A beautiful property, overhanging Villefranche Sur Mer, is named after Raquel Meller, as well as an avenue in the city itself.
Raquel Meller, « la Reina del couplè » or the paradox of a star singer pushed into the limelight of silent films.
Raquel Meller was born Francisca Marques Lopez in 1888 at Tarazona in Spain. A leading singer of the early XXth century, Marta Oliver, discovers her talent and decides to make it known to the public. At time, « La Belle Otero » is setting Paris society on fire. Called « La Bella Rachel », Francisca makes her first appearance on stage in 1908.
Her success entices her to opt for an artistic career and she changes her name into Raquel Meller. In 1911, she appears Barcelona. She sings « El Relicaro » and « La Violetera ». Both tunes will soon become international hits, opening her way to tremendous fame. In 1917, she falls in love with Enrique Gomez Carillo, a writer and a diplomat from Guatemala ; she marries him and mixes with European intelligentsia. Her husband, both Oscar Wilde and Verlaine’s friend, is known for breaking women’s hearts : one them is no less than the spy Mata Hari herself. Raquel’s career keeps blooming and she triumps at « L’Olympia » in Paris.
Meanwhile, she starts acting in two silent films shot by Carlos Banos : « L’Arlequin de Soie et d’Or » and « La Gitane Blanche ». her beauty, her talents on stage and on screen being recognized, she sets off on a tour in Latin America, which she conquers. In 1922, she divorces and meets French filmmaker Henry Roussel who hires her for « Les Opprimés », then « Violettes Impériales » in 1923, and in 1925 : « The Promised Land » with French actor Pierre Blanchar. All three films are blockbusters. And, paradoxically, owing to the magic of movies, they make a silent film star of a star singer. Her film carreer develops and in 1926, the French/Belgium director of that time, Jacques Feyder, establishes her as an actress in the leading part of « Carmen », another silent film. Apparently, the shooting is made difficult because of the actress’s whims. On that year, she sets off on a second tour. This time, the states are calling her : New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and Los Angeles give her triumphant welcome. Even Charlie Chaplin requests her participation to his next production : « Limelight ». somehow, the project fails. However, Raquel Meller plays in several musical and, at last, talking short films, made in Hollywood. After her resounding stay in the USA, she is back in Europe at the height of her fame, in the early thirties. She, then, dwells in her villa at Villefranche Sur Mer. In order to win back the French audience, she records some hits of the time, and she makes a triumphant comeback at « L’Alcazar » in Marseille. Her popularity, then, is on a par with Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguett’s. A biography of « La Reina del couplè » is published in 1931 and the Spanish painter Sorella portrays her. Henry Roussel asks her to play in the sound version of « Violettes Impériales » in which she performs both as a singer and an actress. Her film, « Lola Triana », starts in 1936 but its shooting is soon interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. She flees to Argentina and gets back to Spain when Franco, whom she greatly admires, has won. After getting married again and soon divorced, she chooses to live on her own in Barcelona. Her loneliness will go along with the erosion of her fame. At the end of the fifties, Raquel Meller attempts a comeback on stage in Madrid when her hour of glory hits are brought up to date by « usurping » Sara Montiel. She fails. She retires in Barcelona, falls ill and dies in 1962. Even though places are named after her in Villefranche and a statue represents her in Barcelona, her fame has been erased in the collective memory, even in Spain. Rise an fall, … such is the fate of a star who aroused passion in Europe and the Two Americas audiences…