Nationality: French. Born: Jean Alfred Villain-Marais in Cherbourg, 11 December 1913. Education: Attended Collège de Saint-Germainen-Laye; Lycées Condorcet and Janson-de-Sailly; Saint Nicolas, Buzenal. Military Service: French Army, beginning in 1939; joined Leclerc division of the American Third Army, 1943. Family: One son. Career: 1930—apprenticed to a photographer in Le Vésinet, but soon was painting and studying acting with Charles Dullin; 1933—film debut in L'epervier (also assistant director); also appeared in walk-on roles in Dullin's productions; 1937—in chorus of Cocteau's Oedipe on stage in Paris; beginning of a personal and professional relationship with Cocteau; appeared in several plays written for him by Cocteau, and in films written or directed by Cocteau; stage work included roles at the Comédie Française, and acting in and directing Cocteau's Les Parents terribles in 1977. Awards: Croix de Guerre. Died: of heart attack on 8 November 1998, in Cannes, France.
Films as Actor:
L'epervier (Bird of Prey) (L'Herbier) (+ asst d)
Le Bonheur (L'Herbier); Le Scandale (L'Herbier)
Le Pavillon brûle (de Baroncelli)
Le Lit à Colonne (Tual)
L'Eternal Retour (The Eternal Return) (Delannoy) (as Tristan); Voyage sans espoir (Christian-Jaque); Carmen (Christian-Jaque) (as Don Jose)
La Belle et la bête (Beauty and the Beast) (Cocteau and Clément) (as the Beast/the Prince)
Les Chouans (Colef); L'Aigle à deux têtes (The Eagle with Two Heads) (Cocteau) (as Stanislas)
Ruy Blas (Billon) (title role/Don Cesari); Les Parents terribles (The Storm Within; Intimate Relations) (Cocteau) (as Michel)
Aux yeux du souvenir (Souvenir) (Delannoy); Le Secret de Mayerling (The Secret of Mayerling) (Delannoy) (as Crown Prince Rudolph)
Orphée (Orpheus) (Cocteau) (title role); Le Château de verre (Clément)
Les miracles n'ont lieu qu'une fois (Yves Allégret)
La voce del silenzio (Pabst); Nez de cuir (Yves Allégret)
Julietta (Marc Allégret) (as André Landecourt); Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (Count of Monte Cristo) (Vernay) (as Edmond Dantes); Dortoir des grandes (Inside a Girls' Dormitory) (Decoin); Si Versailles m'était conte (Affairs in Versailles; Royal Affairs in Versailles) (Guitry) (as Louis XV)
Le Guérisseur (Ciampi); Napoléon (Guitry) (as Count de Montholon)
Futures vedettes (Marc Allégret); Si Paris nous était conté (If Paris Were Told to Us) (Guitry) (as François I)
Élena et les hommes (Paris Does Strange Things; Elena and Her Men) (Renoir) (as Gen. François Rollan); S.O.S. Noronha (Rouquier); Typhon sur Nagasaki (Typhoon over Nagasaki) (Ciampi)
Le notti bianche (White Nights) (Visconti) (as Lodger); Un Amour de poche (Nude in His Pocket; Girl in His Pocket) (Kast) (as Professor Jérôme)
Le Testament d'Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus) (Cocteau) (as Oedipus)
Le Capitan (Hunebelle); Austerlitz (The Battle of Austerlitz) (Gance and Richebé) (as Carnot)
La Princesse de Clèves (Delannoy); Le Capitain Fracasse (Gaspard-Huit)
Ponzio Pilato (Pontius Pilate) (Rapper) (title role); Le Masque de fer (Decoin) (as D'Artagnan)
Patate (Friend of the Family) (Thomas) (as Noel Carradine); Fantômas (Hunebelle) (title role/Fandor)
Fantômas se déchaine (Fantômas Strikes Back) (Hunebelle) (title role); Le Gentleman de Cocody (Man from Cocody) (Christian-Jaque) (as Jean-Luc Hervé de la Tommeraye)
Le Saint prend l'affût (Christian-Jaque) (title role)
Fantômas contre Scotland Yard (Hunebelle) (title role)
Le paria (Carliez)
La Provocation (Charpak); Le Jouet Criminel (Thomas); Peau d'âne (The Magic Donkey; Donkey Skin) (Demy) (as Blue King)
Les Parents Terribles (Hubert—for TV)
Ombre et secrets (Delabre)
Parking (Demy) (as the Devil)
Le lien de Parenté (Parental Claim; Next of Kin) (Rameau) (as Victor Blaise)
Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia (Ottinger)
Les Enfants du Naufrageur (Shipwrecked Children) (Foulon) (as old man with a limp)
Les Misérables (Lelouch) (as Monsieur Myriel)
Stealing Beauty (Bertolucci) (as M. Guillaume)
Malice, film noir (Ferrari—doc)
Luchino Visconti (Lizzani) (as himself)
By MARAIS: books—
Mes quatres verités, Paris, 1957.
