Michèle Mercier (born New Year’s Day 1939) is a French actress perhaps best known for playing the lead role of Angélique in the mid1960s film series of the same name based on the 1956 sensational novel Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels by husband and wife writing team of Anne and Serge Golon. Their mid-17th century character was based on a real life Suzanne du Plessis-Bellière who was one of France’s most famous women from the time of Louis XIV, the Sun King. The historical Suzanne first appeared in a French novel in the mid-nineteenth century, one by Alexandre Dumas, père, called Le Vicomte de Bragelonne, ou Dix ans plus tard. Similar to these 5 films inspired by the Golons’ novel of (by 1961) six books — Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels which is the first book published in 1957 (the novel expanded to 13 books after the 1964 film’s release) — Dumas’s novel, the third of his d’Artagnan trilogy, was also serialized in popular media from 1847 to 1850.
Michèle Mercier as Angélique is a French Italian beauty who has entered the pantheon of screen goddesses based largely on the legendary five-film role that stretched from 1964 to 1968.
For the part of Angélique, many other beautiful and more famous actresses were approached before Michèle Mercier who was little known in the French cinema at the time. Seasoned French film producer Francis Cosne (1916-1984) wanted sex symbol Brigitte Bardot to play the part, but she rejected the offer. Young Catherine Deneuve was considered perhaps too naive for the lusty role. American Jane Fonda spoke French but could an American play fully a quintessentially French role? Italian beauty Virna Lisi was too busy doing Hollywood films. Not being already famous eliminated statuesque Danish actress Annette Stroyberg from the running until ultimately Michèle Mercier was decided upon after almost losing the part to French actress Marina Vlady who at the last minute didn’t sign the contract.
Michèle Mercier as Angélique.
When the opportunity of Angélique presented itself to Michèle Mercier, she was a relative newcomer to the French cinema – but this was not the case for her either in French theatre arts or Italian films where before 1964 she had acted in over 20 of them. With a father who was French and mother who was Italian, Michèle Mercier from her early teens growing up in Nice, France, was determined to be a professional ballet dancer. In 1957, at 17 years old, she moved to Paris which was a decision that changed her life. By 1960, when she was just 20 years old, she was acting in French New Wave film director François Truffaut’s second film, Shoot The Piano Player.
After Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels was released — an unlikely heroine’s role where Angélique’s singular flaming red-haired beauty is acknowledged throughout — the role became a blessing and a curse for the budding actress Michèle Mercier. It catapulted her to instant stardom so that her fame rivaled sex symbol Brigitte Bardot in celebrity and popularity, but the role in 5 popular films typecast her and effectively ended her film career almost as soon as it started. Following the first Angélique film in 1964 Michèle Mercier starred in four sequels that includes Merveilleuse Angélique in 1965, Angélique et le Roy in 1966, IndomptableAngélique in 1967 and Angélique et le Sultan in 1968. All these films in the series were directed by French film director Bernard Borderie (1924-1978) and starred Michèle Mercier which bestowed upon the stories a consistent filmic world but also encased the beautiful star in a popular role that was virtually impossible to escape from.
Following the fifth and final film of the Angélique series in 1968 the French Italian beauty went on to make six more films before her career ended in 1972. Although Michèle Mercier had always appeared in a variety of film genres – the actress played dozens of other women besides Angélique – it was for this 17th century fictional character in five memorable films in 1960’s France that has affixed her into the pantheon of screen goddesses for which she receives enduring adoration today.
Michèle Mercier in 1965.
Michèle Mercier on the cover of the April 20-26, 1968 French weekly magazine, Télé 7 Jours with Jacques Chazot. In these months, Michèle Mercier was riding high in the Angélique film series. Indomptable Angélique had been released in October 1967 and was a world-wide smash hit. In the film, Angélique discovers that her first husband is alive and she Angélique travels to the South of France not realizing he is now an infamous pirate. Angélique is captured by slave traders and taken far away to Crete where they intend to sell her. In March 1968, Angélique et le Sultan had just been released. It became the fifth and unintended final entry in the Angélique series based on the novels of Anne and Serge Golon. A planned sixth film called Angelique the Rebel was announced but never made.
