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Michael Arlen's Geni Profile

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Dikran Kouyoumdjian

Birthplace: Rousse, Bulgaria
Death: Died in New York, New York, United States
Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:

About Michael Arlen

<The Times, June 25, 1956>



Mr. Michael Arlen, a novelist and short-story writer, who enjoyed a great vogue in the 1920s, died on Saturday night in New York at the age of 60, after a long illness, reports Reuter.

Those who were young when Mr. Arlen was young will remember 'The Green Hat', that airy compound of romantic fancy and epigrammatic facility which "shocked"a seemingly all too shockable reading public and which brought the author his greatest success. Published in 1924, the novel reflected an unexacting fashion of the "post-war" period for verbal smartness, youthful cynicism; and a display of equally immature romantic temperament. To do him justice, Arlen - in whom there was always a hint, doubtless derived from his foreign parentage, of the onlooker - was not taken in by his own pose of pert and wearied sophistication. He was a clever young man, and knew it, and he exploited his vein of cynical if shallow wit and sentimental artifice with much shrewdness. He even tried, in later books, to get away from it and to contrive something of more genuine imaginative substance, but was by then too firmly rooted in the Mayfair-ish style that had brought him popular favour.

He had few illusions, as a matter of fact, on the subject of his literary ability and indeed once said that he had become very popular on the strength of a very slender talent and that the Mayfair background was merely a gaudy trapping for a kind of New Arabian Nights fantasy. He rightly made hay while the sun shone and his slight, elegant figure, immaculately attired by the best hatters, tailors, outfitters, and shoemakers of London, was to be seen at every resort of fashion, getting either into or out of his enormous yellow Rolls-Royce. This phase ceased soon after his marriage and he retired to the south of France, where he lived until the outbreak of war in 1939. He managed to return to England and was for a short time a public relations officer in the Midland Region. He then settled in the United States and seldom visited the country he was brought to as a boy.

Of Armenian parentage, born Dikran Kouyoumdjian at Rustchuk, Bulgaria, on November 16, 1895, he chaged his name by deed poll to Michael Arlen and became a naturalized British subject in 1922. He had been educated at Malvern and, after some hesitation, plumped for authorship as a career. His two earliest books, 'The London Venture' and 'The Romantic Lady', seem to have met with little attention, but 'Piracy', published in 1922, a novel about smart and fashionable people, or about people who were represented as smart and fashionable, made up for any negligence he had suffered until then.

The story had for a hero a precociously tired young man and reeled off a string of witticisms and aphorisms, fo which a few were urbane and happy and many more were inclined to be cheap. Next year came a volume of nicely calculated short stories, 'These Charming People', most of which were amusing enough in their cynical-romantic idiom, and a year later Arlen brought out 'The Green Hat', a schoolboyishly alluring portrait of a femme fatale. It sold prodigiously and was adapted for the stage, though with less success than had been hoped.

In two novels that followed, 'Young Men in Love' [1927] and 'Lily Christine' [1929], he was plainly intent on showing he could do better, in a strictly literary sense, than 'The Green Hat'. 'Lily Christine' is, indeed, probably his best and most serious performance as a novelist. 'Men Dislike Women' [1931] and 'Hell! Said the Duchess' [1934] are characteristic alike in title and manner; among the books that came afterwards the latest of all, 'Flying Dutchman', issued in 1939, is an exercise in topical fantasy with a keener edge of cynical wit than usual. Arlen lived in virtual retirement in later years.

He married in 1928, Atalanta, daughter of Count Mercati. There was a son and a daughter of the marriage.


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Michael Arlen's Timeline

November 16, 1895
June 23, 1956
Age 60
New York, New York, United States