Louis Jouvet



Louis Jouvet photo
Although he is best remembered today for his film appearances, Louis Jouvet's greatest contribution was to stage theatre in France, where he made a huge impact as both a director and an actor. He is reputed to have said that he acted in films only so that he could raise the money to finance his stage work. Yet it is his films, many of which are undisputed classics of French cinema, which provide an enduring record of Louis Jouvet's talent and enable subsequent generations to appreciate the calibre of this great actor.

Louis Jouvet was born in Crozon, Brittany in France, on 24th December 1887. His first job was as a pharmacy assistant, but he longed to be an actor. He applied to the Paris Conservatoire three times, but was rejected. Undeterred, he joined a theatre company in 1908 and made his acting debut in Paris in 1910, in a production of The Brothers Karamazov. His first screen appearance was a minor role in the 1913 film, Shylock. That same year, he took up the post of director at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier in Paris.

Jouvet's theatrical career was disrupted temporarily by World War I, in which he saw active service. After the war, between 1919 and 1921, he and his theatre troupe made a tour of New York, with great success. In 1924, he became director of the Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris, a post he held until 1934 when he was appointed director of the Athénée, he position he occupied until his death.

Between the two wars, Jouvet established himself as one of the most prominent stage actors of his generation in France, although he also achieved remarkable successes as a director, producer and a technician (for example, developing new lighting techniques). His major stage achievements include: Dr Knock (1923), School for Wives (1936) and La Folle de Chaillot (1936). He is also credited for breathing new life into productions of Molière's plays.

In 1932, Louis Jouvet made his first significant film appearance in Louis Gasnier's Topaze, an adaptation of a play written by Marcel Pagnol, whom Jouvet admired greatly. The following year, the actor starred in Dr Knock, reprising one of his favourite stage roles.

By 1939, Louis Jouvet had made his presence felt in French cinema, appearing in such popular classics as Les bas-fonds (1936), Drôle de drame (1936), Un Carnet de bal (1937), La Marseilleise (1938) and Hôtel du Nord (1938), working with such distinguished directors as Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné and Julian Duvivier, and appearing opposite such acting legends as Arletty, Jean Gabin and Michel Simon. His most famous role is probably that of the Bishop of Bedford in Carné's black comic farce Drôle de drame , in which he had to appear wearing a kilt.

During World War II, Jouvet left France for a tour of South America with his theatre company. The war over, Jouvet returned to France and resumed his acting career, both on stage and on screen. In his absence, his popularity as a film actor had dwindled with the emergence of stars such as Fernandel and Jean Gabin. His return to French cinema after the war is unintentionally parodied in Christian-Jacque's poignant drama Un Revanant (1946). Jouvet's most significant success in post-war cinema was in Clouzot's atmospheric thriller Quai des Orfèvres (1947).

After a remarkable career which straddled stage and film for four decades, Louis Jouvet finally bid his admiring public farewell. He died in Paris, on 16th August 1951.

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