01 March 2015

Mary Marquet

Mary Marquet (1895-1979) was a grande dame of the French stage, but she was also active as a screen actress. She appeared already in Sarah Bernhardt’s silent film La voyante (1923) and one of her final film roles was Donald Sutherland's mother in Fellini’s Casanova (1976).

Mary Marquet
French postcard in the series Nos artistes dans leur loge by Ed. La Fayette, no. 99. Photo: Comoedia.

Stage struck

Micheline Marie Marguerite Delphine Marquet was the granddaughter of Delphine Marquet of the Comédie Française, niece of star dancer Louise Marquet, and daughter of stage actors Marcel Marquet and Louise Loisel.

She was born in 1895 in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, where her parents were under contract. In the early 20th century, the Marquets returned to live in Paris.

In 1909, the girl made her stage debut next to her parents under the name of Mary Marquet. The play was Anthony by Alexandre Dumas père.

In 1915 the young actress was hired by Sarah Bernhardt to act in her Paris theatre La tour de Nesles. She then acted in over 200 performances of L’aiglon by Edmond Rostand as the young Duke of Reichstadt. It was a triumph and Mary openly lived her affair with the great author.

In 1921 she divorced her first husband, stage actor Maurice Escande, in order to follow her new love Firmin Gémier at the Théâtre Antoine. From this meeting the creation of plays by Claude Farrère and Pierre Frandaie sprang up.

In 1923 Marquet entered the Comédie-Française and after five years, she became a Sociétaire. She was one of its most revered actresses for over twenty years. Mary also worked at the Théâtre Français.

While stage struck, Marquet was less active in film. In silent cinema she probably debuted in the short film Les frères ennemis/Enemy brothers (Henri Pouctal, 1913), a Le Film d'Art production.

This was followed by several other silent films such as Dalila (1916) with Jean Yonnel and Andrée Pascal, La ferme du Choquart/The Choquart farm (Jean Kemm, 1922) starring Geneviève Félix, and Sarah Bernhardt’s last film La voyante/The Clairvoyant (Léon Abrams, Louis Mercanton, 1923).

In the 1930s, Marquet appeared only in Sapho/Sappho (Léonce Perret, 1933) and Les perles de la couronne/The Pearls of the Crown (Sacha Guitry, 1939) - and this despite a bright and tumultuous marriage with the famous film (and stage) actor Victor Francen.

Maurice Escande
Maurice Escande. French postcard by Collection Chantal, Paris, no. 88.

Victor Francen
Victor Francen. French postcard by A.N., Paris, no. 973. Photo: Pathé Natan.

Casanova's Mother

During the Second World War, Mary Marquet continued to act on stage. She also gave 200 poetry recitals and like many other actors of the time, she participated in mundane manifestations under the Regime.

According to Philippe Pelletier at CinéArtistes, Marquet tried in 1943 to prevent that her son François, whom she had had with Firmin Gémier, was deported for working in the Resistance. It was in vain. François died in Buchenwald in January 1944.

Christophe Greseque at IMDb tells a different version: "During her trial, she admitted contacting the Vichy police in 1943 and asking them to prevent her son François from joining the Resistance. Despite a severe warning by the police, he still managed to flee to Spain but was arrested and deported to Buchenwald where he died in January 1944."

In 1944, Mary Marquet was arrested and sent to Fresne prison, near Paris: she was accused of collaborating with the Germans during the war as well as being instrumental to her son's arrest by the Gestapo. She was acquitted in January 1945 but was not allowed to return to the Comédie Française.

In 1946 she went back to the stage, but now of the boulevard theatre. (Light comedies are called 'comédies de boulevard' in French.) She also reappeared on screen for the comedies Interdit au public/Forbidden to the Public (Fred Pasquali, 1949) and Le quatre-vingt-quatre prend des vacances/The eighty-four takes a vacation (Léo Joannon, 1949) starring Rellys.

As a consequence, the tragedy actress turned into a comic actress, also in cinema. Her presence and height of 1.80 cm made her a remarkable actress in the next 25 years, acting in some 35 films.

Among her most striking parts were those of the Marquise de Maintenon in Si Versailles m’était conté/Royal Affairs in Versailles (1953) by Sacha Guitry, Queen Mother Elisabeth of Moldavia in Arsène Lupin contre Arsène Lupin/Arsene Lupin Contra Arsene Lupin (Edouard Molinaro, 1962), the Mother Superior in La grande vadrouille/The Big Runaround (Gérard Oury, 1966) with Louis de Funès and Bourvil and the old duchess in La merveilleuse visite/The Marvelous Visit (Marcel Carné, 1973).

Marquet also acted in drama and series on TV, such as in the title role of the TV film La visite de la vieille dame/The Visit of the Old Lady (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1971), based on the dark comedy by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

One of her last roles was as Casanova's mother in the masterpiece Il Casanova di Federico Fellini/Casanova (Federico Fellini, 1976), starring Donald Sutherland as the famous Venetian libertine.

After a life of tragedy but also of spectacular successes, the Grand Old Lady of the French stage and screen died of a heart attack in 1979 in Paris (according to IMDb of the effects of a fall). She was 84. Mary Marquet lies buried at the cemetery of Montmartre.

Scene from Casanova (1976). Donald Sutherland's Casanova is reunited with his mother. Source: Fan 90042 (YouTube).

Sources: Philippe Pelletier (CinéArtistes), Christopher Greseque (IMDB), Wikipedia (French) and IMDb.

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