07 May 2018

Gabrielle Réjane

Gabrielle Réjane (1856-1920) was a successful French stage actress and early silent film actress. She is most famous for her role of Catherine, in Sardou's play Madame Sans-Gene (1893), which she filmed twice.

Gabrielle Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P., 34e serie, no. 9. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Réjane
French postcard, no. 1342. Photo Reutlinger, Paris. Mailed in 1905.

Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 1874. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris. Mailed in 1911.

Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P.. Photo Reutlinger, Paris. Caption: Vaudeville.


An emotional actress of rare gifts


Gabrielle Réjane was born as Gabrielle-Charlotte Reju in 1856 in Paris. She was the daughter of an actor.

She became a pupil of Régnier at the Conservatoire, and took the second prize for comedy in 1874. Her debut was the next year, during which she played a number of light — especially soubrette — parts.

Her first great success was in Henri Meilhac's Ma camarade (1883), in which she expressed her emotional sympathy to gain great audience appeal. She soon became known as an emotional actress of rare gifts, notably in Décor, Germinie Lacerteux, Ma cousine, Amoureuse and Lysistrata.

In 1892 a pregnant Réjane married Paul Porel, the director of the Théâtre du Vaudeville, but the marriage dissolved in 1905. Their only child was a daughter Germaine.

In 1893 she appeared in Paris, and soon thereafter in London and New York, in her most famous role as Catherine in Victorien Sardou's Madame Sans-Gêne. Her performances in the play made her as well known in England and the United States as in Paris, and in later years she appeared in characteristic parts in both countries, being particularly successful in Zaza and La Passerelle.

Gabrielle Réjane, Victorien Sardou, Paul Porel, Signing the contract for Madame Sans Gene (1993)
French postcard by Raphael Tuck & Fils, Editeurs, Paris, Série 200. Photo: publicity still for the stage play Madame Sans-Gêne. Caption: Victorien Sardou, madame Réjane and Léon Porel signing the contract for Madame Sans-Gêne.

Gabrielle Réjane in Madame Sans-Gêne
French postcard by Raphael Tuck & Fils, Editeurs, Paris, Série 200. Photo: publicity still for the stage play Madame Sans-Gêne.

Gabrielle Réjane in Madame Sans Gene
French postcard by Raphael Tuck & Fils, Editeurs, Paris, Série 200. Photo: publicity still for the stage play Madame Sans-Gêne.

French vivacity and animated expression


In 1906, Gabrielle Réjane opened the Théâtre Réjane, where she continued to act as well as manage the theatre.

Along with Sarah Bernhardt, she served as the model for the character of the actress Berma in Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time (A la Recherche du Temps Perdu).

The French vivacity and animated expression that was Réjane's trademark made her unrivalled in the parts which she had made her own.

She appeared in several short films during the early years of cinema, including an experimental 1908 sound film for Gaumont. She made two short and silent film adaptations of her greatest success, Madame Sans-Gêne (Clément Maurice, 1900) and Madame Sans-Gêne (André Calmettes, Henri Desfontaines 1911).

Her other films included Britannicus (André Calmettes, 1908) with Jean Mounet-Sully, the propaganda film Alsace (Henri Pouctal, 1916), and Miarka, la fille à l'ourse/Gypsy Passion (Louis Mercanton, 1920) starring Desdemona Mazza and Ivor Novello.

Gabrielle Rejane
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 2. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Gabrielle Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P., 75th Series, no. 4. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Gabrielle Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P., 85th Series, no. 7. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Gabrielle Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P., no. 118/19. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

The Marseillaise on the tomb of her son


In Alsace (Henri Pouctal, 1916), a film that luckily still survives, Gabrielle Réjane reprised the role Gaston Leroux had written for her as stage play, with which she had been very successful in early 1913 at her own theatre.

Two families, one, French, one German, rival each other in the contested province of the Alsace. The French son (Albert Dieudonné) falls in love with the daughter of the Germans, Marguerite (Francesca Flory), but his mother (Réjane) tries to prevent the marriage plans.

When he falls ill, she gives in. When war breaks out, he must choose between his German fiancee and his French mother. Both women are fanatics and plotters, the man instead is weak. He is beaten up by a German mob and dies in his mother's arms.

When the film premiered at the Paris Gaumont-Palace, it was a massive success, especially for the final image of Réjane posing as the Marseillaise on the tomb of her son.

The full film, a tinted version found and restored by the Dutch EYE Filmmuseum, and containing English intertitles, can be watched on European Film Gateway

Gabrielle Réjane was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour three months before her death. She died in Paris in 1920 and was buried there in the Cimetière de Passy.

Réjane
French postcard. Photo Reutlinger, Paris, No. 86/19. S.I.P. Mailed in 1904.

Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P. Photo Reutlinger, Paris.  Mailed in 1906.

Gabrielle Réjane
French postcard by S.I.P., for Vins Désiles. Photo: Reutlinger, Paris.

Gabrielle Réjane
French postcard by M.J.S. Caption: Vaudeville.

Réjane
French [?] postcard, Series 129.

Hennequeville - the villa of Mme Réjane
French postcard, no. 27. Caption: Hennequeville - La Villa de Madame Réjane. L.L.

Sources: Kit and Morgan Benson (Find A Grave), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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