19 January 2014

Gaby Morlay

Gaby Morlay (1893-1964) was a French actress with a long standing career, who played in over 100 films. She compensated her small size (1.53 m.) with passion and enthusiasm.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by Editions Chantal (EC), no. 45. Photo: Pathé Natan.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by Editions Chantal (EC), no. 45. Photo: X.

The Liberated Woman

Gaby Morlay was born Blanche Pauline Fumoleau in Angers, France, in 1893. By chance, she was enrolled in playing on stage.

In 1913 she started her cinema career in comic shorts with Max Linder like La vacance de Max/Max's Vacation (Max Linder, 1913).

Later she had her own comedy shorts with her character Gaby, including Gaby en auto/Gaby in a Car (Charles Burguet, 1917).

In the Roaring Twenties, she became the symbol of the liberated woman, being the first woman to obtain a licence for flying a Zeppelin.

Among Gaby Morlay's features were L'Agonie des aigles/The Death Agony of the Eagles (Dominique Bernard-Deschamps, Julien Duvivier, 1922) opposite Séverin-Mars, Jim la houlette, roi des voleurs/Jim the Cracksman, the King of Thieves (Pierre Colombier, Roger Lion, Nicolas Rimsky, 1926), and Les nouveaux messieurs/The New Gentlemen (Jacques Feyder, 1929) with Albert Préjean.

Gaby Morlay, publicity for Campari
French postcard by Campari. Photo G.L. Manuel Frères. Caption: "L'esprit léger, le coeur content, Campari donne du montant."

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by CE, no. 969. Photo: G.L. Manuel Frères.

Peaking In The Sound Era

While Gaby Morlay already had an active film career in the 1920s, she really peaked in the sound era. If she was not involved in big productions she did five films a year in the 1930s.

Her first sound film was Accusée, levez-vous/Accused, Stand Up (Maurice Tourneur, 1930).

Among her best known films were Après l'amour/When Love Is Over (Léonce Perret, 1931), Nous ne sommes plus des enfants/We Are Not Children (Augusto Genina, 1934), Jeanne (Georges Marret, 1934) - Morlay was coproducer for the latter two - La peur/The Fear (Viktor Tourjansky, 1936) with Charles Vanel, and the romantic comedy Quadrille (Sacha Guitry, 1938).

She was often paired with Victor Francen and played historical figures like Queen Victoria in Entente Cordiale (Marcel L'Herbier, 1939), Giuseppina Strepponi in Giuseppe Verdi (Carmine Gallone, 1939), and Napoleon's Désirée in Le Destin fabuleux de Désirée Clary (Sacha Guitry, 1941).

Having often played on stage in Henry Bernstein's plays, Morlay appeared also in several film adaptations of his plays: Mélo/The Dreamy Mouth (Paul Czinner, 1932), Le bonheur/Happiness (Marcel L'Herbier, 1935), Samson (Maurice Tourneur, 1936), and Le messager/The Messenger (Raymond Rouleau, 1937) with Jean Gabin.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by PC, no. 153. Photo: Pathé-Natan.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by PC, no. 69. Photo: Pathé-Natan.

Mother Superior

During the German Occupation of France, Gaby Morlay was the mistress of Max Bonnafous, Minister of Agriculture in the Marshall Pétain government.

Because of her long association with Bonnafous, she had to appear several times in front of the 'purge committees' once France was liberated. Morlay finally could marry Bonnafous in 1961, after his wife, who refused to divorce him, had died.

During the war, Morlay excelled in the popular tearjerker Le Voile bleu/The Blue Veil (Jean Stelli, 1942).

In the postwar era, Louis Jouvet treated her cruelly in Un revenant/A Lover's Return (Christian-Jacque, 1946).

Her favourite film was Les amants du pont Saint-Jean/The Lovers of the St. Jean Bridge (Henri Decoin, 1947), in which she played Michel Simon's clochard friend.

Gaby Morlay
German postcard by Das Programm von Heute für Film und Theater G.m.b.H., Frankfurt a.M. Photo: Hammer-Tonfilm.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard. Offered by Kwatta chocolate. N Els, Bromurite.

The Wife Of The Masked Man

In the 1950s Gaby Morlay played in some Italian films: she was Aldo Fabrizi's wife in the comedy Prima Communione/Father's Dilemma (Alessandro Blasetti, 1950) and in the melodrama Anna (1951, Alberto Lattuada) she was the Mother Superior opposite Silvana Mangano in the title role.

In 1951 Morlay was also part of the Cannes Jury.

In Le Plaisir/Pleasure (Max Ophüls, 1951), she was the wife of the masked man in the first episode of the film, and in Sacha Guitry's Si Versailles m'était conté/Affairs in Versailles (1954) she was the Countess de la Motte.

She was elected president of the Syndicat national des acteurs (French Screen Actor's Guild) in 1956.
Until her death in 1964, Gaby Morlay continued to play in films.

She also had an active stage career from the 1910s to the 1960s, in plays by Sacha Guitry, Marcel Achard, André Brulé and others. Just as in the cinema, she continued to play on stage until her death; for instance, in 1959-1960 she played for two years in Eugene O'Neill's Long Voyage to the End of the Night.

In 1964 Gaby Morlay died of cancer in Nice, at the age of 71.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by Editions P.I. Paris, no. 88. Photo: U.F.P.C.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 859. Photo: Production Pathé.

Gaby Morlay
Vintage postcard by A Stefsky. Photo: Erpé.

Gaby Morlay
French postcard by Editions Chantal, Rueil, no. 45. Photo: C.C.F.C.

Sources: Cinememorial, Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.


Linda said...

What a long and satisfying career she had! I'll have to check Netflix for some of these films, most likely Le Plaisir by Ophuls will be available. That's the one in her oeuvre that I've heard of. Happy PFF!

Bunched Undies said...

Interesting post Bob. Morlay was one of the few to transistion successfully from silent films to sound. I am getting such a good education in film history from your site. Thanks!

Debs said...

another wonderful film history lesson. i love this woman's face...she looks really quite contemporary in a way, a modern kind of beauty...

Sheila said...

She looks very elegant in these pictures. She obviously was very talented to have continued on stage and screen for so long, so it's sad that she died relatively young.

Joy said...

Being able to fly a Zeppelin, intriguing, I wonder when she used that skill.

maryt/theteach said...

A very beautiful lady! :)

Aimee said...

She was very beautiful! I especially like the first card where she is smiling!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous life ... I especially envy her bravery and gumption for wanting to fly a giant balloon way up in the sky!!! I could NEVER do that! ~ You are most knowledgeable of your film stars ... I am impressed! :))) ~ Happy Friday! :))

Funoldhag said...

What a beautiful woman! Enjoy looking at your blog and seeing the pictures of the early stars of the films. Happy PFF from Carol

Clytie said...

A very beautiful woman. She looks so sad in the bottom picture ...

Happy PFF!