Jean Marais



Jean Marais photo
Today, Jean Marais is regarded as the  epitome of the swashbuckling romantic hero of French cinema - in short, France's answer to Errol Flynn. With his heroic physique, it is hard to imagine Marais in any other profession than that of an actor. However, Marais' origins were distinctly humble and fame, when it came, was down to some incredible good fortune and a considerable amount of hard work on his part.

He was born Jean Villain-Marais on 11th December 1913 (indeed: 11/12/13), in the Northern French port of Cherbourg. He endured a turbulent childhood, frequently expelled from school, initially rejected by his mother and later abandoned by his father. As he grew up, Marais developed a strong bond with his mother who, despite her severity, he worshipped.

From an early age, Marais set his heart on becoming an actor, although he received no encouragement from his family. Having failed a screen test for Jean Tarride's film Étienne, and having being turned down by the Paris Conservatory, he took acting classes with Charles Dullin. He scraped a living by doing odd jobs and taking on bit parts in the theatre.

Jean Marais photo

Marais' first stroke of luck came in 1937 when he met Jean Cocteau, the legendary French writer who would become a life-long friend of Marais and to whom Marais would owe most of his success. Cocteau gave Marais his first substantial acting job, a non-speaking part in his stage play Œdipe-Roi . The following year, Cocteau cast Marais as the Knight Galahad in Les Chevaliers de la Table Ronde.

During World War II, Marais made his big break in cinema, appearing in Jean Delannoy's 1943 film L'Éternal retour (after a personal recommendation from his friend Cocteau). This was the turning point in Marais' life, and the start of a film career which was to span nearly sixty years.

Having appeared in Cocteau's legendary films La belle et la bête and Orphée, Marais would become one of the most admired and celebrated actors of his generation. In the next two decades, the kind of role he would become mostly associated with was that of the dashing sword master, dazzling his audience in some impressive French swashbuckling adventures. This include, amongst others: Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1955), Le Bossu (1959) and Le Capitaine Fracasse (1961). He also appeared opposite the awesome comic genius Louis de Funès in the Fantomas series of films in the 1960s. Marais was equally impressive in theatre, appearing in such plays as Britannicus, Pygmalion and Cher Menteur.

Marais continued an active career on stage, film and television well into his eighties. When he was not acting, he indulged in other creative pursuits, which included painting, poetry and sculpture. Marais' sudden death in Cannes in November 1998, at the age of 85, shocked the French nation, but it served as a reminder of the immense contribution that he made to drama in general, and to French cinema in particular.

Bio pic 3

The above article was submitted to in good faith and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.


Key: a = actor

Étienne (1933) [a]

Dans les rues (1933) [a]

L'Épervier (1933) [a]

L'Aventurier (1934) [a]

Le Bonheur (1934) [a]

Le Scandale (1934) [a]

Les Hommes nouveaux (1936) [a]

Drôle de drame (1937) [a]

Le Pavillon brûle (1941) [a]

Le Lit à colonnes (1942) [a]

L'Éternel retour (1943) [a]

Le Comte de Monte Cristo (1943) [a]

Voyage sans espoir (1943) [a]

Carmen (1945) [a]

La Belle et la bête (1946) [a]

Les Chouans (1947) [a]

Aux yeux du souvenir (1948) [a]

L'Aigle à deux têtes (1948) [a]

Les Parents terribles (1948) [a]

Ruy Blas (1948) [a]

Le Secret de Mayerling (1949) [a]

Orphée (1949) [a]

Coriolan (1950) [a]

Le Château de verre (1950) [a]

Les Miracles n'ont lieu qu'une fois (1951) [a]

L'Amour, Madame (1952) [a]

Nez de cuir (1952) [a]

Dortoir des grandes (1953) [a]

Julietta (1953) [a]

L'Appel du destin (1953) [a]

La Maison du silence (1953) [a]

Les Amants de minuit (1953) [a]

Le Guérisseur (1954) [a]

Si Versailles m'était conté (1954) [a]

Futures vedettes (1955) [a]

Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1955) [a]

Napoléon (1955) [a]

Elena et les hommes (1956) [a]

Goubbiah, mon amour (1956) [a]

Si Paris nous était conté (1956) [a]

Toute la ville accuse (1956) [a]

Le Notti bianche (1957) [a]

S.O.S. Noronha (1957) [a]

Typhon sur Nagasaki (1957) [a]

Un amour de poche (1957) [a]

Chaque jour a son secret (1958) [a]

La Tour, prends garde! (1958) [a]

La Vie à deux (1958) [a]

Austerlitz (1960) [a]

Le Bossu (1960) [a]

Le Capitan (1960) [a]

Le Testament d'Orphée (1960) [a]

Il Ratto delle sabine (1961) [a]

La Princesse de Clèves (1961) [a]

Le Capitaine Fracasse (1961) [a]

Le Miracle des loups (1961) [a]

Napoléon II, l'aiglon (1961) [a]

Le Masque de fer (1962) [a]

Les Mystères de Paris (1962) [a]

Ponzio Pilato (1962) [a]

I misteri di Roma (1963) [a]

L'Honorable Stanislas, agent secret (1963) [a]

Fantômas (1964) [a]

Le Gentleman de Cocody (1964) [a]

Patate (1964) [a]

Fantômas se déchaîne (1965) [a]

Pleins feux sur Stanislas (1965) [a]

Thomas l'imposteur (1965) [a]

Train d'enfer (1965) [a]

Le Saint prend l'affût (1966) [a]

Sept hommes et une garce (1966) [a]

Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (1967) [a]

Le Démoniaque (1968) [a]

Jaque mate (1969) [a]

La Provocation (1969) [a]

Le Paria (1969) [a]

Langlois (1970) [a]

Peau d'âne (1970) [a]

Parking (1985) [a]

Les Enfants du naufrageur (1992) [a]

Les Misérables (1995) [a]

Stealing Beauty (1996) [a]

Milice, film noir (1997) [a]

Luchino Visconti (1999) [a]


He was given an honorary César in 1993.


“Life is unfair. I got nothing but the best.”

Related articles

2015 film releases

Read more about the French films to be released in 2015...

The Silent Era

Before the advent of sound France was a world leader in cinema. Find out more about this overlooked era.

The Golden Age

Discover the best French films of the 1930s, a decade of cinematic delights...

The Occupation Era

Even in the dark days of the Occupation, French cinema continued to impress with its artistry and diversity.

The New Wave

A wave of fresh talent in the late 1950s, early 1960s brought about a dramatic renaissance in French cinema, placing the auteur at the core of France's 7th art.