MICHÈLE MERCIER “ANGÉLIQUE” SERIESFILMOGRAPHY
1964: Angélique, Marquise des Anges Michèle Mercier as Angélique Directed by Bernard Borderie Released December 8, 1964 Distributed by S.N. Prodi; Gloria Film; Butcher’s Film Distributors
1965: Marvelous Angelique (Merveilleuse Angélique) Michèle Mercier as Angélique Directed by Bernard Borderie Released July 7, 1965 Distributed by S.N. Prodi; Gloria Film
1966: Angelique and the King (Angélique et le Roy) Michèle Mercier as Angélique Directed by Bernard Borderie Released February 4, 1966 Distributed by Gloria Film
1967: Untamable Angelique (Indomptable Angélique) Michèle Mercier as Angélique Directed by Bernard Borderie Released October 27, 1967 Distributed by S.N. Prodi; Gloria Film
1968: Angelique and the Sultan (Angélique et le Sultan) Michèle Mercier as Angélique Directed by Bernard Borderie Released March 13, 1968 Distributed by S.N. Prodi; Gloria Film
FEATURE image: Jennifer Jones in Good Morning, Miss Dove! (1955).
Movie poster for Henry Koster’s Good Morning, Miss Dove! Starring Jennifer Jones, it was released by 20th Century-Fox the day before Thanksgiving in 1955.
Jennifer Jones in Good Morning, Miss Dove! (1955). The 36-year-old actress plays an elderly teacher taken ill at school who, in flashbacks reviewing her life, as a young woman had been about to marry the man she loved when her father died unexpectedly and was secretly heavily in debt. Miss Dove decides not to marry but to repay the debt by becoming the town’s teacher.
The film stars Jennifer Jones, Robert Stack, Kipp Hamilton, Robert Douglas, Peggy Knudsen, Marshall Thompson, Chuck Connors, and Mary Wickes. The film opened to good reviews and was popular at the box office. A New York Times review observed: “Since it is unashamedly sentimental without being excessively maudlin about its heroine, ‘Good Morning, Miss Dove’ deserves credit for being honest and entertaining.”
By John P. Walsh
Good Morning, Miss Dove! is Frances Gray Patton’s contemporary tale of a middle-aged spinster elementary school geography teacher in Liberty Hill who, when suddenly taken ill, sees the entire small town rally to her side.
It is a mythical period piece from the mid-1950’s. It depicts an unchanging town whose students obey their beloved teacher. Though directed by Henry Koster in a stagey way, the film boasts progressive casting. One year after the milestone 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education establishing racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, Good Morning, Miss Dove! presents a newly-integrated public school classroom in Cinemascope and De Luxe color.
Film-going audiences in 1955 loved the film.
Awaiting a risky operation, Miss Dove (Jennifer Jones) thinks back on her life and those of her prized grown-up former students. They included Robert Stack (a surgeon), Chuck Connors (a policeman), and Jerry Paris (a playwright). All of these students overcame difficult childhoods and found worldly achievement with the help of Miss Dove.
Based on popular Book of the Month Club novel.
Patton’s novel had enjoyed success in 1954 as a Book of the Month Club and Reader’s Digest selection. Its release as a major motion picture by 20th Century-Fox continued the novel heroine’s popularity.
Release of the film during the Thanksgiving weekend 1955 was in the same year that Jennifer Jones starred in another Deluxe color film, the American drama-romance Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.
For the Academy-Award winning actress to play an elderly spinster (many early scenes feature the naturally dark-haired Miss Jones without her older character’s make-up), she moves beyond type. In the mid-1950’s as America settled into the Eisenhower years, Good Morning, Miss Dove! showed a lead film character -– the “terrible” Miss Dove played by Jennifer Jones — as an unflinching and beloved disciplinarian. Yet in the 1950’s the American public education system was undergoing copious and difficult change. In that way, the character of Miss Dove is further complicated by becoming a popular icon in the American culture by being mostly a nostalgic figure.
