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Marcel Achard (7/5/1899 - 9/4/1974) was a French playwright and screenwriter whose popular sentimental comedies maintained his position as a highly-recognizable name in his country's theatrical and literary circles for five decades. Born in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, one of the city's suburbs, Achard adopted his nom de plume at the start of his writing career in the early 1920s. Able to absorb knowledge quickly, he became, in 1916, in the midst of World War I, a village schoolteacher at the age of 17. In 1919, a few months after the end of the war, the 20-year-old aspiring writer arrived in Paris and found jobs as a prompter at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier and as a journalist for various publications, including the major daily newspaper, Le Figaro.
Marcel Achard wrote his first play in 1922 and had a major success the following year when renowned actor-director Charles Dullin staged his play Voulez-vous jouer avec moâ? [Would You Like to Play with Me?], a sensitively delicate comedy about circus and its clowns, casting the playwright in a small part, as one of the clowns. The production set a pattern for the remainder of his theatrical output, most of which can be considered as 20th century reworkings of stock characters and situations from the Italian traditional Commedia dell'arte. These themes were expanded upon in two of his most popular plays of the period—1929's Jean de la Lune [John of the Moon a/k/a The Dreamer] and 1932's Domino. The distinctive quality of Achard's plays was their dreamlike mood of sentimental melancholy, underscored by the very titles which were primarily taken from popular bittersweet songs of the day.
Achard's greatest successes and popularity were in the period between the two World Wars when contemporary critics favorably compared him to some of his renowned French predecessors such as Pierre de Marivaux and Alfred de Musset. Postwar pundits were not as kind, pointing out the rather narrow scope of human psyche that he represented and deprecatingly referring to him as a "spécialiste de l'amour" ["love specialist"] for the sickly-sweet characteristics of his poetic imagination. After World War II, despite the criticism, Achard's literary output continued unabated. Among his most successful later plays were 1952's Les compagnons de la Marjolaine [The Companions of Marjoram] and 1955's Le mal d'amour [Love Sickness]. The greatest popularity, however, was achieved by a 1957 comedy about a testy, ill-tempered character nicknamed Patate [Spud] and a 1962 comic mystery L'Idiote [The Idiot], best known in America as the basis for the play and film A Shot in the Dark.
He presided over the Cannes Film Festival in 1958 and 1959 and had a similar role at the Venice Film Festival in 1960. It was also in 1959 that he was finally, at the age of 60, elected to the Académie française.
Marcel Achard died of diabetes in his Paris home two months after his 75th birthday.
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