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Michael Arlen (16 November 1895 in Ruse, Bulgaria – 23 June 1956 in New York City), born Dikran Kouyoumdjian, was a British essayist, short story writer, novelist, playwright, and scriptwriter of Armenian origin, who had his greatest successes in the 1920s while living and writing in England. Arlen is most famous for his satirical romances set in English smart society, but he also wrote gothic horror and psychological thrillers, for instance "The Gentleman from America", which was filmed in 1956 as a television episode for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Near the end of his life, Arlen mainly occupied himself with political writing. Arlen's vivid but colloquial style "with unusual inversions and inflections with a heightened exotic pitch" came to be known as 'Arlenesque'.
Very much a 1920s society figure resembling the characters he portrayed in his novels, and a man who might be referred to as a dandy, Arlen invariably impressed everyone with his immaculate manners. He was always impeccably dressed and groomed, and was seen driving around London in a fashionable yellow Rolls Royce and engaging in all kinds of luxurious activities. However, he was well aware of the latent suspicion of foreigners, mixed with the envy with which his success was viewed by some.
His works became an inspiration for famous Hollywood movies such as A Woman of Affairs (1928), starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert; The Golden Arrow (1936), starring Bette Davis; and The Heavenly Body (1944), starring William Powell and Hedy Lamarr.
The book that would launch Arlen's fame and fortune in the 1920s was The Green Hat, published in 1924. The Green Hat narrates the short life and violent death of Iris Storm, a femme fatale and dashing widow, the owner of a yellow Hispano-Suiza as well as the green hat of the title. Arlen adapted the novel for a 1925 Broadway play, starring Katharine Cornell and Leslie Howard in his most successful Broadway appearance to date. An almost simultaneous but less successful adaptation in London's West End starred Tallulah Bankhead.
The novel was adapted for the silent 1928 Hollywood film A Woman of Affairs starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. The Green Hat was considered provocative in the United States; hence, the movie was not allowed to make any references to it. The film obscured or altered plot points in the novel concerning homosexuality and venereal disease. It was adapted a second time in 1934, as Outcast Lady, with Constance Bennett and Herbert Marshall in the main roles.
After the publication of The Green Hat, Arlen became almost instantly famous, rich, and as with celebrities today, incessantly in the spotlight and newspapers. During this period of his fame, the mid-1920s, Arlen frequently travelled to the United States and worked on plays and films, including Dear Father and These Charming People.
According to Noël Coward's biographer Sheridan Morley, in 1924 Arlen rescued the play The Vortex by writing Coward a cheque for £250 when it seemed that otherwise the production would collapse. The Vortex made Coward's name.
Naturally, after all this fame and attention, Arlen felt somewhat anxious to write the book that would follow The Green Hat. Notwithstanding, Arlen wrote Young Men in Love (1927) and received mixed reviews.
After Young Men in Love, Arlen continued with Lily Christine (1928), Babes in the Wood (1929), and Men Dislike Women (1931), none of which received the enthusiastic reviews that The Green Hat had received. Arlen also wrote a volume of Ghost Stories (1927), which were influenced by Saki, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Machen.
In 1927, Arlen, feeling ill, joined D. H. Lawrence in Florence, Italy. Lawrence was working on Lady Chatterley's Lover and Arlen served as a model for the character Michaelis.
Arlen then moved to Cannes, France and, in 1928, married Countess Atalanta Mercati. They had two children, a son, Michael John Arlen born in 1930, and a daughter, Venetia Arlen, born in 1933.
With his following novel, i>Man's Mortality (1933), Arlen turned to political writing and science fiction, brushing aside his earlier, smart society romances. Set fifty years in the future, in 1983, the book can be seen as portraying a Dystopia, whose rulers claim that it is a Utopia. Most critics compared it unfavourably with Huxley's Brave New World, which had been published the previous year.
In the following years, Arlen also returned to gothic horror with Hell! Said the Duchess: A Bed-Time Story (1934). In his final collection of short stories, The Crooked Coronet (1939), Arlen briefly returns to his earlier romantic, but also comic, style. Arlen's claim to fame in the world of crime fiction rests on one short story, "Gay Falcon" (1940), in which he introduced gentleman sleuth Gay Stanhope Falcon. Renamed Gay Lawrence and nicknamed 'the Falcon', the character was taken up by Hollywood in 1941, and expanded into a series of mystery films with George Sanders in the title role. When Sanders left the role, he was succeeded by his brother Tom Conway, who played Gay Lawrence's brother Tom and also used the nickname 'the Falcon'.
In 1939, when the Second World War began, Arlen returned to England. While his wife, Atalanta, joined the Red Cross, Arlen wrote columns for The Tatler. That same year, his final book, The Flying Dutchman (1939), was published, a political novel, commenting harshly on Germany's position in the World War.
In 1940, Arlen was appointed Civil Defence Public Relations Officer for the East Midlands, but when his loyalty to England was questioned in the House of Commons in 1941, he resigned and moved to America, where he settled in New York in 1946. For the next ten years of his life, Arlen suffered from writer's block. He died of cancer on June 23, 1956, in New York.
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