Pierre Fresnay (4 April 1897 – 9 January 1975) was a French stage and film actor.
Pierre Jules Louis Laudenbach
4 April 1897
|Died||9 January 1975 (aged 77)|
|Occupation||Actor, film director|
Born Pierre Jules Louis Laudenbach, he was encouraged by his uncle, actor Claude Garry, to pursue a career in theater and film. He joined the company at what later was the Théatre de Paris, only to shortly after at the Conservatoire, becoming a pensionnaire of the Comédie-Française in early 1915, returning to it after three years military service in 1919. Before his departure from the Comédie-Française in 1926 Fresnay had played 80 parts in Paris, excelling especially in the works of Alfred de Musset. After playing small roles, in 1915 he was engaged as a pensionnaire without taking an audition at the Comédie-Française, moving up to Mario in Le Jeu de l'amour et du hasard and the title role in Britannicus. After the armistice he appeared as Clitandre in Les Femmes savantes, as well as other juvenile leads. These included Perdican (On ne badine pas avec l'amour by Musset), Valentin (Il ne faut jurer de rien by Musset, which he also directed), Fortunio (Le Chandelier by Musset). Alongside contemporary creations, his Comédie-Française career continued with Chatterton (Vigny), becoming a valued member of the troupe due to his intelligent acting, the flexibility of his talent, and quality of his diction ("l'intelligence de son jeu, la souplesse de son talent et l'excellence de sa diction"). Upon leaving the Comédie-Française his stage work was found at the Variétés in Guitry plays, then as Marius in the Pagnol trilogy.
During the 1920s, Fresnay appeared in many popular stage productions. In 1927 Marion Fawcett was producing plays at the Theatre Royal in Huddersfield in her "International Masterpieces Seasons". She produced a play in which Fresnay delivered his lines in French. The play was "Game As He Played It".
He took the title role of Marcel Pagnol's Marius (1929), which ran for over 500 performances, also taking this role in the 1931 film adaptation of the play. He reprised the character in the next two parts of Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy, Fanny (1932) and César (1936).
In 1932 Yvonne Printemps's marriage to Sacha Guitry broke up, and Printemps became Fresnay's personal and professional partner.
He took over the lead role in Noël Coward's Conversation Piece when the author moved on in April 1934. Fresnay won excellent reviews, and his stage partnership with Printemps was greatly admired. In the same year Printemps and Fresnay had a screen hit in Abel Gance's La dame aux camélias. Between then and 1951 they appeared together in eight films. In 1934 he appeared briefly in Alfred Hitchcock's first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. In 1937, he portrayed the aristocratic French military officer Captain de Boeldieu in Jean Renoir's masterpiece La Grande Illusion.
In 1947, he played Vincent de Paul in Monsieur Vincent, for which he won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival. His portrayal was described in Sight and Sound as "one of the most perfect pieces of work to be seen for many years in any clime". He also portrayed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer in Il est minuit, Docteur Schweitzer (1952). La Valse de Paris gave Fresnay the chance to play in a "stylised musical" as a "delightful, lightly caricatured portrayal of Offenbach", alongside Printemps.
A soldier in the French Army during World War I, he returned to his career a hero. However, under the German occupation of World War II, he worked for the Franco-German film company Continental, making Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau and other films.
Fresnay's appearances in films produced by German film company Continental during the war, especially Le Corbeau, caused his summons, brief imprisonment, and condemnation by a purge tribunal after the liberation. Despite the parallels between the poison-pen letters in Le Corbeau (in which he played the leading role) and the widespread letters of denunciation in Occupied France, Clouzot's film was however banned in France for over 20 years.
Printemps and Fresnay starred in Oscar Straus's Drei Waltzer, given in French as Trois valses on the Parisian stage and on film (Les trois valses). The critic Richard Traubner commented in 2006 that because of the performances of Printemps and Fresnay the film still "hangs over anyone who dares revive the operetta on stage".
In 1954, he published his memoirs, Je suis comédien (Eng. I am an actor). Fresnay continued to perform regularly in film and on stage through to the 1960s. In the 1970s, he appeared in a few films for television. From then on, he lived with the French actress and singer Yvonne Printemps for the rest of his life, co-directing the Théâtre de la Michodière in Paris with her until his death in 1975.
He died of respiratory problems, aged 77, on 9 January 1975, at Neuilly-sur-Seine and he is interred alongside Printemps in the local cemetery. In his autobiography (My Name Escapes Me), Alec Guinness states that Fresnay was his favourite actor.
Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "I think my name is to be pronounced fray-nay. At least, it is the way I pronounce it." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936).
