21 February 2012

Suzanne Grandais

Striking, sophisticated Suzanne Grandais (1893 - 1920) is one of our favorite European film stars. She was the most beautiful and refined actress of the French silent cinema. Her nickname was 'the French Mary Pickford' because of her angel face and blond hair. She died when she was only 27.

Suzanne Grandais
Vintage postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Louis Feuillade
Suzanne Grandais was born as Suzanne Gueudret in Paris, France in 1893. At the age of 15, she already started to work as a dancer. Her first stage appearance was in Le Château Des Loufoques (The Castle of Loufoques) by Benjamin Rabier at the Théâtre de Cluny. After a tour through South America, she played some parts in short silent films for the Lux and Eclair film companies. Then she was discovered by pioneer director Louis Feuillade who hired her for Gaumont. (English Wikipedia writes it was Leonce Perret who discovered her at the Moulin Rouge). From 1911 till 1913, she made some 45 films for Gaumont, mostly short comedies and dramas. First she appeared in Feuillade's series Scènes de la vie telle qu'elle est (Life As It Is). In his Encyclopedia of Early Cinema, Richard Abel writes that these films were marked by her 'sober, restrained acting'. Later Grandais often played Léonce Perret's wife or temptress in the Léonce series, elegant comedies starring and directed by Perret. She also appeared in such feature-lenght adventure melodramas as Le Mystère des roches de Kador/The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador (1912, Léonce Perret). In 1913-1914, Grandais switched to the German Dekage company (Deutsche Kinematograph Gesellschaft), for which she did another 18 films, directed by Marcel Robert and Charles Decroix. Then she founded her own film company with Raoul d'Archy, Les Films Suzanne Grandais.

Suzanne Grandais
French postcard by Phocea-Films. This card was made for the 10th (and final) episode of the serial L'Essor/The Rise (1921). Photo: Sciarabin [?], Strasbourg.

Car Crash
During the First World War, Suzanne Grandais also worked at Eclipse. The Eclipse drama Suzanne (1916, René Hervil, Louis Mercanton) was a major international success and turned Grandais into a star. French women started to notice that she always wore the latest fashions. The great film critic Louis Delluc compared her to American serial queen Pearl White in the journal Paris-Midi in 1918. In 2005, film historian Richard Abel called her 'arguably the most popular French actress of the early 1910's': "Grandais was equally adept at playing subtly papthetic figures, deceptive partners in crime, or witty wives who deftly outsmarted their husbands". On Saturday 28 August 1920, Suzanne Grandais was killed while making the film serial L'Essor/The Rise (1921, Charles Burguet) in the Alsace. She was only 27, when she died in a car crash between Sézanne and Coulommiers. Cameraman Marcel Ruette was also killed. Director Charles Burguet and his wife were in the back of the same car, but both survived. The accident happened during the shooting of the film, and the ending of the film had to be changed. In 2009, Gallimard published a book on Grandais Un amour sans paroles (A Love Without Words), written by Didier Blonde. The author mentioned that he could see only one film of her. Most of Suzanne Grandais' more than 60 films are considered lost. But there's good news for him: several of her films have been saved by the Eye Institute (formerly Nederlands Filmmuseum) in Amsterdam. Most of these films are short comedies and dramas, often directed by Léonce Perret, from her early years at Gaumont. These include Le homard/Lobsters: All Styles (1913, Léonce Perret), L'obsession du souvenir/The Obsession of a Souvenir (1913) and Graziella la Gitane/Graziella the Gypsy (1912, Léonce Perret). The films are preserved with beautiful tinted and stencil-colored colours. The Eye Institute, which reopens in a new building in Amsterdam in April this year, also owns some feature films with Suzanne Grandais such as Le mystère des Roches de Kador/The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador (1912, Léonce Perret).

Suzanne Grandais
German postcard by Verleih Hermann Leiser, no. 7872. Photo: Willinger.

Sources: Richard Abel (Encyclopedia of Early Cinema), Alberto Blanco (Find A Grave), Les Légendes du Cinéma (French), Gallimard, Wikipedia (French and English), and IMDb.

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