Jean Marais

Active - 1936 - 2021  |   Born - Nov 12, 1913 in Cherbourg, Manche, France  |   Died - Aug 11, 1998   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Adventure, Crime, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The extremely good-looking (some have called him beautiful) French actor Jean Marais was hardly a prize-winning performer in his formative years. Turned down by the Paris Conservatory, Marais took odd jobs to sustain his nighttime efforts as a stage bit player (one of the productions in which he appeared, Les Parents Terrible, would be filmed years later with Marais in the lead). On the basis of his looks and wavy blonde hair, he was able to wangle a few minor film roles from 1933 onward, beginning with Jean Tarride's Etienne, but the big breaks were not forthcoming until Marais met and befriended director Jean Cocteau. Marais would later describe his first encounter with Cocteau as his "second birth." The latter's homosexuality has frequently cast aspersions concerning his real stake in Marais' well-being, but the fact remains that Marais truly blossomed as an actor with starring roles in such Cocteau films as L'Eternel Retour (1943), Beauty and the Beast (1946), and Orpheus (1950). Thanks to Cocteau, Marais became one of the most popular French film personalities of the postwar era, with the country's top directors clamoring for his services. The two would remain professionally and personally close until Cocteau's death in 1963. The passing of his long-time companion devastated Marais, who would later write that a large part of himself died that day, leaving Marais but a shadow of his former self.

Before becoming an actor, Marais had a hard time deciding what he wanted to do with his life. While still in his native Cherbourg, he worked at various jobs that included photographer, copying postcards, and selling newspapers. He started painting as a young man and it would remain a lifelong passion and eventually gained him access to the film industry after filmmaker Marcel L'Herbier purchased one of his paintings and the offered Marais the chance to play bit parts in two of his films, L'Epervier and L'Aventurier in 1933. His life-story would later inspire Francois Truffaut's plot for Le Dernier Metro/The Last Metro (1980).

In the early 1960s, the still strikingly handsome Jean Marais became something of a Gallic Roger Moore, appearing in such adventure-film series as Fantomas and The Saint. After a long retirement, Jean Marais returned to moviemaking in the mid-1980s with choice character roles in such films as Parking (1985). Marais made his final film appearance in Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (1996). That year, Marais received France's highest tribute, the Legion of Honor for his contribution to French cinema .

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