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03 December 2012

Jean Marais

With his heroic physique, Jean Marais (1913 - 1998) was France’s answer to Errol Flynn: the epitome of the swashbuckling romantic hero of French cinema. The blonde and incredibly good-looking actor played over 100 roles in film and on television, and was also known as a director, writer, painter and sculptor. His mentor was the legendary poet and director Jean Cocteau, who was also his lover.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions E.C., Paris, no. 10. Photo: Discina.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris, no. 21. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions O.P., no. 15. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions E.C., no. 3. Photo: Synops.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 36. Photo: Roger Carlet.

Gamingly Flirting in Drag
Jean-Alfred Villain-Marais was born in 1913 in Cherbourg, France. He endured a turbulent childhood. When he was born, on the eve of World War I, his mother refused to see him. Her only daugher had died a few days before. When Marais' father returned from the war, the five-year-old Jean didn't remember him, and his father slapped him. His mother promptly packed her three children off to their grandmother's, and Jean grew up fatherless. He attended the Lycee Condorcet, a prestigious private school, where some of his future film partners also studied, such as Louis de Funes and Jean Cocteau, and the faculty had such figures as Jean-Paul Sartre. At the age of 13, Marais had to leave the Lycee Condorcet, after gamingly flirting in drag with a teacher. He was placed in a Catholic boarding school, but at 16, he left school and became involved in amateur acting. As a child, he had dreamed of becoming an actor but he was twice rejected when he applied to drama schools. He took a job as a photographer's assistant and had acting classes with Charles Dullin. In 1933 Marcel L'Herbier gave him a bit part in L’Épervier/The Casting Net (1933) starring Charles Boyer. This was followed by more small parts in films by L’Herbier, in L'Aventurier/The Adventurer (1934), Le Bonheur/Happiness (1935), Les Hommes nouveaux/The New Men (1936), and Nuits de feu/The Living Corpse (1936). Marais also appeared in Abus de confiance/Abused Confidence (1937, Henri Decoin), and Drôle de drame/Bizarre, Bizarre (1937, Marcel Carné).

Jean Marais
French postcard, no. 88. Photo: Discina.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris. Photo Teddy Piaz.
Jean Marais
German postcard. Photo: IFA.

Jean Marais
German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag, Minden, Westphalen.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Edition O.P., Paris, no. 194. Photo: Teddy Piaz.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 212. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Cocteau
In 1937, Jean Marais, then 24, met Jean Cocteau at a stage rehearsal of Oedipe-Roi/King Aedipus. They fell in love and would remain close friends until Cocteau's death in 1963. Cocteau became his surrogate father, and he was Cocteau's surrogate son. Cocteau had a major influence on Marais’ career. In 1938 he cast him as Galahad in the stage play Les Chevaliers de La Table Ronde (The Knights of the Round Table), and wrote the film L'Éternel retour with him in mind. With L’Éternal retour/The Eternal Return (1943, Jean Delannoy), Marais made his big break in the cinema. This was the turning point in his life, and the start of a film career which was to span nearly sixty years. In the following years he appeared in almost every one of Cocteau's films: La Belle et la bête/Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau, Jean Delannoy), L'Aigle à deux têtes/The Eagle Has Two Heads (1947, Jean Cocteau), Les Parents terribles/The Storm Within (1948, Jean Cocteau), and Orphée/Orpheus (1950, Jean Cocteau). After the Allies liberated Paris in August 1944, he joined France's Second Armored Division and served as a truck driver carrying fuel and ammunition to the front. Later he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre for his courage. During the war Marais was engaged to his film partner, actress Mila Parély, and their engagement was blessed by Cocteau, who wanted Marais to be happy. Marais and Mila Parély separated after two years, and shortly after they worked together again in La Belle et la bête/Beauty and the Beast (1946). His double role as the beast and the prince in this classic film made Marais an international teen idol.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 69. Photo: Ch. Vandamme / Les Mirages.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 69. Photo: Studio Synops.

Jean Marais
French postcard. Photo: Roger Carlet Ainé.

Jean Marais
Photocard.

Jean Marais and Maria Schell in Le notti bianche
Photocard. Jean Marais and Maria Schell in the Italian film Le notti bianche/ White Nights (1957, Luchino Visconti).

