Obituary: Arletty

GILBERT ADAIR concluded his obituary of Arletty (25 July) with the true and moving comment that 'absolutely nothing in the celluloid image of Arletty, the only one most of us have ever known of her, will have been altered by her death. She is, as she always was, one of the medium's most ravishing, most vital, most human ghosts.' Ravishing, vital and intensely human through many years of blindness and into extreme old age, Arletty remained highly intelligent and down-to- earth, writes Roland Gant.

She had no time for the 'dahling' showbiz world and chatter, rejected on the one hand being addressed respectfully as 'Madame', rather than 'Mademoiselle', and on the other by the pseudo-intimate second person singular. My French wife also dislikes this familiarity and once suggested to our son, Arletty's godson, that now he was an adult 'vous' might be more in order than 'tu'. Arletty: 'I'd disown any godson who did not call me 'tu'.'

In nearly half a century of friendship we discussed everything under the sun and I learned much from her on the French theatre, history and language. 'In any talk or article on Les Enfants du Paradis there is always praise for us players and for Carne's direction but not enough credit is given to Prevert for the poetry of his dialogue, of which I still relish every line. But is it still appreciated now that the French language has become so adulterated and debased?'

Recalling Belle Ile, off the Breton coast, where Arletty had a cottage for some years, I told her about the Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown, who draws his inspiration from the island where he lives and who had once stated that 'Decay of language is always the symptom of a more serious sickness.' She asked me to translate and write it down for her because 'it is so true, a poet's clear vision'.

My memories of her are as clear in mind, both in sight and sound, as a film; being driven across Paris in her tiny motor car around 1948 and stopped several times by policemen, not for her driving elan but because they wanted to say 'Bonjour, Arletty. Ca va?'; walking to lunch en famille at her local restaurant, she over 90, tall and slender in white, that inimitable voice and laughter bubbling like a spring of joy.

The hearse paused for a moment before the Hotel du Nord, saved from demolition a few years ago by a campaign launched by Arletty. A thousand mourners had gathered at that little bridge over the Canal Saint Martin where in the film Hotel du Nord, addressing Louis Jouvet, she had conferred her unforgettable 'Atmosphere]'

Au revoir, Arletty, from all who love and admire you. Never adieu.

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