Philippe, Monsieur

Philippe, Monsieur (?–1824)

(pop culture)

Monsieur Philippe, the stage name of actor Emmanuel de la Villenie, was probably the first person to portray a vampire on stage. He enacted the part of Rutwen (the name assumed by the character Lord Ruthven) in Jean Charles Emmanuel Nodier‘s Le Vampire which opened in Paris in 1820. Believing it was Lord Byron‘s work, Nodier had adapted John Polidori‘s The Vampyre, the original piece of vampire prose fiction, as a drama.

Philippe had made a name for himself in several roles, including that of Wallace in Pixérécourt’s Le Chefs écossais in 1819 prior to being tapped for the lead in Nodier’s play. His lead in Le Vampire merely elevated his life as a stage star. One commentator noted that he had become the first star assuming fatal roles, and that playing the vampire had brought him great prestige. Even Alexandre Dumas who attended a performance soon after arriving in Paris, saw him as “the representation of the pure-blooded melodrama.” Le vampire moved the action in Polidori’s story to Scotland, the traditional home of Lord Byron’s family. Monsieur Philippe portrayed Rutwen, pronounced Rootwen, due to Nordier’s misunderstanding of the pronunciation of Polidori’s character Ruthven (which is pronounced “riv-ven”). Rutwen was introduced as an attractive and seductive young man possessed of hypnotic eyes, yet he was also a murderer who had killed many women over the centuries. He was a passionate lover, but his love brought death. The combination of Philippe’s handsome face, his emotive portrayal of Rutwen, and Nordier’s presentation of the vampire as a complex tragic figure, drew the Parisian theater-goers like the strongest magnet.

After a long run with Le Vampire, Philippe continued his success on the stage in Boirie’s Les Duex Forcats (1922), but what appeared to be the beginning of a long-acclaimed career was suddenly cut short on October 16, 1924, when Philippe was found dead. He appeared to be the victim of what was at the time called “apoplexy.” The local priest refused to grant him the church’s rites and a riot occurred at the funeral by infuriated colleagues and fans.

Sources:

Stuart, Roxana. Stage Blood: Vampires of the 19th-Century Stage. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1994. 377 pp.
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