18 March 2014

Cécile Aubry

The petite, blue-eyed blonde Cécile Aubry (1928-2010) was often seen as the predecessor of Brigitte Bardot as the French cinema's sex goddess. Her acting career was successful but brief: during the late 1940s through the mid-'50s. Later the French actress started a second career as a writer of children’s books, which she also adapted for television. The TV series with the boy Sebastien, played by her own son Mehdi, became a classic among children’s series.

French postcard by Editions O.P, Paris, no. 55. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

French postcard by Editions O.P, Paris, no. 48. Photo: Teddy Piaz.

French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 145. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Seductive Pout

Cécile Aubry was born Anne-José Madeleine Henriette Bénard in Paris, France, in 1928. Her family was well-to-do, and Cécile had an English governess and a personal dance teacher. In her late teens, she studied acting at the Cours Simon, where she was discovered by famous film director Henri-Georges Clouzot.

Clouzot fell immediately for her ingenuity, her green bronze eyes, her blond hair and her seductive pout. He offered the 20-year-old Aubry the title role in Manon (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1949), opposite Serge Reggiani and Michel Auclair.  In this dark adaptation of the Abbé Prévost's 18th-century novel Manon Lescaut, set in post-World War II, she played a capricious, luxury-seeking young woman who corrupts her lover.

Aubry managed to bring out the duality of the character – both femme fatale and femme enfant. She was a sensation. The film won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1949 and the 20-years-old Cécile landed on the cover of Life magazine. In the accompanying article, Life described her as a “frisky, pert, sugar-and-spice bundle of adolescence.”

Ronald Bergan described in The Guardian what happened next: "in a blaze of typical Hollywood publicity, Cécile Aubry was signed up by 20th Century-Fox to co-star with Tyrone Power and Orson Welles in Henry Hathaway's The Black Rose. It was to be Aubry's only American film, placing her among several French actresses who had short-lived Hollywood careers after the liberation of France in 1944."

In her next, European film, Barbe-bleu/Bluebeard (Christian Jacque, 1951) she played the last wife of Bluebeard, played in the French version by Pierre Brasseur and in the German version by Hans Albers. She performed a silhouetted striptease that left little to the imagination.

In the following years she only appeared in a few more films, including Piovuto dal cielo/Fallen From the Sky (Leonardo De Mitri, 1953) and Tanz in der Sonne/Dance in the Sun (Géza von Cziffra, 1954) with Franco Andrei.

German postcard by Kolibri-Verlag. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Still from The Black Rose (1950) with Tyrone Power.

Dutch postcard by Uitg. Takken, Utrecht, no. 377. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin. Photo: publicity still for Barbe-Bleue/Bluebeard (Christian-Jaque, 1951).

German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. A 410. Photo: publicity still for Barbe-Bleue/Bluebeard (Christian-Jaque, 1951).

German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin.

Secret Marriage

Cécile Aubry stopped acting after her marriage to Si Brahim El Glaoui, caïd (local administrator) of Telouet and  the oldest son of T'hami El Glaoui, pasha of Marrakech.

During the filming of The Black Rose in the dunes of the Moroccan Atlas mountains, the couple had met when he visited the set. They married in secret because Aubry thought that a marriage would harm her Hollywood career. Their marriage lasted for six years.

She announced her retirement from the cinema, and reportedly said  that she had only enjoyed film acting for its travel opportunities.

Aubry started a second successful career as a writer of children’s books. Her son Mehdi El Glaoui (only credited as Mehdi) later played roles in the French TV series Poly (1961-1973) about a boy and his horse, and in the three series around Sébastien (1965-1970). These series were all written and directed by Aubry.

The most popular of these series was Belle et Sébastien/Belle and Sebastian (1965), which tells the adventures of a young orphan  boy, Sébastien, in a small village in the Pyrenees, and the  large white dog, Belle, whom he finds wandering through the mountains. Aubrey's series were broadcasted all over Europe during the 1960s. Later she wrote and directed also the series Le jeune Fabre/The Young Fabre (1973), again with Mehdi in the lead, now as a teenager.

Belle et Sébastien was adapted in 1981 for a Japanese animated series, Meiken Jolie, which was itself translated into English. The Scottish rock band Belle and Sebastian took its name from  Aubry’s series too.

In 2010, Cécile Aubry died of lung cancer in Dourdan, outside of Paris, at the age of 81.

Last year Belle et Sébastien was filmed again, but now for the cinema. In Belle et Sébastien/Belle and Sebastian (Nicolas Vanier, 2013), the six-year-old boy and his dog look to foil a Nazi effort to capture French Resistance fighters. Sébastien was played by Félix Bossuet and Mehdi El Glaoui played a supporting part.

Dutch postcard. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 179. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Mexican Collector's card, no. 302.

German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 629. Photo: Serge Beauvarlet, Paris.

French postcard by Editions d'art Yvon, Paris, no. 6. Photo: RTF/Gaumont. Publicity still for the film Sébastien parmi les hommes (Cécile Aubry, 1968) with Mehdi El Glaoui.

French postcard by Editions d'art Yvon, Paris, no. 40/001-19. Photo: RTF / Gaumont / Téléclip. Publicity still for the film Sebastien et la Mary-Morgane (Cécile Aubry, 1970) with Mehdi El Glaoui.

Sources: Marlene Pilaete (L'encinémathèque) (French),  Ronald Bergan (The Guardian), Bruce Weber (The New York Times), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), Sandra Brennan (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

I have always wanted to see Black Rose for Orson Welles' role, now I have another reason