Nationality: French. Born: Le Vésinet, 8 September 1910. Education: Attended Collège Chaptal and École du Louvre, Paris, received bachelor's degree; studied theater with Charles Dullin and pantomime with Ètienne Decroux. Family: Married the actress Madeleine Renaud, 1940. Career: Late 1920s—worked as apprentice bookkeeper, flower salesman, and assistant master at Collège Chaptal; 1931—stage debut in Paris in Volpone at Charles Dullin's workshop; 1935—stage directorial debut of Autour d'une mère; film debut in Les Beaux Jours; 1936—founded own theater-workshop, Le Granier des Augustins; 1940–46—acted and directed with Comédie Française; from late 1940s—with various stage companies, including the Théâtre Marigny and the Théâtre de l'Odéon; formed own stage company, Compagnie Renaud-Barrault, in partnership with wife; 1959—named director of Théâtre de France at the Théâtre de l'Odéon; produced Woyzeck for Paris Opera, 1963, and Faust for Metropolitan Opera, New York, 1965; 1965–67—director of Théâtre des Nations; 1968—removed as director of Théâtre de France for siding with students and workers during May 1968 riots; 1972–74—again served as director of Théâtre des Nations; 1974–81—director of Théâtre d'Orsay. Died: In Paris, 22 January 1994.
Films as Actor:
Les Beaux Jours (Marc Allégret)
Sous les yeux d'Occident (Marc Allégret); A nous deux, Madame la vie (Mirande); Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (Beethoven, le voleur de femmes; The Life and Loves of Beethoven) (Gance) (as Karl); Hélène (Benoît-Levy and Epstein); Jenny (Carné)
Mademoiselle Docteur (Pabst); Police mondaine (Chamborant and Bernheim); Le Puritain (Musso); Les Perles de la couronne (Pearls of the Crown) (Guitry and Christian-Jaque) (as Gen. Bonaparte); Mirages (Ryder); Drôle de drame (Bizarre Bizarre) (Carné); Altitude 3200 (Benoît-Levy and Epstein)
Nous les jeunes (Benoît-Levy and Epstein); Orage (Marc Allégret); La Piste du Sud (Billon)
Farinet oder das falsche Geld (Farinet ou l'or dans la montagne) (Haufler)
Parade en sept nuits (Marc Allégret); Le Destin fabuleux de Desirée Clary (Guitry); Montmartre-sur-Seine (Lacombe)
La Symphonie fantastique (Christian-Jaque) (as Hector Berlioz)
Lumière d'été (Grémillon); L'Ange de la nuit (Berthomieu)
Les Enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise) (Carné) (as Baptiste Debureau); La Part de l'ombre (Delannoy)
Le Cocu magnifique (de Meyst)
La Rose et le réséda (Michel) (as narrator)
D'homme à hommes (Christian-Jaque)
Le Bateau ivre (Chaumel) (as narrator)
La Ronde (Circle of Love) (Max Ophüls) (as Robert Kuhlenkampf)
Paul Claudel (Gillet) (as narrator)
Si Versailles m'était conté (Affairs in Versailles; Royal Affairs in Versailles) (Guitry) (as François Fenelon)
Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier (Renoir)
Le Dialogue des Carmélites (Bruckberger and Agostini)
Le Miracle des loups (Hunebelle); Architecture, art de l'espace (Haesaerts) (as narrator)
The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, Wicki, and Oswald) (as Fr. Roulland)
Répétition chez Jean-Louis Barrault (Hessens); La Grande frousse (La Cité de l'indiciblepeur) (Mocky)
Chappaqua (Rooks) (as doctor)
La Route d'un homme (Hacquard) (as narrator)
Je tire chemin (Lesage) (as narrator)
La Nuit de Varennes (That Night in Varennes; The New World) (Scola) (as Nicolas Edme Restif de la Bretonne)
La Lumière du lac (Comencini)
By BARRAULT: books—
Le Procès (play), with André Gide, Paris, 1947; as The Trial, London, 1950.