A flashback scene from Good Morning, Miss Dove! Jennifer Jones as young Miss Dove with her father, Alonso Dove (Leslie Bradley). When he dies unexpectedly and in debt, Miss Dove resolves to pay it back and upends her own life’s plans to do so. Costumes by Mary Wills.
In 1955 Jennifer Jones was a 36-year-old beauty. Through the magic of Hollywood make-up (Ben Nye) and hair styling (Helen Turpin), she was transformed into the elderly Miss Dove for Good Morning, Miss Dove! In 1954 after Grace Kelly wore make-up for The Country Girl that hid her good looks and went against her youthful image (Kelly was 24 years old), she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for that year.
Young Miss Dove played by Jennifer Jones gives up marriage to the man she loves for a future as a spinster teacher so to pay back her late father’s debt. The story is based on a book by Frances Gray Patton that was itself based on her short stories. When 20th-Century Fox bought the rights for $52,000, it was the equivalent of about half a million dollars today.
Jennifer Jones as the elderly teacher in Good Morning, Miss Dove! set in the fictional Midwest town of Liberty Hill. Before filming began in July 1955, director Henry Koster wanted Olivia deHavillandfor the role and have it set in England. Though set in contemporary America, critics saw Miss Dove as a character out of Charles Dickens.
The audience meets the elder Miss Dove at the movie’s start—make-up and hair-styling artists Ben Nye and Helen Turpin transformed the 35-year-old Jennifer Jones into the 55-year-old Miss Dove—and by flashbacks.
The film dramatizes her youth as she is about to marry. But she receives the unexpected news that her father has died suddenly and that he has debts. To pay them back, she steels herself to remain single and take a teaching post. Her chilly veneer is part of her honor to do the proper thing along with the sober accommodation to life’s necessary sacrifices.
While those who did not know Miss Dove mock her behind her back and say she couldn’t have had much of a life—never married, no family, no kids, never traveled anywhere—her army of students judge her differently.
Beyond any possibly wider cultural meaning, the film presents a unique person who by the logic of her experience or the experience of her logic enters into a series of social interactions that are amusing and honest. These include the film’s penultimate scene. Miss Dove is on her sick bed when she tells her pastor, Reverend Burnham (Biff Elliot): “Life, whatever others may think, has been for me…I have been happy. I have made many mistakes. Perhaps even sinned. I admit my human limitations but I do not in all honesty find the burden of my sins intolerable. Nor have I strayed like a sheep. I have never been AWOL. I have never spoken hypocrisy to my Maker and now is scarcely a propitious moment to begin.”
While these thoughts may be judged from different perspectives, they are expressive of a woman’s life completely dedicated to her profession and students at Cedar Grove Elementary School. The film’s denouement starting at around 1:39:00 is powerful. Accompanied by Leigh Harline’s memorable soundtrack, it is a sentimental tribute to Miss Dove’s life which benefited through the years many different people because of nothing less than her good character. (1:47:16).
Mary Wills: Oscar-winning costume designer.
The costume designer for Good Morning, Miss Dove! (1955) is Mary Wills (1914-1997). She worked mainly for Samuel Goldwyn productions and Twentieth Century-Fox, breaking into the movie business as a sketch artist for Gone With The Wind (1939). In her nearly 40-year career Mary Wills was nominated for an Oscar seven times and won the Academy Award in 1962 for her colorful designs for The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.
First woman admitted to Yale Art and Drama program.“The Fabulous Miss Wills.”
Born in Prescott, Arizona, Wills moved to Los Angeles after receiving her Master’s degree from the Yale Art and Drama School. She was the first woman admitted into that program.
Wills started designing costumes in 1944 at RKO withBelle of the Yukon and soon after designed costumes for Disney’s Song of the South (1946). She started working for Samuel Goldwyn in 1948 where she designed costumes for Enchantment. For the next six years at Goldwyn Studio the costume designer was referred to as “The Fabulous Miss Wills.”
