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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897)

Delobelle, the Great Actor

From “Fromont Junior and Risler Senior”

AFTER abandoning the provincial boards, and coming to join the Parisian stage, Delobelle was now waiting for an intelligent manager—the ideal, far-seeing manager who discovers geniuses—to seek him out and offer him a part worthy of his talents. He might, perhaps, especially at first, have got an inconspicuous part in some third-class playhouse, but Delobelle refused to throw himself away. He preferred to wait and “struggle,” he said. And this is what he meant by “struggling”:

Every morning in his bedroom, very often in bed, he went over parts in his old repertory. The Delobelle ladies trembled when they heard tirades from Antony or The Children’s Doctor resounding through the partition, declaimed in a pealing voice which mingled with the thousand noises of a great city’s traffic. Then, after luncheon, the actor went out until night-time to “do his boulevard”—that is to say, to dawdle back and forth between the Château d’Eau and the Madeleine church, a toothpick stuck in his mouth, his hat a little aslant, well gloved, well brushed, and altogether glorious. The question of appearance was one of great importance with him. Therein lay his grand chance of success: to captivate the manager, that famous intelligent manager, who never would dream of employing a slovenly, threadbare person.

So the Delobelle ladies scrupulously saw to the fulfilment of all his wants, and it may well be imagined what a quantity of artificial birds and insects had to be sold to provide for a gentleman of his ideas! But the actor took their efforts quite as a matter of course. In his view the labors and privations of his wife and daughter were not devoted to himself precisely, but to the vague, mysterious genius of which he considered himself a sort of representative.

There was a certain analogy between the Chèbe and Delobelle households. Only the lot of the Delobelles was less sad than that of the Chèbes, who felt oppressed by the narrowness and monotony of their existence, while in the actor’s family hope and illusion opened up all sorts of splendid vistas. The Chèbes were like people living in a blind alley; the Delobelles inhabited a filthy, dark little street, where the air was bad, but where some day a fine boulevard was to be laid out. Besides, Mme. Chèbe no longer believed in her husband, whereas, through the magic of that single word “art,” her neighbor had never doubted hers.

And meanwhile, for years and years, Delobelle in vain drank vermouth with theatrical agents, absinthe with leaders of professional applause-gangs, bitters with sketch and play writers and the celebrated What’s-his-name, author of several great masterpieces. In this manner the poor fellow, without acting even once, had perforce slid down from leading man to second principal, then to financial magnates, to noble fathers, to ridiculous louts.

But he stuck to it!

Two or three times his friends had tried to find a living for him as manager in a club or café, or as floor-walker in some large general emporium, such as the Bastille Lights or the Colossus of Rhodes. Good manners were the only requisite qualifications, and in those Delobelle was not lacking—good heavens, no! Which, however, did not prevent the great man from heroically rejecting every such proposition. Said he:

“I have no right to give up the stage!”

Coming from the mouth of a poor devil who had not set foot on the boards for years, this sounded irresistibly comical. But you lost your inclination to laugh when you saw his wife and daughter inhaling particles of arsenic night and day, and heard them vigorously repeat, as their needles broke against the wire for the little birds:

“No, no, M. Delobelle has no right to give up the stage!”

Happy man, whose bulging eyes forever smiled condescension, and whose habit of reigning in plays had given him the exceptional position of a spoiled, adulated child—king for life! Whenever he went out the shopkeepers in the Rue Francs Bourgeois, with that Parisian mania for everything connected with the stage, bowed to him with profound respect. He was always so well dressed! And then he was so affable, so obliging! To think that every Saturday night he, Ruy Blas, Antony, the Raphael of The Marble Women, the Andrew of The Pirates of the Plains, sallied forth with a cardboard box under his arm to take the work of his womenfolk to an establishment in the Rue Saint Denis! Well, even in the discharge of such a humble commission, this devil of a fellow exhibited such a noble deportment and natural majesty that the girl who paid the bill felt very much embarrassed at handing such an imposing swell the small weekly sum. On those evenings the actor would not go home for dinner, the ladies being told beforehand. He would then invariably meet some colleague out of luck, like himself, whom he would regale at a restaurant. What remained of the money he would faithfully take home—for which the women were properly thankful—and sometimes a bunch of flowers for his better half, a small present for Désirée, some little trinket, some trifle. What else would you have expected him to do? Those are the customs of the stage. In a melodrama it is nothing to throw a handful of gold out of the window, exclaiming:

“There, rascal, take that! Off to your mistress, and announce that I await her coming!”

Hence, despite their great courage and fortitude, and although their trade was fairly profitable, the Delobelle ladies often found themselves cramped for want of money, especially at dull seasons.