A propos de Shakespeare et du théâtre, Paris, 1949.
Refléxions sur le théâtre, Paris, 1949; as Reflections on the Theatre, London, 1951.
Un Troupe et ses auteurs, Paris, 1950.
Je suis homme de théâtre, Paris, 1955.
Nouvelles refléxions sur le théâtre, Paris, 1959; as The Theatre of Jean-Louis Barrault, London, 1961.
Journal de bord, Paris, 1961.
Portrait de La Fontaine (play), Paris, 1964.
Portrait de Molière (play), Paris, 1964.
Odéon Théâtre de France, with Simone Benmussa, Paris, 1965.
Saint-Exupéry (play), Paris, 1967.
Rabelais (play), Paris, 1969; as Rabelais, London, 1971.
Jarry sur la butte (play), Paris, 1970.
Textes, edited by André Frank, Paris, 1971.
Mise en scène de Phèdre, Paris, 1972.
Souvenirs pour demain, Paris, 1972; as Memories for Tomorrow, New York, 1974.
Correspondence with Paul Claudel, edited by Michel Lioure, Paris, 1974.
Ainsi parlait Zarathustra (play), Paris, 1975.
Comme je le pense, Paris, 1975.
Joël Le Bon, with Madeleine Renaud, Paris, 1982.
Saiser le présent, Paris, 1984.
On BARRAULT: books—
Germain, Anne, Renaud-Barrault: les faux de la rampe et de l'amour, Paris, 1992.
Lorda Mur, Clara Ubaldina, Jean-Louis Barrault: teatre i humanisme, Barcelona, 1992.
Mignon, Paul-Louis, Jean-LouisBarrault:lethéâtretotal, Monaco, 1999.
On BARRAULT: articles—
Current Biography 1953, New York, 1953.
Obituary in New York Times, 23 January 1994.
Obituary in Time (New York), 31 January 1994.
* * *
Though Jean-Louis Barrault made his greatest contribution to French theater, his performance in Les Enfants du paradis is frequently cited as a singular illustration of pantomimic art on film.
After studying with Charles Dullin and the famous mime Ètienne Decroux, Barrault made his Paris debut in a 1931 production of Volpone. His first screen appearance four years later in Les Beaux Jours marked the first of a series of films for Marc Allégret, but it was for Marcel Carné, in films written by Jacques Prévert, that Barrault created his two most memorable roles, in Drôle de drame, and as Baptiste Debureau in Les Enfants du paradis. It was Barrault who had suggested to Carné and Prévert a story about Debureau, France's greatest pantomimist of the 19th century, whose fate is intertwined with those of the great romantic actor Frederick Lemaître (Pierre Brasseur), and the famous actress Garance (played by Arletty).
But the film was, in the words of its director, "a tribute to the theatre," which Barrault had firmly embraced when he joined the Comédie Française in 1940 where, in addition to acting, he directed a series of notable productions including Phaedra and Antony and Cleopatra. After leaving the Comédie Française in 1946, Barrault and his wife, the actress Madeleine Renaud, founded a now-famous acting company. They profoundly influenced the postwar development of theater in France through such productions as Barrault's adaptation of Kafka's The Trial.
Barrault appeared in several films after the war, including Delannoy's La Part de l'ombre, and D'homme à hommes directed by Christian-Jaque for whom Barrault had already created the role of the composer Berlioz in La Symphonie fantastique during the war. He was part of the brilliant cast assembled by Max Ophüls for La Ronde in 1950, but subsequently devoted his energies entirely to theater. In 1959 Barrault played the double title role in Jean Renoir's Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier, but Barrault was not again offered a major film role until 1981 when Ettore Scola engaged him for La Nuit de Varennes, in which Barrault plays the writer Restif de la Bretonne, witness to the French Revolution.