Arletty photo
Blessed with a combination of charisma, good looks and impressive acting ability, Arletty was almost destined to become a leading figure in French cinema of the 1930s and 1940s. Her formidable stage presence and stunning beauty made her a suitable on-screen match for such legends as Jean Gabin, Michel Simon and Louis Jouvet.

Aletty was born Léonie Marie Julie Bathiat, on 15th May 1898, at Courbevoie, in the Hauts-de-Seine region of France. She came from a fairly ordinary working class background, and her first job was as a secretary. She debuted in music hall at the age of 20 and thereafter pursued a moderately successful stage career, appearing in plays and cabaret.

The arrival of sound cinema coincided with Arletty's move into films, her first role being in René Hervil's relatively unknown 1930 film, La Douceur d'aimer. Arletty's early film appearances established her as the strong yet marginalised female character with which she would be most identified in later years.

The roles which Arletty played best were the femme fatale, the vamp, the prostitute - down-to-earth, earthy, slightly comical female types, usually complex characters with a tough outer shell which concealed an inner vulnerability. In her films, Arletty was rarely the heroine, the kind of character to win the audience's sympathy. Rather, she was usually the seductive siren, who would win a man's heart and then abandon him. Arletty was arguably the first and the best, of the film femme fatales, a perfect subject for the poetic realists of the late 1930s.

Arletty's career blossomed in around 1936 when she won fame and recognition for her lead role in the stage plays Les Joies du Capitole and Fric-Frac, in which she starred opposite Michel Simon. She subsequently appeared in a number of films which established her as one of France's leading film actresses. These include Le jour se lève (1939), Circonstances atténuantes (1939) and Les visiteurs du soir (1942), some of the finest films ever made in France.

In 1945, Arletty appeared in her best and most famous film role, the part of Garance in Marcel Carné's monumental Les Enfants du paradis. Unfortunately, Arletty's popularity in France at the time had plummeted, as a result of an affair she had had with a German soldier during the war. Shunned by the public for what was interpreted as “collaboration”, Arletty was forbidden from working for three years and spent several months in prison.

Arletty resumed her film career in the late 1940s, but failed to regain the affection and respect she had enjoyed before for the war. This was in spite of some impressive appearances in such films as Huis clos (1954) and L'Air de Paris (1954). In 1963 tragedy struck when Arletty was forced to give up acting after an accident left her partially blind.

Long before she died in 1992, Arletty's reputation as one of the icons of French cinema of the 1930s had been well and truly re-established, not just in her own country of France, but throughout the world.

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