28 November 2023

Fernand Herrmann

Fernand Herrmann (1886–1944) or Fernand Hermann was a French silent film actor, who started his film career at Gaumont in 1911. He starred in some 26 films between 1914 and 1925. Herrmann is particularly known for the crime serials by Louis Feuillade for Gaumont, such as Les Vampires (1915) in which he played the double roles of Moréno and Brichonnet, and Barrabas (1920) in which he played the lawyer Jacques Varese.

Fernand Herrmann
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, no. 13. Photo: Belge, Nice.

Fernand Herrmann
French postcard in the Les Vedettes de l'Ecran series by Editions Filma, no. 128.

Fernand Herrmann
French postcard. Photo: Film Gaumont.

Head of a ring of crooks

Fernand Herrmann was born in 1886 in Paris, France. He was the son of Léon Herrmann and Mathilde Schmoll. His father was a painter, and his mother had no occupation. A child with a passion for the circus, he dreamed of becoming a horseman or acrobat. As a teenager, he attended many of the classic plays performed at the Comédie-Française. He then decided to become an actor, taking diction classes before joining Charles Le Bargy's class at the Conservatoire.

After graduating with a first prize in comedy and a second prize in tragedy in 1907, Fernand Herrmann entered the Odéon, where he was mainly cast in roles of young actors. Two years later, he was hired by Sarah Bernhardt, in the troupe of the theatre that bears her name. He partnered the great actress in such plays as 'Le procès de Jeanne d'Arc' by Emile Moreau, 'L'aiglon' by Edmond Rostand, 'Les bouffons' by Miguel Zamacoïs and 'La dame aux camélias' by Alexandre Dumas fils. Just before the First World War, he also appeared in several plays at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées.

In the meantime, Fernand Herrmann had developed a keen interest in the cinema and was enthralled by the films he discovered. One of his first films for Gaumont was the short thriller Le trust, ou les batailles de l'argent/Trust (Louis Feuillade, 1911) in which a young inventor discovers a way to develop rubber in a more cost-friendly way. When he's on his way back to his boss with the new formula, he's kidnapped by his company's rival who wants the formula for himself. Such Gaumont regulars as Renée Carl, Jean Devalde and René Navarre were in the cast and Herrmann played an accomplice.

In the following years, he appeared for Gaumont in such films as Le calvaire (Louis Feuillade, 1914) and Severo Torelli (Louis Feuillade, 1914). While Fernand Herrmann played the title role in Severo Tortelli and the female lead was for Renée Carl (Dona Pia), actress Musidora (Portia) had one of her first film parts in this film, based on a play (1883) by François Coppée. Supporting actors were a.o. Jehan le Gall, Louise Lagrange and Georges Melchior.

Herrmann became known for the serial Les vampires/The Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1915-1916), in which he played Juan-José Moréno (and Brichonnet), head of a ring of crooks rival to the Vampires. The serial established the genre of crime thriller, creating cinematic thriller techniques used later by Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. The use of gadgetry such as cannons and bombs was also adopted by Lang in films such as Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler/Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Fritz Lang, 1922). He played the leading role in another Feuillade serial, Barrabas (Louis Feuillade, 1919). as lawyer Jacques Vareèe. Together with journalist Raoul de Nérac (Édouard Mathé), Varese attempts in this serial to expose and destroy the criminal organisation led by a sadistic banker Rudolph Strelitz (Gaston Michel), known as 'Barrabas'.

Severo Torelli
French postcard by Maury's International Attraction Circuit. Photo: Gaumont. Fernand Herrmann and Renée Carl in Severo Torelli (Louis Feuillade, 1914).

Georges Biscot and Fernand Herrmann in Les deux gamines (1921)
Spanish collectors card in the Escenas selectas de cinematografía, Series, B, No. 20. Photo: Gaumont. Georges Biscot and Fernand Herrmann in Les deux gamines/The two kids (Louis Feuillade, 1921), presented in Spain as Las dos niñas de París.

Fernand Herrmann and Bernard Derigal in Le fils du flibustier (1922)
Spanish minicard in the Escenas selectas de cinematografía series, series B, no. 3, for Juan Garcia, Chocolates Gavilan, Alicante. Fernand Herrmann and Bernard Derigal in Le fils du flibustier/The buccaneer's son (Louis Feuillade, 1922). The Spanish title is El hijo del pirata.

Decency and morality were the order of the day

After World War I, Fernand Herrmann remained one of the permanent cast members of Louis Feuillade. With the return of peace, decency and morality were the order of the day. The Feuillade serials of the new decade leaned clearly towards melodrama. Triumphant crime gave way to persecuted innocence and family life. In Les Deux Gamines (Louis Feuillade, 1921), Fernand Herrmann played the father of Ginette (Sandra Milowanoff) and Gaby (Olinda Mano). Les Deux Gamines, presented at the Gaumont-Palace from January to April 1921, was acclaimed by the public.

Feuillade's subsequent serials, such as L'orpheline (Louis Feuillade, 1921) starring Sandra Milowanoff, Parisette (Louis Feuillade, 1921) and Le fils du flibustier (Louis Feuillade, 1922) starring Aimé Simon-Girard were always received with great favour by the public. But they were not such a triumph as Les Deux Gamines.

In 1923, the film serial craze began to fade. Vindicata (Louis Feuillade, 1923), set in 18th-century Provence and the Islands, has just five "episodes". The star of the series was comedian Georges Biscot and Herrmann only had a supporting part. In L'orphelin de Paris (Louis Feuillade, 1924), Hertmann appeared with two child stars, the seven-year-old girl Bouboule, and her partner René Poyen, ex-Bout-de-Zan who had become a teenager.

Feuillade was exhausted by a lifetime of uninterrupted work. He was forced to take a complete rest in the summer of 1924 and died the following year. Fernand Hermann continued to make films but now with director Georges Monca, including La double existence de Lord Samsey (Maurice Kéroul, Georges Monca, 1924) with Geneviève Félix. His final film was L'espionne aux yeux noirs (Henri Desfontaines, 1926) with Maria Dalbaicin in the title role. Herrmann retired from the cinema for good.

According to IMDb, Fernand Herrmann passed away in 1925. However, Pascal Donald at CinéArtistes shows sources that Herrmann died in 1944 in his hometown Paris. He was 58 and forgotten. Herrmann was the widower of soprano Angèle Grill, who had died a few months after their marriage in 1920, and was divorced from actress Hélène Barretta (1908-1922).

Georges Biscot, Ginette Maddie, Michel Floresco and Fernand Hermann in Vindicta (1923)
French postcard by Ciné Cartes, Paris, no. 3. Photo: Film Gaumont. Georges Biscot as Césarin at right, Ginette Maddie as Blanche, Michel Floresco as Morales at left and Fernand Hermann as Bajart in Vindicta (Louis Feuillade, 1923). Caption: La cour du faux marquis (The court of the false marquis).

Fernand Herrmann
French postcard. Photo: Film Gaumont.

Sources: Pascal Donald (CinéArtistes - French), Wikipedia (French and English) and IMDb.

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