She was regularly nominated for her costume design in the 1950’s when she designed the costumes for Good Morning, Miss Dove! including Hans Christian Anderson (1952), The Virgin Queen (1954), Teenage Rebel (1956), A Certain Smile (1958), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), The Passover Plot (1976) and the film for which she won the Academy Award in 1962. Mary Wills also designed the Rogers and Hammerstein musical film Carouselin 1956.
Ice Follies. Camelot and Funny Girl.
Mary Wills demonstrated a special talent for designing historical costumes, especially after she moved to 20th-Century Fox in 1954 to make The Virgin Queen starring Bette Davis. Later she showed great aptitude for designing dance and folk costumes. A collection of her original sketches are online at the Los Angeles County Museum for live productions including theShipstad & JohnsonIce Follies, now known as the Ice Follies. Mary Wills worked on two major films that she did not get film credit for — namely, Camelot (1967) and Funny Girl (1968). ForFunny Girl,she designed the Ziegfeld show-girl brides costumes as well as the costumes for Omar Sharif.
Academy-Award winning costume designer Mary Wills at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio (c. 1948). The Oscar-winning costume designer worked mainly for Samuel Goldwyn Productions and Twentieth Century-Fox.
Miss Dove (Jennifer Jones) in a costume by Mary Wills. In the 1950’s Mary Wills was nominated for an Academy Award four times.
Jincey Baker (Kipp Hamilton), Miss Dove (Jennifer Jones), and Dr. Tom Baker (Robert Stack). Promotion for the film included advertising that encouraged moviegoers to see it for its portrayal of the state of education in the country at the time. Costumes by Mary Wills.
A 1955 drama that is both contemporary and nostalgic. Mary Wickes plays Miss Ellwood (second from left). Costumes by Mary Wills.
Jennifer Jones as a small town spinster teacher who falls ill in the film Good Morning, Miss Dove! Her stern and upright demeanor masks her personal sacrifices and devotion to her students. Tha world is thrown into chaos when Miss Dove experiences an acute pain and grows numb in her leg. It is while she is in her hospital bed awaiting risky surgery that she relates her life in flashbacks.
In Good Morning, Miss Dove! Jennifer Jones is a beautiful young woman who rejects a marriage proposal to become the town’s grade school teacher to repay her late father’s debts. Costumes by Academy Award nominated costume designer Mary Wills.
In the hospital Miss Dove is cared for by Nurse Billie Jean Green (Peggy Knudsen). Billie Jean is one of Miss Dove’s former student who left Liberty Hill and had a child out of wedlock. Back in her hometown, Billie Jean is infatuated with the local policeman, Bill Holloway (Chuck Connors). Bill is another of Miss Dove’s former students and one of her best pupils. Later, in the 1970’s, when actress Peggy Knudsen was suffering from a debilitating illness (she died in 1980 at 57 years old), she was in real life cared for by her close friend, Jennifer Jones.
Miss Dove with former student and Liberty Hill policeman Bill Holloway (Chuck Connors). Miss Dove tells nurse Billie Jean Green how Bill first arrived to her classroom– a poor, unkempt boy being raised by his alcoholic grandmother. Over the years, Miss Dove gave Bill odd jobs and bought him a suit for his grammar school graduation. After Bill entered the Marines, he wrote to Miss Dove often, and when he returned to Liberty Hill, she was the first person he came to for career advice.
On the day of Miss Dove’s surgery, classes are dismissed and the townspeople of Liberty Hill wait outside the hospital for news of the operation’s outcome. The film provides a sentimental picture of mid-20th century America that is of Norman Rockwell proportions. Yet the film’s crisp dialogue and sharp character development by Jennifer Jones and the supporting cast engages the moviegoer. By the end of the film the outcome of Miss Dove’s surgery is as affecting to the audience as it is the fictional townspeople of Liberty Hill.
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