Monday, March 27, 2017

Born Today March 27: Henri Murger


French writer Henri Murger, given name Louis-Henri, was born on this date in Paris, France.   His father was a native Savoyard who had moved to Paris, where he worked two jobs: one as a tailor and the other as a janitor for an apartment building.  Young Henri's education was very fragmented, owed to the family's poverty.  He, in fact, left school at the age of 15 to work.  He toiled at a variety of menial occupations, before landing work in a lawyer's office.  While working there, he began to write poetry.  These were circulated, and that brought him to the attention of writer Étienne de Jouy, who in turn secured him a position in the home of Russian nobleman who was living in Paris at the time.  This allowed him to began a full-fledged literary career; this was some time around the year 1841.  He began writing poetic essays, but soon found that in order to actually make a living by writing, he'd have to broaden his genres; he began writing prose with such speed, as he put "at the rate of 80 francs an acre."  He also spent time editing a fashion newspaper; and he edited a paper for the millinery (or hat) trade.  He then decided to change his name in bid to gain more attention, first adopting "Henry Mürger," then dropping the umlaut.  All of his work from this change on are published under the name "Henry Murger."  Though, he did eventually find success, it took some time and was fleeting.  He was part of a group of writers who dubbed themselves "the water drinkers," because they were too poor to afford wine.  While he found success from a number of works during his lifetime, he is best remembered today for just one work:  Scénes de la vie bohéme.  If this looks  familiar, it is because it was the source material for 4 operas and one Broadway musical Rent, including the very famous Puccini opera La Bohéme.  Six films were made from his work in the silent era; all but one was based bohéme.  The first was released in 1912 with La Bohéme, a French production.  The only film produced from works other than Bohéme also came in 1912; The Kind Old Man, also a French production, was based on one of his plays.  The first English language film produced from his work was the U.S. produced La vie de Bohéme in 1916.  In 1926, MGM produced a lavish version of Bohéme, starring Lillian Gish and directed by King Vidor; it's IMDb page can be found here.  The first film produced in the sound era using his work for source material, came in 1935 with the British production Mimi, starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr.  The most recent film using his work is La Bohéme, Oper in vier Bildern, a made for television film broadcast in 2012.  Murger spent the last ten years of his life in financial trouble and increasingly ill health.  In serious decline, he died in  Paris hospital the 28th of January 1861 at only 38 years of age.  The French government paid for his funeral, which attended by over 250 "luminaries."  He is buried in Montmartre Cemetery there.

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