Histoire de ma vie, Paris, 1975.
Contes, Paris, 1978.
L'inconcevable Jean Cocteau: suivi de, Cocteau-Marais, Monaco, 1993.
By MARAIS: articles—
Interview in L'Ecran Fantastique (Paris), no. 21, 1981.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 18 February 1982 and 2 August 1984.
On MARAIS: books—
Cocteau, Jean, Jean Marais, Paris, 1951.
Jelot-Blanc, Jean-Jacques, Jean Marais: biographie, Paris, 1994.
On MARAIS: articles—
Current Biography 1962, New York, 1962.
Stars (Mariembourg, Belgium), Spring 1993.
Obituary in, Variety (New York), 16 November 1998.
* * *
Few actors have been so lucky as to have their roles tailor-made for them by a writer and director of Jean Cocteau's stature. As screenwriter, director, and often author of the original stage play on which the film was based, Cocteau developed the characters, the milieu, and even the camera techniques around the personality, physical features, and acting capabilities of his intimate friend Jean Marais. But Cocteau was for his part also very fortunate to find in Marais the perfect embodiment of his archetypal heroes.
It is in those films of Cocteau having a clear mythic basis that the collaboration between director and actor reached its height. In L'Eternal Retour, scripted by Cocteau, Marais acts the part of the desperately enamored Tristan in a modernized telling of the medieval legend of love and death. L'Aigle à deux têtes is a legendary view of a stormily romantic 19th-century world, in which Marais plays an anarchistic student who almost becomes a prince consort; here, too, the ending is a Wagnerian one of love in death. That Marais seems a bit old for the part fits perfectly the Hamletesque overtones of the film; the student is a youth old in spirit. Marais's chiseled features are perfect for this film, for they are strong enough to be those of the peasant's son he seems to be and noble enough for the prince he should or even might be. In La Belle et la bête Marais's attractive monster changes into an almost too charming prince.
The actor's sublime (if certainly not beautiful) facial features are perfect for portraying a mythological Greek figure such as Orpheus; and no less valuable in this and similar roles is Marais's severe acting style, the result of his classical training as an actor with the Comédie Française. Orphée, second of the director's three films on the subject, is the culmination of the collaboration between Cocteau and Marais. The actor conveys perfectly the brooding poet-visionary, seeking to escape the unwanted adulation and the criticism of the hostile and cliquish world of modern Paris. Cocteau adapted the role from that of the chatty Orpheus of a stage play, written long before the two met, into a figure of monumental reticence classically embodied by Marais. A similar effect is achieved in an appearance by the actor, this time as Oedipus in Cocteau's Testament d'Orphée. The role is brief and nonspeaking; the effect is eternal.
The actor's other films are disappointing; the closer Marais's roles came to a Cocteauesque poesis—for example, in Visconti's Le notti bianche—the better they are. As an actor, Marais has been no more and no less than the lyre of an Orpheus.