy and one month later had a son with her named Anthony.
Delon had by this time officially become France’s hottest ticket, and Delon was considered for the lead role in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but lost out to Peter O’Toole. However, because he was so closely considered for the role, Seven Arts offered him a four-picture contract that included ‘The King of Paris’ and ‘Marco Polo’. Despite promises, neither film ended up going to production so Delon took another French role in ‘Any Number Can Play’ followed by yet another Visconti film in ‘Il Gattopardo’.
By this time, Delon had developed an interest in becoming a producer and negotiated to be paid in distribution rights over a salary for ‘Any Number Can Play’. With the success of the film, Delon opened Delbeau Productions and produced his first film called ‘L’insoumis’.
Delon had made such a name for himself that all of the Hollywood studios were talking about the attractive, well-dressed French actor taking America by storm. Delon heard rumors of this and sought out the big picture players in California looking for roles. Since ‘Any Number Can Play’ was distributed by MGM in the United States, Delon opted to sign on with them for a five-picture contract. Starring alongside Jane Fonda, Delon shot his first MGM film ‘Joy House’ in his native country. With the success of it, he immediately began filming for ‘The Yellow Rolls Royce’ and ‘Once a Thief’. Delon then decided he needed more money and signed another deal with Columbia for three films. With studio execs realizing his appeal in action, he was cast in ‘Lost Command’. Universal saw this and rented him for a Western they were making with Dean Martin called ‘Texas Across the River’. He was then requested by Seven Arts who wanted to use him in ‘This Property is Condemned’ and ‘The Night of the Iguana’. Despite not taking either role, he found a better opportunity in ‘Is Paris Burning’ with Seven Arts which became a huge sensation in France but flopped terribly in the United States. This seemed to be par for the course with most of his Hollywood financed films seeing a domestic flop but doing well at the French box office and overseas. In many countries, including Japan, Delon was at the top of the ranks as one of the third most coveted actors sharing the space with Sean Connery and Steve McQueen. Despite the studios in Hollywood having faith in his skill and stardom, somehow he was never able to make it on US soil as a top-billed performer. As almost all six of his Hollywood films went bust in the US, Delon returned to France to make ’The Last Adventure’ and ‘Le Samourai’ which was an instant hit.
By 1967, the relationship with Nathalie was ending but the couple opted to continue to live together. Delon decided he needed to go back into production in order to make money and incorporated a new company called Adel where he produced and starred in its first film, ‘Jeff’ where he met another actress from France named Mireille Darc who he began dating despite still living and being married to his wife.
‘Jeff’ was another great success and he followed it up with another film called ‘Borsalino’ which is still, to this day, considered on of the highest grossing films of all time in France.
Then, late in 1968, in a village on the outskirts of Paris, the body of a man named Stevan Markovic was found in the dump by police. At the time of his disappearance, Markovic was the personal bodyguard to Delon and during the investigation, Delon and a gangster named Francois Marcantoni became the prime suspects in his murder. Police suspected Delon thanks to a letter Markovic sent to his brother which said “If I get killed, it’s 100% fault of Alain Delon and his godfather Francois Marcantoni.” The investigation widened rapidly and even began to place the French Prime Minister Georges Pompidou in the crosshairs of law enforcement. Rumors swirled and many suspected that Delon and Pompidou were involved in a group sex ring focused on the deflation of Pompidou’s wife. Pompidou took to the press and immediately accused two antagonists of using the French spy agency SDECE to set him up. During the investigation he became the President of the Republic and aimed at reformed the SDECE where a secret agent was fired for what he claimed was this set up.
With the allegations behind him and his confidence built back up, Delon decided to take a second try in the United States and made ‘Red Sun’ which subsequently flopped in the US box office but soared in France. Delon realized that his career as an actor could potential be short-lived, especially since he seemed incapable of succeeding consistently in the US box office. He took a large portion of his income and reinvested it into a range of businesses involved in everything from horse racing, boxing, aviation and manufacturing. Continuing to act and fulfill his passion, he starred in the film 1975 French film ‘Zorro’ and a year later, in ‘Monsieur Klein, for which he won a César award for his performance. Delon continued to be successful at the box offices throughout much of Europe, especially in Russia.
