13 August 2012


Pauley or Paul Pauley (1886 - 1938) was a French actor and singer, who knew a prolific career in French cinema of the 1930's.

French postcard.

Heavy Antics
Paul Pauley was born Paul Eugène Louis Marien in Paris in 1886. From 1904 on, he sang in several café-concerts in the capital, and he would eventually record six records in 1919. He was also the interpreter of such revues and plays as: T’as-t-y les tickets?/You got the tickets? (1915) with Félicien Tramel and Dranem, Si que j’serais roi/If I were King (1921) with Arletty and Marguerite Deval, La Belle Angevine (1922) by Maurice Donnay and Andre Rivoireau, and Un miracle/A Miracle (1927) by Sacha Guitry. The two latter plays were presented at the Parisian Théâtre des Variétés, where Pauley became a regular. In 1923 he created the role of Father Grenu in the operetta Ciboulette by Reynaldo Hahn. Critics accused him of not being able to play anything other than heavy antics in comedies, and singing silly songs (sometimes close to the repertory of Dranem). According to playwright and director André Antoine, "The authors, theatre directors and probably he himself too abused his obesity." In 1928, he created the role onstage of Régis de Castel-Bénac in Topaze by Marcel Pagnol. Apparently Pagnol had selected Pauley himself. The subtlety of his playing was recognized. When a critic was surprised he had so long hidden his talent by giving his audience only these antics, Pauley answered he played the roles that where given to him, and had no choice. Pauley was a highly educated and bibliophile man, and played vaudeville with great finesse. Actually, Colette said of him: "Paradoxically, when he plays, his physique becomes light as a balloon." In 1931 Pauley imitated Lucienne Boyer, having the audience roar with laughter. He sang on several records for Polydor between 1931 and 1934, such as the famous song Amusez-vous from the operetta by Guitry, Willemetz and Heymann, Florestan Ier, prince de Monaco (1934) in which Pauley performed as Rosambeau. In 1936, he participated in one of the first television broadcasts by French television, in the company of the Tyrolean Esther Kiliz.

Pauley ad for Campari
French postcard for Campari. Photo: Studio Lorelle. Caption: 'Dès que je bois du Campari, Oh! mes amis, quel appetit!' (Ever since I drink Campari, oh my friends, what an appetite!).

Waiting For Godeau
Pauley was a typical actor of French sound cinema of the 1930's, but he had started in the silent era. From 1904 on he already acted in one- and two-reelers by Pathé. In 1921, he landed a role in Asmodée à Paris/Asmodeus in Paris, a short film directed by Chaudy. Three years later he played the pope Alexis in Le Comte Kostia/Count Kostia (1924, Jacques Robert) opposite Conrad Veidt. He also acted in Luitz Morat’s La Ronde Infernale/The Infernal Circle (1927). With the advent of talking pictures his film career really set off. Between 1930 and 1938, he would appear in over thirty feature films and twenty shorter films. Filmmakers often used Pauley’s obesity for comic effect, but some of his parts were more remarkable. In 1931 he retook on screen the role he had played on stage in Sacha Guitry's Le blanc et et le noir/The White and the Black (1931, Marc Allégret, Robert Florey). He also repeated his stage role Régis de Castel-Bénac in the film adaptation of Topaz (1933, Louis J. Gasnier) with Louis Jouvet in the title role. Pauley then played Piedalouette in L’affaire Coquelet/The Coquelet case (1934, Jean Gourguet) with Marcel Levesque and Alice Tissot. He was the Marquis de la Tour-Barrée in On ne roule pas Antoinette/You Don’t Fool Antoinette (1936, Paul Madeux) with Armand Bernard and Simone Renant. He had the male lead of Mercadet in the Honoré de Balzac adaptation Le faiseur/The Fixer (1936, André Hugon), a story about a man who invents a fictive associate to fight his creditors. Just like Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot, the associate - called Godeau! - never shows up. He also played Gaston in Au son des guitares/At the Sound of the Guitars (1936, Pierre-Jean Ducis), a star vehicle for Tino Rossi singing Bella Ragazzina, Tant qu’il y aura des étoiles and Chanson pour ma brune. Pauley then was Baron de la Carbonnière in Mon député et sa femme/My Deputy and his Wife (1937, Maurice Cammage) starring Pauline Carton. Moreover, he played Schuppanzigh in Un grand amour de Beethoven/A Great Love of Beethoven (1936, Abel Gance), with Harry Baur in the role of the famous composer.

French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 1062. Photo: Paramount.

Unforgettable Part
Pauley’s career was crowned with his unforgettable part of Mr Woss in La rue sans joie/Joyless Street (1938, André Hugon), a remake of the classic silent film by G.W. Pabst. The film starred Albert Préjean and Dita Parlo, while the great singer Fréhel sang L’Amour des hommes. In La rue sans joie Jeanne de Romer (Dita Parlo), works to feed four mouths: her mother, her crippled grandfather, a brother and a sister, all depending on her modest salary. When her boss Mr. Woss (Pauley) is arrested for fraud, she is forced into misery and falls in the hands of dubious owner of a fashion house (Marguerite Deval) and a rich cattle merchant (Pierre Alcover). The film hinted at the crisis in France during its years of the Popular Front. It was Pauley’s last film performance. His definite trademark had been his roundness. Wherever he appeared, what first struck was his size of one meter fifty-six, in all directions. His obesitas was also his handicap because it got him mainly vaudeville parts, especially in the cinema. Still he made himself remarkable, not because of his size but because of his acting which was full of finesse, grace and flexibility, as Pascal Donald remarks at Ciné-Artistes. Although he sang a lot, Pauley has never been a real singer of chansons like Polin, even if early in his career he was one of Polin’s emulators (so not just an imitator). Especially in his early recordings, his art resulted in a contrast between his looks and his voice. Later, when acting in cinema, he would practice with much finesse a more natural voice. Victim of a heart attack, Pauley died prematurely in Paris in 1938. He was only 52.

Scene from Un grand amour de Beethoven/A Great Love of Beethoven (1936). Source: Sstuddert (YouTube).

Sources: Pascal Donald (Ciné-Artistes) (French), Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.

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