My wife was a neighbor of Henri Olivier, Andre’s brother, who operated a store in Arnaudville. We both enjoyed listening to both of their stories about the past, especially about Evangeline.
I seem to remember that Mr. Andre’s version of the saga of Evangeline was much different from the version of the story written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in the poem “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie” in 1847.
The story told to tourists, including my wife and me, by Mr. Olivier was that the real Evangeline was Emmeline Labiche, and Gabriel Arceneaux was her long lost lover.
Mr. Olivier probably got most his information from Felix Voorhies in his “Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline.” Thomas Arceneaux had a similar version of Emmeline Labiche and his ancestor Louis Arceneaux.
There is very little history to support that version. Carl Brasseaux released a book in 1988 in which he noted that there was very little evidence that Evangeline ever existed. A check of Father Hebert’s records shows nothing about Emmeline Labiche. Jim Bradshaw, in a Daily Advertiser article of July 29, 1997, details considerable research about “Evangeline” and basically reached the same conclusion.
Most people believe that the movie about Evangeline with Dolores del Rio was the first such film, but there were at least four previous ones.
There were movies made in 1908 and 1911. These films were very short versions and, like other movies of the period, were silent.
In 1919 the first full length film produced in Canada was about Evangeline. Another movie was made in 1922 in Hollywood.
The most famous movie of Evangeline was filmed in St. Martinville and Catahoula in 1929 and is the only known remaining film. Very little is known about the previous ones. The one filmed in Acadiana with Dolores del Rio is currently available on DVD and other media.
The movie starring Dolores del Rio as Evangeline and Roland Drew as Gabriel was one of the first films to have talking scenes and sound effects. The movie was based on the book by Longfellow.
Roland Drew, who played the part of Gabriel, was a little known actor who left the movie business in the early 1940’s when he was in his forties. After retirement he became a dressmaker.
The statue of “Evangeline” near St. Martin de Tours Church dates to 1929 and the film Evangeline produced by the Edwin Carewe Company of Hollywood. Dolores Del Rio, who played the role of Evangeline, was so impressed by the story that she offered to pay for a monument to honor the heroine (and herself). Readers will learn more about the famous actress in a future article.
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