His fame across France ended up generating a reputation as a fairly egotistical actor who thought of himself, and often referred to himself, as a superstar. During an interview, he once stated “The simple truth is that I am an enormous star all over the world. I like that because it enables me to live well.”
Still wanting to make it in America, Delon hired Hollywood agent Sue Mengers who got him a leading role in ‘The Concodre… Airport ’79’ which also flopped in America. Despite his inability to succeed state-side, every other film he did in France was an enormous success earning him yet another César award for best actor for his performance in ‘Notre Histoire’. By 1982 his relationship with Darc was over after fifteen years together.
As the late 1980s rolled in, Delon started another relationship after meeting a Dutch model named Rosalie van Breemen on the set of a music video for his song ‘Comme au Cinema’. Although he had this new love, Delon’s luck seemed to fade, even in his homeland. Throughout the next decade almost every film he made was a catastrophic failure with the sole exception of ‘Nouvelle Vague’. Van Breemen and Delon had two children during this time, a daughter named Anouschka and a son, Alain-Fabien. Realizing his career was almost over, Delon decided to make one more film which he would use to determine whether he could continue to succeed or whether his time as an actor was up. He starred in the 1998 movie ‘Une Chance Sur Deux’ which immediately flopped and he announced his retirement from acting, although he continued to take the occasional role when it fell into his lap.
The Style of Alain Delon
by Sven Raphael Schneider
Alain Delon was certainly a man of style, not just in his movies but also in real live and if he had managed to speak English fluently he would have been even more well known than he is today. His style was manifold but always trendsetting, probably because it always had a rakish element that made him stand out, no matter if he wore a three piece suit or an unbuttoned linen shirt.
He liked his ties slim, and his collars were never more than medium spread. The lapels on his suits varied in width, though they were mostly slim.
When wearing Black Tie, he favored a single button, peaked lapel jacket with medium to slim lapels. His tuxedo shirts were white, pleated, with turndown or wing collar, double cuffs and two studs instead of the 4 or 5 you usually see today.
On occasion, he would also wear a marcella bib stiff fronted shirt with one visible shirt stud, single stiff cuff and detachable wing collar. Although a fashion from the 1930’s when the tuxedo was upgraded in terms of formality by combining it with a white tie shirt, Delon managed to keep it look timeless and elegant when he wore it.
Although he looked splendid with Borsalino hats, he rarely wore the privately.
For his casual ensembles he always favored a nonchalant look that is often referred to as Sprezzatura nowadays.
Sometimes he would wear boutonnieres in his lapel and cut a splendid figure.
Today, his suits lack the elegance of times gone-bye, his tie knots are often sloppy and have a gap between the open shirt, and the knot. Although he was a true style icon from the Mad Men era, he did not manage to remain as stylish as other seasoned movie stars such as Fred Astaire.
For a better understanding of his style, watch the video below and for more pictures of Delon, you should take a look here.
The Business Man
Unlike many actors around the world, Delon was smart with his money and knew he needed a back up in case film ever let him down. In addition to his career as an actor, Delon was also a very successful entrepreneur. He has manufactured a number of products including watches, sunglasses, cigarettes, perfume and clothing.
Today, Alain Delon, thanks to dual citizenship he received in the late 1990s, lives in Chêne-Bougeries near Geneva, Switzerland with his two youngest children where he remains in semi-retirement, managing his businesses and occasionally making a public appearance. He has, since the beginning of his career, been considered a French style-symbol with his personal style being heralded by fans around the world. Despite his many chagrins, Delon has managed to accrue a reputation as one of the most sartorially-savvy gentlemen in all of France.