Barrault, Jean-Louis

Barrault, Jean-Louis
born Sept. 8, 1910, Le Vésinet, France
died Jan. 22, 1994, Paris

French actor and director.

He made his acting debut in Paris (1931) and joined the Comédie-Française (1940–46) as an actor and director. He and his wife, Madeleine Renaud, formed their own company (1946–58) at the Théâtre Marigny. There they performed a mixture of French and foreign classics and modern plays that helped revive French theatre after World War II. He was appointed director of the Théâtre de France (1959–68) and later directed at several other Paris theatres (1972–81). He appeared in more than 20 films and was best known for his role in The Children of Paradise (1945).

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▪ 1995

      French actor and director (b. Sept. 8, 1910, Le Vésinet, France—d. Jan. 22, 1994, Paris, France), mounted acclaimed productions of both classical and modern avant-garde plays that helped revive the theatre in post-World War II Paris. Barrault studied at the Théâtre de l'Atelier with Charles Dullin, who directed his stage debut in 1931. An accomplished mime (and a student of Étienne Decroux), Barrault produced a pantomime version of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (1935) and captured international attention for his portrayal of a mime in the film Les Enfants du paradis (1944; The Children of Paradise). In 1940 he joined the Comédie Française and married Madeleine Renaud, who was 10 years his senior and had been a leading actress with the company since 1921. Six years later Barrault and Renaud left to form their own theatrical company at the Théâtre Marigny. There he produced, directed, and acted in a mixed repertoire of classics by Shakespeare, Molière, Chekhov, and Marivaux, along with modern scripts by Jean Anouilh, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Eugène Ionesco (q.v.) and adaptations of works by Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka, and others. Barrault was invited to take command at the state-funded Odéon (later renamed the Théâtre de France) in 1958, but he was abruptly dismissed when he expressed support for the 1968 student uprising, in which the theatre was badly damaged. His career was not set back, however, and he and Renaud continued to work at the Théâtre des Nations (1965-67; 1972-74), the Théâtre d'Orsay (1974-81), and the Théâtre du Rond-Point (from 1981). In addition to starring in many of her husband's productions, Renaud made more than 20 motion pictures, including Jean de la lune (1931) and La Lumière du lac (1988). Barrault appeared in more than three dozen films (most made before 1960) and published several books on the theatre and an autobiography. Both Barrault and Renaud were elected to the Legion of Honour. She died on Sept. 23, 1994, just nine months after her husband's death.

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▪ French actor and director
born Sept. 8, 1910, Le Vésinet, France
died Jan. 22, 1994, Paris
 French actor, director, and producer whose work with both avant-garde and classic plays helped revive French theatre after World War II.

      Barrault, a student of Charles Dullin, first appeared on the stage as a servant in Dullin's production of Volpone (1931). Barrault also studied mime with Étienne Decroux; indeed, Barrault's first independent production, an adaptation of William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying (1935), was a mime play. His other early productions included Miguel de Cervantes' Numancia (1937) and Faim (1939), based on the novel Hunger by Knut Hamsen. In 1940 he joined the Comédie-Française at the instigation of Jacques Copeau, and it was there that he met his wife and working associate, the actress Madeleine Renaud. During the years that he was associated with the Comédie, Barrault directed and acted in numerous works, including Phèdre, Antony and Cleopatra, and Paul Claudel's Le Soulier de satin (“The Satin Slipper”).

      In 1946 he and his wife formed their own company at the Théâtre Marigny under the name Compagnie M. Renaud–J.L. Barrault. They opened with Hamlet in a translation by André Gide, followed by Les Fausses confidances (“False Confessions”) by Pierre Marivaux and Armand Salacrou's Les Nuits de la colère (“Nights of Anger”). The combination of French and foreign classics with modern plays became the hallmark of the company's great success. Barrault brought Claudel's plays to the attention of the French public through various productions in the 1940s and '50s. His company's other productions included Georges Feydeau's farces as well as such modern plays as Eugene Ionesco's Rhinocéros (1960), Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners (1955), and works by Jean Anouilh, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Henry de Montherlant. Barrault continued to produce, direct, and act lead roles throughout this period.

      From 1959 to 1968 Barrault was director of the Odéon, which was renamed the Théâtre de France, and there he produced new plays by Samuel Beckett and François Billetdoux. He was also director of the Théâtre des Nations (1965–67, 1972–74) and founder-director of the Théâtre D'Orsay (1974).

      Barrault's extensive film acting began with Les Beaux Jours in 1936 and includes, among many others, Drôle de drame (1937), La Symphonie Fantastique (1942), and La Ronde (1950). His best-known film role was as the pantomimist Deburau in Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Among Barrault's publications are Réflexions sur le théâtre (1949; Reflections on the Theatre), Nouvelles réflexions sur le théâtre (1959; The Theatre of Jean-Louis Barrault), and Souvenirs pour demain (1972; Memories for Tomorrow). Barrault was named an officer of the Legion of Honour.

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Universalium. 2010.

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