A few weeks ago Joe was telling some friends that he’d discovered a great French TV detective series, Frank Riva, which stars Alain Delon.

“Alain who?” they asked.  Alain Delon, the famous French movie star!

“Never heard of him.”

“Are you kidding?” He was incredibly good looking.

In the late Fifties through the Seventies, Alain Delon  was regarded as one of (if not the) most beautiful leading men in international movies.  (Some referred to him as “the male Brigitte Bardot.”) No question, A BIG star, especially in Europe.

Born in the southwest Paris suburb of Sceaux, Delon survived a trouble childhood and a stint as a paratrooper in the French military during the Indochina War of the 1950’s. He then worked in a number of odd jobs including that of a porter in the famous Parisian food market, Les Halles. The story goes that he was spotted by a talent agent, and thrust into his first movie by 1957.

His career paralleled the big French “new wave” cinema of the early 60s. His specialty was bad boys and gangsters.  His style was cool, feline, sometimes exuding clinical nastiness. (Delon’s rumored connections in the European underworld dogged him for years.)

“Did he make any American movies?”

A few including 1964’s The Yellow Rolls Royce, 1965’s Once a Thief (opposite Ann-Margret), 1966’s Texas Across the River, but his big hits were foreign films — 1960’s Rocco and His Brothers and 1963’s The Leopard, both directed by Luchino Visconti.

Frank is a big fan of one of Delon’s lesser-known Hollywood features, British director Michael Winner’s 1972 thriller Scorpio, costarring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. Delon more or less keeps pace with these two veteran stars, hashing out a sinister cold war scheme in Vienna, Austria.  The movie is underrated.  See it.

Perhaps Delon is more known for his love affairs and womanizing. Although married and divorced just twice — stingy by Hollywood standards — he has conducted a number of high profile liaisons including a very public engagement to Austria-born Romy Schneider.

Although the couple broke their engagement in the mid-Sixties, Delon carried the torch to her grave.  Schneider died in 1982 at just 43 of cardiac arrest, which some suspected was really a suicide.

Although he now lives largely in Switzerland, Delon is a major but often elusive presence in France. He won a best actor Cesar — the French equivalent of Hollywood’s Oscar — for his fine performance in 1984’s Notre Histoire. But he never bothered to show up to collect his citation.

Today he occasionally expresses his right-of-center political views in an odd tv interview. When former French president Nicolas Sarkozy headed a trade delegation to China, Delon was brought along for the ride. His movies are very big in Asia, particularly in Japan. (Delon’s favorite American actor is said to be — John Garfield.)

Delon today takes an occasional acting role, mostly on tv, and focuses on his real estate holdings and his wine and art collections. In 2011, he auctioned part of his wine collection for nearly $335,000.  An art auction some years before raised several million dollars.

Below is a shot of Delon as Frank Riva, a short series he made for French television about 10 years ago.

He will turn 79 in November.  Still looks pretty good, wouldn’t you say?

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