Jean Marais
German postcard by WS-Druck, Wanne-Eickel, no. 50. Photo: Unifrance-Film.

Dashing Sword Master
During the 1950’s, Jean Marais became a dashing sword master, dazzling his audiences in impressive French swashbuckling adventures, in which he performed his own stunts. Le Comte de Monte Cristo/The Count of Monte Cristo (1955, Robert Vernay), Le Bossu/The Hunchback of Paris (1959, André Hunebelle), and Le Capitaine Fracasse/Captain Fracasse (1961, Pierre Gaspard-Huit) all enjoyed great box office popularity in France. Marais would become one of the most admired and celebrated actors of his generation, and starred in international productions directed by Jean Renoir (Elena et les hommes/Elena and Her Men, 1956), Luchino Visconti (Le Notti bianche/White Nights, 1957), Cocteau (Le testament d'Orphée/The Testament of Orpheus, 1959), and others. During the 1960’s and 1970’s, he went on to appear in such popular adventure-comedies as the Fantômas (1964-1967, André Hunebelle) trilogy, co-starring with Louis de Funes and Mylène Demongeot.

Jean Marais
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1378. Retail price: 0.20 DM. Photo: Progress.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 902, offered by Les Carbones Korès. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 1111. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. FK 1042, French licency holder for UFA, Berlin-Tempelhof. Photo: Hilde Zenker / UFA.

Jean Marais
German postcard by Netter's Star Verlag, Berlin.

Jean Marais
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Jean Marais & Geneviève Page in L'honorable Stanislas, l'agent secret
German postcard by Progress-Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 2416.Photo: publicity still of Jean Marais and Geneviève Page in the film Der ehrenwerte Stanislas/L'honorable Stanislas, l'agent secret (1963, Jean-Charles Dudrumet).

Choice Character Roles
Jean Marais was equally impressive in the theatre, appearing in such plays as Britannicus, Pygmalion and Cher Menteur at the Théâtre de Paris, Théâtre de l'Atelier, and the Comédie Francaise. He spent his later years living in his house in Vallauris, in the South of France where he was involved in painting, sculpture and pottery, and was visited by Pablo Picasso and other cultural figures. His monument Le passe muraille/The Walker Through Walls, honoring French author Marcel Aymé, can be seen in the Montmartre Quarter in Paris. After a long retirement, Jean Marais returned to filmmaking in the mid-1980’s with choice character roles in such films as Parking (1985, Jacques Demy). In 1993 he was awarded an honourable César. Marais made his final film appearance in Bernardo Bertolucci's Io ballo da sola/Stealing Beauty (1996) starring Liv Tyler. That year he received France's highest tribute, the Legion of Honour for his contribution to the French cinema. Jean Marais died of a heart failure in 1998, in Cannes. He had an adopted son, Serge Marais.

Jean Marais
French postcard by E.D.U.G., Paris, no. 178. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Jean Marais
German postcard by Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK-27. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Gérard Décaux / Ufa.

Jean Marais
German postcard by Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK-161. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Unifrance-Film.

Jean Marais
German postcard by Ufa (Universum-Film Aktiengesellschaft), Berlin-Tempelhof, no. CK-202. Retail price: 30 Pfg. Photo: Sam Lévin / UFA.

Jean Marais
Original photo with autograph and dedication. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Steve Shelokhonov (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia, Films de France, Lenin Imports, and IMDb.

4 comments:

Marie Reed said...

I watched a Jean Marais film just last night BOB! Have you seen the classic Fantomas? Wonderful post! Happy PFF:)

Sheila said...

I'm going to have to watch the rest of the Orphée film. Excellent!!

Mary said...

So handsome, and interesting life!

Bob of Holland said...

Thank you for your comments. I saw all three of the Fantomas movies when I was a kid and loved them. Louis de Funès is forgotten now, but he was our hero then. We saw all his comedies. Jean Marais in Orphée is a revelation. Last time we were in Paris, we visited an exhibition on Jean Marais in the Musée de Montmartre, located in the neighbourhood where he used to live. His art and films are remarkable, and his early portraits are amazingly perfect.