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10 April 2014

François Périer

François Périer (1919-2002) was one of France's most beloved performers. This versatile and charming actor was prominent in the theatre and made 117 film and TV appearances between 1938 and 1996.

François Périer
French postcard by S.E.R.P., Paris, no. 25. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

François Périer
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, offered by Les Carbones Korès Carboplane, no. 968.

Fresh-faced, Impudent Adolescent Charm


François Périer was born Francois Marie Gabriel Pillu in Paris, in 1919. His father managed a wine shop.

At age 14, while he was still a pupil at the Lycée Janson-de-Sully, he started studying acting at the Cours René Simon. He got an audition with no less than the legendary actor Louis Jouvet. Jouvet subsequently helped him enter the Conservatoire.

He started his career at the theatre and at the age of 19, he already became a star.

In his obituary in The Independent, James Kirkup wrote about Périer: “Though he was by no means possessed of classic good looks, his fresh-faced, impudent adolescent charm attracted favourable notice when he appeared in Claude-André Puget's delightful comedy of young love Les Jours heureux (Happy Days), a success that kicked off his career with 500 performances and assured his acting future”.

Périer appeared the following decades in all kinds of plays, from the very highest intellectual dramas to the lightest of satirical intrigues. He could illuminate difficult roles and transform a nondescript drama by sheer force of talent, technique and charm.

Among his most notable stage roles was that of Hugo in the first production of Jean-Paul Sartre's Les Mains Sales in 1948. Sartre was his second great idol and Périer also appeared in Sartre's Le Diable et le Bon Dieu (1948), which was revived in 1968 and 1970 on the Théâtre du Chaillot's vast stage.

Later stage triumphs in Sartre plays included his appearance in Les Séquestrés d'Altona (The Condemned of Altona), which he also directed, in 1965.

Kirkup: “With the development of a wonderful organ of a voice, his range was limitless. He could endow even the most repulsive characters with a fascinating appeal, like his Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus opposite Roman Polanski in the title role (1982), or the sad hero of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1988) which had audiences in tears every night.”

François Périer
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 73. Photo: Roger Carlet.

François Périer
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 32. Photo: Studio Piaz.

Magnificent Voice


François Périer’s film career started with apprenticing in bit parts.

His first notable roles were in Hôtel du Nord (Marcel Carné, 1938) with Annabella and Louis Jouvet, and La fin du jour/The End of the Day (Julien Duvivier, 1939) with Victor Francen and Jouvet.

Périer truly hit his stride in the years following World War II in films like Un revenant/A Lover's Return (Christian-Jacque, 1946) with Louis Jouvet, and La vie en rose/A Merry Life (Jran Faurez, 1947) with Louis Salou.

He co-starred with Maurice Chevalier in Le silence est d'or/Silence Is Golden (René Clair, 1947) about the heyday of the silent film, the 1920s.

His most famous screen role was Heurtebise in Jean Cocteau's Orphée/Orpheus (1950), a characterization he repeated ten years later in Le Testament D'Orphée/The Testament of Orpheus (Jean Cocteau, 1959).

There were many links between Périer's stage work and his appearances in films, television dramas and on radio programs, where his magnificent voice could be heard in all its intimate velvet best.

He was also the French narrator in Walt Disney’s animation feature Fantasia (1940).

In 1957 he won the British Oscar, the BAFTA Film Award for Best Foreign Actor for his role in Gervaise (René Clément, 1956), an adaptation of Emile Zola's L'Assommoir.

Another great role was the bookish Oscar in Fellini's Le Notte di Cabiria/Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957) opposite Giulietta Masina.

François Perier
French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris, no. 161. Photo: Teddy Piaz.

François Perier
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 73. Photo: Roger Carlet.

Professional Fibber


François Périer appeared in projects ranging from romantic comedies to political thrillers.

Among his best films of the 196’s are the thriller Le Samourai/The Godson (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1967) starring Alain Delon, the political thriller Z (Costa-Gravas, 1969), in which he played a Public Prosecutor in Greece under military rule, and the crime film Le cercle rouge (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1970) with Delon and Yves Montand.

During the following decade he appeared in supporting roles in successful films like Max et les ferrailleurs/Max and the Junkmen (Claude Sautet, 1971) starring Michel Piccoli and Romy Schneider, Juste avant la nuit (Claude Chabrol, 1971) with Stéphane Audran, L'attentat/The Assassination (Yves Boisset, 1972) about the Ben Barka affair, Stavisky (Alain Resnais, 1974) about a famous financial scandal, and Police Python 357 (Alain Corneau, 1976) opposite Yves Montand and Simone Signoret.

Périer appeared in the popular Italian TV-series La piovra/The Octopus (Damiano Damiani, 1984) starring Michele Placido.

In 1989 he published his memoirs, Profession menteur (Professional Fibber), and in 1995 followed a second book, Lettres à un jeune comédien (Letters to a Young Comedian).

Among his later films were Soigne ta droite/Keep Up Your Right (Jean-Luc Godard, 1987) and Lacenaire/The Elegant Criminal (Francis Girod, 1990) a biography of the poet-criminal Lacenaire.

In 1991, the actor began suffering from Alzheimer's disease but he worked on radio until 1996.

In 2002, François Périer died from a heart attack in Paris, at age 82. He had been married three times. He was first married to Jacqueline Porel from 1941 till 1947. In 1949 he married actress Marie Daëms. They separated in 1959. In 1961 he married Colette Boutouland and the pair stayed together till his death.

With Jacqueline Porel he had one daughter, journalist Anne-Marie Périer, and two sons. His son Jean-Pierre Périer-Pillu committed suicide at the age of 23 in 1966 by jumping from a window. His adopted son Jean-Marie Périer is a famous photographer of the yé-ye years (the French beat period).

In 2005 François Périer was awarded the Prix du Brigadier posthumously, a prize for his prolific career of nearly sixty years.

François Perier
French postcard by Editions E.C., Paris, no. 102. Photo: Roger Carlet.


Trailer Stavisky (1974). Source: Film&Clips (YouTube).

Sources: James Kirkup (The Independent), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.