French actress and opera singer Renée Saint-Cyr (1907 - 2004) starred in more than 30 comedies and romantic dramas between 1932 and 1943. After the war the alluring beauty continued her film career in supporting roles, usually playing chic ladies.
French postcard by P.C., Paris, no. 47. Photo: Pathé-Natan.
French postcard by O.P., Paris, no. 118. Photo: Studio Piaz.
French postcard by Collection Chantal, Paris, no. 17. Photo: Discina.
Creaky Theatrical Warhorse
Renée Saint-Cyr was born Marie-Louise Eugénie Vittore in Beausoleil, France in 1907. She was the daughter of a hotel owner and opera singer. Before entering show business, she married at age 16 with wealthy jeweller Charles Léopold Lautner. In 1926, they had a son, Georges Lautner, and the couple would stay married until his death. Marie-Louise studied drama and singing at the Conservatoire de Marseille (the conservatory of Marseilles) and won there the first prize for singing. When her husband went bankrupt during the Krach, she decided to take up her stage career. She made her stage debut in the children's revue Allo! Cherie! (Hello Honey!). Her first film role was the lead of Henriette in the melodrama Les Deux Orphelines/The Two Orphans (1932, Maurice Tourneur), based on a creaky theatrical warhorse, filmed earlier by D.W. Griffith. She adopted the moniker Saint-Cyr, taken from a beloved dog. Between 1932 and 1943 she performed in over 30 films. Ronald Bergan in his obituary for The Guardian: "The slim, seductive brunette made her name in romantic dramas, though she was equally at home in comedies, where she could use her throaty laugh." These films included Incognito (1933, Kurt Gerron), Le Dernier Milliardaire/The Last Billionaire (1934, René Clair), Pattes de mouches/The Legs of Flies (1936, Jean Grémillon) and Les perles de la couronne/The Pearls of the Crown (1937, Sacha Guitry, Christian Jacque). Her co-stars were such established talents as Jules Berry, Raimu, and Pierre Brasseur. Meanwhile she continued to play on stage, in Feydeau (Monsieur Chasse), Marcel Achard (Jean de la Lune), Jean Giraudoux (Amphitryon 38) and Edmond Rostand (L'Aiglon).
She played Polly Peachum in Bertolt Brecht's L'Opéra de quat'sous/The Threepenny Opera (1937) at the Théâtre de l'Étoile.
French postcard by Viny, no. 42. Photo: Paris Film Production.
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 37. Photo: Roger Carlet.
French postcard, no. 135. Photo: Richebé.
Keeper of Good Taste
In 1938, Renée Saint-Cyr was invited by 20th Century-Fox to come to Hollywood but she chose to sign a contract with Gaumont British instead. The comedy thriller Strange Boarders (1938, Herbert Mason) was ignored by the public and she decided to leave England and to go to Italy. There, Vittorio De Sica directed her in his first film, Rose Scarlatte/Red Roses (1940, Vittorio De Sica) based on a play by Aldo de Benedetti, but the film also bombed at the box-office. During the war period Saint-Cyr remained busy in France. The beautiful, elegant actress with her aristocaric demeanor played in popular films like the Hector Berlioz biopic La Symphonie fantastique/The Fantastic Symphony (1942, Christian-Jacque) with Jean-Louis Barrault, Marie-Martine (1943, Albert Valentin) and Paméla (1945, Pierre de Hérain). After WW II, she played in several films by Louis Cuny, like Étrange destin/Strange Fate (1946) with Henri Vidal. In the early 1950's she co-produced films with herself, such as Fusillé à l'aube/Secret Document: Vienna (1950, André Haguet). She also played Empress Eugénie in Si Paris nous était conté/If Paris Were Told to Us (1955, Sacha Guitry). From the mid-1960's on, Renée Saint-Cyr played in 10 films directed by her son, film writer and director Georges Lautner, including the comic spy film Le monocle rit jaune/The Monocle (1964), the Pierre Richard comedy On aura tout vu/The Bottom Line (1976) and Attention une femme peut en cacher une autre!/My Other Husband (1983) starring Miou-Miou. She was also seen in some other films and television series. Despite her development in acting from youth to middle age to old age, she remained the classy lady. In the television series Palace (1988, Jean-Michel Ribes) she performed the 'keeper of good taste'. Renée Saint-Cyr published her memories in 1967, Le Temps de vivre (The Time To Live), and 1990, En toute mauvaise foi (In Bad Faith). Her last film was again directed by her son, Room Service (1993) starring Michel Serrault. She was a recipient of the Légion d'honneur (Legion of Honor award) and was made Commandeur de l'Ordre national du mérite in 2003. A year later, at the age of 99, Renée Saint-Cyr died of bronchitis in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
French postcard by EPC (Editions et Publications Cinematographiques), no. 156. Photo: Kahn.
French postcard, no. 24. Photo: Studio Piaz.
French postcard by S.E.R.P., Paris, no. 31. Photo: Studio Harcourt.
Scene from Le monocle rit jaune/The Monocle (1964) with Paul Meurisse. Source: Zebulito (YouTube).
Source: Ronald Bergan (The Guardian), Philippe Pelletier (CinéArtistes) (French), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.