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Renaud, Madeleine (1903–1994)

Renaud, Madeleine (1903–1994)

French actress. Born in Paris, France, on February 21, 1903; died in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris, on September 23, 1994; educated at the Conservatoire of Dramatic Art in Paris; married Charles Grandval; married Jean-Louis Barrault (an actor and director), in 1940.

Selected filmography:

Vent Debout (1922); La Terre qui meurt (1926); Jean de la Lune (1931); La Belle Marinière (1932); La Couturière de Lunéville (1932); Mistigri (1932); La Maternelle (1933); Maria Chapdelaine (The Naked Heart, 1934); Hélène (1936); L'Etrange M. Victor (1938); Remorques (1941); Lumiére d'Été (1943); Le Ciel est à Vous (The Woman Who Dared, 1944); Le Plaisir (1952); Le Dialogue des Carmélites (1960); The Longest Day (1962); Le Diable par la Queue (The Devil by the Tail, 1969); L'Humeur vagabonde (1971); La Mandarine (1972); Des Journeés entières dans les Arbres (1976); La Lumière du Lac (1988).

Born in Paris in 1903, highly respected French actress Madeleine Renaud was a child when she decided she wanted to act, after being praised by an actor for her recital of a poem at a party. Her mother acquiesced on condition that she study at Paris' Conservatoire of Dramatic Art, which she did on scholarship. In 1923, Renaud became a member of the venerable Comédie Française, beginning a professional relationship that would endure for the next 26 years. She made her stage debut that same year as Agnes in Molière's L'École des Femmes. Performing in productions by Molière, Marivaux, and Musset, she acted with the company in Paris and on tour throughout Europe, receiving many favorable reviews from the critics.

While she had a few small roles in films in the 1920s, Renaud made her genuine film debut in 1931, in Jean de la Lune. Over the course of the next year she was seen on screen in La Belle Marinière, La Couturière de Lunéville, and Mistigri (all 1932), and also appeared as Ophelia in Charles Grandval's stage production of Hamlet. Renaud consistently received the approval of reviewers and audiences, for she was equally successful at dramatic roles, to which she brought what was called a restrained and refined style, and at comedic roles that required a robust and energetic kind of acting.

In 1934, Renaud made the film Maria Chapdelaine, for which she received the Grand Prize of the French Cinema, and over the next year she appeared at the Comédie Française in Le Chandelier and Les Fausses Confidences. She met her future husband and business partner, Jean-Louis Barrault, in 1936 when she starred opposite him in Hélène, the film adaptation of a Vicki Baum novel. (Among his other achievements, Barrault would go on to co-star with Arletty in Marcel Carné's 1945 masterpiece Les Enfants du Paradis.) Jean Grémillon cast Renaud in several of his films over the next years, including L'Etrange M. Victor (1938), Remorques (1940), Lumiére d'Été (1942), and Le Ciel est à Vous (1943).

Renaud, who had previously been married to Charles Grandval, married Barrault in 1940, and he joined her at the Comédie Française as a producer, director, and actor. Over the next six years, in addition to her other roles there, Renaud starred in her husband's productions of François Mauriac's Les Mal Aimés and Paul Claudel's Le Soulier de Satin. The husband and wife team also appeared together in Salacrou's Les Fiancés du Havre.

In 1946, Renaud and Barrault left the Comédie Française to form the Madeleine Renaud-Jean-Louis Barrault Company, taking over management of the Marigny Theater. A repertory troupe unsubsidized by the government (unlike the Comédie), the company quickly gained a reputation for showcasing both classics by Molière and Shakespeare as well as adaptations and/or premieres of works by modern writers, including Kafka, Camus, Beckett, Genet, Ionesco, and Anouilh. In addition to staging performances at the Marigny, the Renaud-Barrault Company toured Europe, South America, the United States and Canada, often sponsored by the French government to promote and advance international relations. For its debut in New York City at the Ziegfeld Theater on November 12, 1952, the company performed Marivaux's Les Fausses Confidences and Prévert's Baptiste. These productions, along with an adaptation of Kafka's The Trial, earned the company extensive praise in the New York press; by the end of opening week, over 5,000 people had been turned back from the packed theater. Renaud remained professionally active throughout her life, performing in the film La Lumière du Lac in 1988, at age 85. She died on September 23, 1994, in the Paris suburb of Neuilly.


Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography 1953. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1953.

Current Biography, 1994. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1994.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. NY: HarperCollins, 1998.

Kari Bethel , freelance writer, Columbia, Missouri

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