French stage and film actress Marie Bell (1900-1985) played elegant roles in late silent and early sound films. She is best known for her work in film classics as Jacques Feyder's Le Grand Jeu (1934) and Julien Duvivier's Un Carnet de Bal (1937).
Marie Bell was born as Marie-Jeanne Bellon-Downey in Bègles in the Gironde in 1900. At 13 she made her stage debut as a dancer at the London Pavillion. back in France, she was trained at the conservatoire de Bordeaux (Bordeaux Conservatory) and then at the Conservatoire de Paris(Paris Conservatory). There she won the First Prize in 1921, and she joined the Comédie-Française and would stay there till 1953. She was mainly a stage actress, but she became a leading film actress in France when sound film arrived, playing in one film after another. Her early sound films include La nuit est à nous/The Night is Ours (1929, Henry Roussel) with Jean Murat, L'homme qui assassina/The Man Who Committed the Murder (1930, Kurt Bernhardt, Jean Tarride) with Jean Angelo, and L'homme à l'hispano/The Man in the Hispano-Suiza (1932, Jean Epstein). Her best remembered roles are in Le grand jeu/The Great Game (1934, Jacques Feyder) opposite Pierre Richard-Willm and Un carnet de bal/Dance Program (1937, Julien Duvivier) opposite Louis Jouvet and Fernandel. During the German Occupation of France (1940-1944), she participated in the French resistance as one of nine directors of the Front national du théâtre.
Louis Jouvet. French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris, no. 123. Photo: Paramount.
Since 1934, Marie Bell was the director of the Théâtre des Ambassadeurs and from 1958 till her death she was the director of the Theatre du Gymnase, which now bears her name. Her interpretation of the role of Phèdre in the tragedy by Racine was highly noted. Author André Malraux was cited in the magazine L'Avant-Scène n°34": "Seeing Marie Bell in Phèdre is a unique opportunity for anyone who wants to know what is the French genius." She was best known as a classical actress, but she was not afraid of also appearing in pieces of avant-garde theatre, as in Le Balcon (1960) written by Jean Genet and directed by Peter Brook. After 20 years of absence, she returned to the cinema as the mad mother of Sandra (Claudia Cardinale) in Luchino Visconti's film Vaghe stelle dell'Orsa/Sandra (1965). In 1969 she was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. She was awarded the Legion of Honor by President Charles de Gaulle for her valiant work in the French Resistance. Her final film appearance was in a film by Jean-Claude Brialy, Les volets clos/Closed Shutters (1972). Marie Bell died in 1985 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. She was married to film actor Jean Chevrier.
Claudia Cardinale. Dutch postcard.
Sources: Davyd (Artistes1940) (French), Ciné-Ressources (French), Wikipedia and IMDb.