23 May 2017


French actor Rellys (1905-1991) had an exceptional long career. First he specialised in the Marseille-set operettas by Marcel Pagnol and others. Later he often appeared as a side-kick in comedies with Fernandel.

French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 199. Photo: Gray-Film.


Rellys was born as Henri Roger Marius Bourelly in Marseille, France, in 1905. As a child, Rellys accompanied his parents on a picnic in les pinèdes and there he learned to sing.

Henri Rellys worked as a pastry chef, and earned the nickname ‘Brioche’ (Bun). As a theatre amateur, he won a singing contest at the Alcazar in Marseilles, disguised as a comic trooper in 1925.

After his military service, he was hired under the name of Rellys, for tours along cabarets in the Provence and in North Africa.

He made his film début in Le Tampon du Capiston/The plug of the capiston (Joe Francis, Jean Toulout, 1930). In the revue En plein soleil (In Full Sun) he imitated Maurice Chevalier and ... Josephine Baker.

In 1933, Henri Alibert engaged him for the company of his play Au pays du soleil (In the land of the sun). The film adaptation, Au pays du soleil (Robert Péguy, 1933), helped to launch his career. Marcel Pagnol gave him the chance to play a small part in his film Merlusse (Marcel Pagnol, 1934).

In the beginning, he specialised in Marseille-set operettas, which were flourishing at the time: Trois de la marine/Three of the Navy (Charles Barrois, 1934), César/Cesar (Marcel Pagnol, 1936) with Raimu, and Un de la canebière/One of the canebière (René Pujol, 1937) based on the operetta by Alibert, René Sarvil and Raymond Vincy, and music by Vincent Scotto.

French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 199. Photo: Gray-Film.

French postcard by S.E.R.P., Paris, no. 245. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

Sweet and Warm Ways

In the 1940’s, Rellys was noted for his Provençal accent, his sweet and warm ways and his endearing air. He had a real triumph with Narcisse/Narcissus (Ayres d'Aguiar, 1940), in which he played a vaudeville soldier, who has to fly an aeroplane despite himself.

He also played leading roles in Feu Nicolas/Fire Nicolas (Jacques Houssin, 1943), Roger la Honte/Roger the Shame (André Cayatte, 1945), Les Aventures des Pieds Nickelés/The Adventures of Nickeles feet (Marcel Aboulker, 1947), Tabusse (Jean Gehret, 1948) and Manon des Sources/Manon of the Spring (Marcel Pagnol, 1952).

His exceptional long career continued after the war with films like Amédée/Amedeus (Gilles Grangier, 1950), La vie est un jeu/Life is a game (Raymond Leboursier, 1951), and Arènes joyeuses/Joyful Arenas (Maurice de Canonge, 1958).

In many of his later films he supported comedy star Fernandel, including Honoré de Marseille (Maurice Régamey, 1956), Crésus/Croesus (Jean Giono, 1960), L'Âge ingrate/That Tender Age (Gilles Grangier, 1964) starring Jean Gabin, and Heureux qui comme Ulysse/ Happy He Who Like Ulysses (Henri Colpi, 1970).

His last film was L'Ange gardien/The Guardian Angel (Jacques Fournier, 1978) with former first lady of Canada, Margaret Trudeau. He also worked for television, and appeared in episodes of the crime series Les Cinq Dernières Minutes/The Last Five Minutes (1966-1973) and Madame le juge/Madam judges it (1978) starring Simone Signoret.

He returned to the songs of his early operettas in Marseille, when he released his first album in 1977. His last TV appearance was in L'honneur de Barberine/The Honor of Barberine (1982).

Rellys retired in his birthplace Marseille. There he died in 1991, at the age of 86. He had two daughters, Annie and Michèle.

Scene from Les lettres de mon moulin/Letters from My Windmill (Marcel Pagnol, 1954) with Rellys, Fernand Sardou, and Robert Vattier. Source: Marcel Pagnol (Daily Motion).

Scene from Manon des Sources/Manon of the Spring (Marcel Pagnol, 1954) with Rellys and Jacqueline Pagnol. Source: Marcel Pagnol (Daily Motion).

Sources: Ciné-Ressources (French), Wikipedia (French), and IMDb.

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