French postcard by Editions Chantal, no. 632. Photo: Ufa.
French postcard, no. 35. Photo: Ufa.
Louis Jouvet's Muse
Magdeleine Marie Catherine Elisabeth Ozeray was born in Bouillon in Wallonia in Belgium in 1908 (some sources say 1905). Her parents were Camille Ozeray, a lawyer and Liberal member of the province of Luxembourg, and Marie Deymann.
She studied at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels where she won first prize for comedy. She joined the cast of the Brussels Theatre Marais, directed by Raymond Rouleau, and made her stage debut in April 1931 in The evil of Youth by Ferdinand Bruckner.
Madeleine Ozeray and Raymond Rouleau fell in love. The play was a great success and was presented a few months later in Paris.
Her film debut was a small part in the British French-language comedy La dame de chez Maxim's/The Girl from Maxim's (Alexander Korda, 1932) starring Florelle. It was the French-language version of The Girl from Maxim's (1932) made by London Film Productions. Both films were directed by Korda, and were based on the farce La Dame de chez Maxim (1899) by Georges Feydeau.
She met the famous actor-director Louis Jouvet who offered her the role of Mariette in his film adaptation of the play Knock (1933) by Jules Romains. Soon the two became lovers and Madeleine left Raymond Rouleau.
For the next ten years, she would be Jouvet’s muse and official mistress. She played the female lead of Rosalie in the romantic crime drama Dans les rues/In the streets (Victor Trivas, 1933) opposite Jean-Pierre Aumont.
She also appeared in the fantasy Liliom (Fritz Lang, 1934), based on the Hungarian stage play of the same name by Ferenc Molnár. The film stars Charles Boyer as Liliom, a carousel barker who is fired from his job after defending the chambermaid Julie (Madeleine Ozeray) from the jealousy of Mme. Muscat, the carousel owner who is infatuated with Liliom. Liliom was one of the two first French productions by producer Erich Pommer for Fox-Europa and director Fritz Lang's only French film.
Ozeray also worked on stage and was part of Charles Boyer's stage company. At twenty-seven she joined the theatre company of Louis Jouvet where she played the role of Helen in The Trojan War Will Not Take Place by Jean Giraudoux at the Théâtre de l'Athénée.
In 1939 she appeared opposite Jouvet in the film La Fin du jour/The End of the day (Julien Duvivier, 1938), in the role of young Jeannette. She played her role with a characteristic delicate grace, both fragile and fierce.
In April 1939 Jean Giraudoux's play Ondine opened at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in Paris with Ozeray in the title role. Louis Jouvet was once again the director and her co-star.
Italian postcard by Ricordi RC, Milano, no. XVIII, 1940. Photo: Ufa.
French postcard by Erpé, no. 10. Photo: G.L. Manuel Frères.
Philippe Noiret’s mother
During the war Madeleine Ozeray refused to work under the Nazis who occupied France and she joined Louis Jouvet on a Latin-American tour, where they performed in plays by Molière, Jean Giraudoux, Alfred de Musset and Jules Romains.
In 1943 in Chile, she left Jouvet for the conductor Cesar Mendoza. After the war her film career halted.
In the 1970s, she returned to the screen. First she appeared on television in episodes of such series as Le tribunal de l'impossible/The court of the impossible (Pierre Badel, 1970) and Tang (André Michel, 1971).
Later followed roles in films like the crime drama Les Anges/The Angels (Jean Desvilles, 1973) and the drama La race des 'seigneurs'/Creezy (Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1974) starring Alain Delon.
She played Philippe Noiret’s mother in the war drama Le vieux fusil/The Old Gun (Robert Enrico, 1975) with Romy Schneider.
Another interesting film was Chère inconnue/I Sent a Letter to My Love (Moshe Mizrahi, 1980), starring Simone Signoret and Jean Rochefort. Her final screen appearance was in the series Les dossiers éclatés/The broken records (1980).
In 1989, Madeleine Ozeray died in Paris at the age of 80 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease (some sources say cancer). She is buried in the cemetery of her hometown of Bouillon. She was the godmother of theatre actor, dancer and singer Frédéric Norbert.
In 2008, in celebration of the centenary of her birth, Belgian journalist Dominique Zachary devoted an entire book, now the standard reference work, tracing the life and career of this celebrated actress.
French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 1047. Photo: Lux / Cie. Ciné de France.
French postcard by Editions et Publications Cinematographiques, no. 36. Photo: Ciné-Magazine.
Sources: Pascal Donald (CineArtistes – French), Cinememorial (French), Wikipedia (French and English) and IMDb.