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12 October 2015

Jacques Sernas

Lithuanian-born French actor Jacques (sometimes: Jack) Sernas (1925) had an international film career of more than sixty years. First the handsome blonde appeared as the hero of Peplum spectacles and adventure films and later he worked as a character actor. Sernas is perhaps best-known as Paris in the Hollywood epic Helen of Troy (1956).

Jacques Sernas
German postcard by Kunst und Bild, Berlin, no. T 650. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Helen of Troy (Robert Wise, 1956).

Jacques Sernas
German postcard by Kolibi-Verlag, Minden/Westf., no. 1906. Photo: Warner Bros. Publicity still for Helen of Troy (Robert Wise, 1956).

Jacques Sernas
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 694. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Jacques Sernas
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, presented by Les Carbones Korès 'Carboplane', no. 804. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Buchenwald


Jacques Sernas was born as Jurgis Šernas in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1925. Sernas was the son of the Baltic minister of justice, Jokūbas Šernas, a signatory of the Act of Independence of Lithuania in 1918. He died six years later when Jacques was a year old. His Russian mother took him to Paris where he received his formal education.

Still at school, he joined the French Resistance and was captured. For more than a year he was interned at concentration camp Buchenwald, where he had to do hard labour. After the war Sernas started a medicine study, but broke this off rapidly. To be able to keep his mother and himself financially above the water, he did all kind of odd jobs such as night watchman, waiter in the Café de la Paix, and skiing instructor in Chamonix. He also tried briefly as a journalist - he was a correspondent for the journal Combat at the Nuremberg processes – but he also gave up this career.

In 1947 he appeared for the first times before the camera in the Italian film drama Gioventù perduta/Lost Youth (Pietro Germi, 1947) with Carla del Poggio and Massimo Girotti and in the French Film Noir Miroir/Mirror (Raymond Lavy, 1947) with Jean Gabin and Martine Carol. Thus started a career lasting more than 60 years.

Sernas was noted for 'his eye-catching good looks' (according to Gary Brumburgh at IMDb), and soon appeared in many jeune premier roles. Sernas cut a fine figure in European spectacles as Il falco rosso/The Red Falcon (Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia, 1949), Il mulino del Po/The Mill on the Po (Alberto Lattuada, 1949) with Carla del Poggio, Il lupo della Sila/Lure of the Sila (Duilio Coletti, 1949) with Silvana Mangano, Barbe-Bleue/Bluebeard (Christian Jacque, 1951) with Cécile Aubry, and Camicie rosse/Anita Garibaldi (Goffredo Alessandrini, 1952) starring Anna Magnani.

He hit major international attention after being cast as Paris, opposite sex sirens Rosanna Podestà and Brigitte Bardot in the historical epic Helen of Troy (Robert Wise, 1956). Hollywood took brief notice but nothing much came of it. In his few American films and TV series he appeared under the name Jack Sernas.

Jacques Sernas
Italian postcard by Ed. Garami, no. 103. Photo: Italfoto / Lux Film. Publicity still for Il mulino del Po/The Mill on the Po (Alberto Lattuada, 1949).

Jacques Sernas
Dutch postcard, no. 109. Photo: Warner Bros.

Jacques Sernas
French postcard by Editions du Globe, Paris, no. 179. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Jacques Sernas
Italian postcard by S.A. Poligrafica Sammarinese, no. 004u.

Jacques Sernas
French collector's card, offered by Royal Chewing-Gum. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Fading Matinee Idol


After two years in Hollywood, Jacques Sernas returned to Europe and settled in Rome. Since then he was mainly seen in Italian productions. He was relegated for the most part to supporting characters, but he made one lasting impression as a fading matinee idol in Fellini's masterpiece La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960).

Other interesting films were Un amore a Roma/Love in Rome (Dino Risi, 1960), and the war satire Il giorno più corto/The Shortest Day (Sergio Corbucci, 1963). Sernas appeared in international productions as 55 Days at Peking (Nicholas Ray, 1963) with Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner.

In 1966 he wrote his so far single screenplay, Zarabanda Bing Bing/Balearic Caper (José María Forqué, 1966) a satire on the James Bond films, in which Sernas also played the leading part. Later films included the shocking Curzio Malaparte adaptation La Pelle/The Skin (Liliana Cavani, 1981) starring Marcello Mastroianni, and L'africana/The African Woman (Margaretha von Trotta, 1990) with Stefania Sandrelli.

About the private life of Jacques Sernas is little known. In June, 1955 he married the Romanian journalist Maria Stella Signorini. The following year he became father of a daughter. Unknown is if he was married more times, or if he had more children.

His most recent appearances have been as a Cardinal in a TV film biopic Papa Giovanni - Ioannes XXIII/ Pope John XXIII (Giorgio Capitani, 2002) with Edward Asner, and in the TV mini-series Papa Luciani: Il sorriso di Dio/Pope Luciani: God's smile (Giorgio Capitani, 2006) with Franco Interlenghi.

Jacques Sernas
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 2777. Photo: Cines.

Jacques Sernas
Italian postcard by B.F.F. Edit., no. 3292. Photo: Warner Bros.

Jacques Sernas
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, presented by Les Carbones Korès 'Carboplane', no. 914. Photo: Studio Bernard & Vauclair.


Trailer for Helen of Troy (1956). Source: 50sMovieBlitzz (YouTube).


Trailer for La Dolce Vita (1960). Source: Pulp59 (YouTube).

Sources: Gary Brumburgh (IMDb), Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.

1 comment:

Beth Niquette said...

You know what's really odd? I HAVE the movie Helen of Troy in DVD. I bought it for a few bucks from a video store that went out of business.

I LOVE the movie--saw it for the first time when I was a girl.

Thank you for the history--I didn't realize what an accomplished actor he was.

Happy PFF!