|1916||Quand même||Henri Pouctal|
|1922||The Black Diamond||Bouvier||André Hugon|
|The Mysteries of Paris||François Germain||Charles Burguet|
|1924||Le petit Jacques||Paul Laverdac||Georges Lannes|
|La mendiante de Saint-Sulpice||Charles Burguet|
|Les premières armes de Rocambole||Jean Robert||Charles Maudru|
|The Loves of Rocambole||Jean Robert||Charles Maudru|
|1929||A Foolish Maiden||Gaston de Charance||Luitz-Morat|
|1930||Ça aussi!... c'est Paris||Antoine Mourre|
|1931||Marius||Marius Olivier, César's son||Alexander Korda|
|1932||Fanny||Marius Olivier, César's son||Marc Allégret|
|1933||Âme de clown||Jack||Marc Didier|
|1934||La Dame aux camélias||Armand Duval||Fernand Rivers and Abel Gance|
|The Man Who Knew Too Much||Louis Bernard||Alfred Hitchcock|
|1935||Kœnigsmark||Raoul Vignerte, French teacher||Maurice Tourneur|
|1936||Le roman d'un jeune homme pauvre||Maxime Hauterive de Champcey||Abel Gance|
|Under Western Eyes||Razumov||Marc Allégret|
|César||Marius Olivier, César's son||Marcel Pagnol|
|1937||Street of Shadows||Captain Georges Carrère||Georg Wilhelm Pabst|
|La Grande Illusion||Captain Boeldieu||Jean Renoir|
|The Silent Battle||Bordier||Pierre Billon|
|1938||The Puritan||Le commissaire Lavan||Jeff Musso|
|Chéri-Bibi||Francis dit Chéri-Bibi||Léon Mathot|
|Alert in the Mediterranean||Le commandant Lestailleur||Léo Joannon|
|Adrienne Lecouvreur||Maurice de Saxe||Marcel L'Herbier|
|Three Waltzes||Octave, Philippe et Gérard de Chalencey||Ludwig Berger|
|1939||The Phantom Carriage||David Holm||Julien Duvivier|
|1941||Le Duel||Father Daniel Maurey||Pierre Fresnay himself|
|The Last of the Six||Le commissaire Wensceslas Voroboevitch dit Monsieur Wens||Georges Lacombe|
|Le briseur de chaînes||Marcus||Jacques Daniel-Norman|
|1942||The Strangers in the House||Le narrateur||Henri Decoin||Uncredited|
|Le journal tombe à cinq heures||Le reporter Pierre Rabaud||Georges Lacombe|
|The Murderer Lives at Number 21||Monsieur Wens||Henri-Georges Clouzot|
|1943||La Main du diable||Roland Brissot||Maurice Tourneur|
|The Stairs Without End||Pierre||Georges Lacombe|
|I Am with You||François||Henri Decoin|
|Le Corbeau||Doctor Rémy Germain||Henri-Georges Clouzot|
|1944||Traveling Light||Gaston||Jean Anouilh|
|1946||La fille du diable||Ludovic Mercier / Saget||Henri Decoin|
|Le visiteur||Sauval||Jean Dréville|
|1947||Monsieur Vincent||Vincent de Paul||Maurice Cloche|
|1948||Les condamnés||Jean Séverac||Georges Lacombe|
|Combourg, visage de pierre||François-René de Chateaubriand||Jacques de Casembroot||Voice|
|1949||Barry||Le père Théotime||Richard Pottier|
|At the Grand Balcony||Gilbert Carbot||Henri Decoin|
|Vient de paraître||Moscat||Jacques Houssin|
|1950||The Paris Waltz||Jacques Offenbach||Marcel Achard|
|Justice Is Done||Narrator||André Cayatte||Uncredited|
|God Needs Men||Thomas Gourvennec||Jean Delannoy|
|1951||Monsieur Fabre||Jean-Henri Fabre||Henri Diamant-Berger|
|Le Voyage en Amérique||Gaston Fournier||Henri Lavorel|
|Great Man||Le professeur Louis Delage||Yves Ciampi|
|1952||Il est minuit, docteur Schweitzer||Le docteur Albert Schweitzer||André Haguet|
|1953||Napoleon Road||Édouard Martel||Jean Delannoy|
|1954||The Unfrocked One||Maurice Morand||Léo Joannon|
|1955||Les évadés||Lt Pierre Keller||Jean-Paul Le Chanois|
|Les aristocrates||Marquis de Maubrun||Denys de La Patellière|
|1956||If All the Guys in the World||Narrator||Christian Jaque||Voice, Uncredited|
|L'homme aux clefs d'or||Antoine Fournier||Léo Joannon|
|The Hunchback of Notre Dame||Narrator||Jean Delannoy|
|1957||The Ostrich Has Two Eggs||Hippolyte Barjus||Denys de La Patellière|
|A Bomb for a Dictator||Luis Vargas||Alex Joffé|
|1958||And Your Sister?||Bastien du Boccage||Maurice Delbez|
|Le insaziabili||Joseph Andrieu||Léo Joannon|
|1959||Les affreux||César Dandieu||Marc Allégret|
|1960||La 1000eme fenêtre||Armand Vallin||Robert Ménégoz|
|The Old Guard||Baptiste Talon||Gilles Grangier|
|1969||Dieu a choisi Paris||Récitant||Philippe Arthuys||Voice|
- Obituary: Pierre Fresnay. The Times, 11 January 1975.
- Pierre Fresnay on the Comédie-Française website accessed 28 October 2020.
- "Theatre Royal: The Romance of the Huddersfield Stage (1941) by Stanley Chadwick". huddersfield.exposed. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
- British Film Institute page for Pierre Fresnay accessed 28 October 2020.
- Sharland, Elizabeth (2006). A Theatrical Feast in Paris: From Molière to Deneuve. Lincoln: iUniverse. ISBN 0595374514., p. 86
- "Conversation Piece", The Observer, 29 April 1934, p. 17
- "Printemps, Yvonne" Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs, accessed 7 May 2013
- Father John A. V. Burke. Religion and Films - Signs of a Renaissance. Sight and Sound, Vol 17 No 68, Winter 48/49, p176.
- Catherine de la Roche. Film Week in Cannes. Sight and Sound, Vol 19, No.3, May 1950, p106.
- Spotts F. The Shameful Peace. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2008, p252-253.
- Traubner, Richard. "Gallic Light Opera: From London, Paris, and New York", American Record Guide 69.4, July 2006, pp. 26–27
- Guinness, Alec (1998) My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor, p. 65, Penguin, ISBN 0140277455