Rosay, Françoise (1891–1974)

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Rosay, Françoise (1891–1974)

One of the greatest actresses of the French cinema, whose career spanned more than six decades. Name variations: Francoise Rosay. Born Françoise Bandy de Nalèche in Paris, France, on April 19, 1891; died in Paris on March 28, 1974; graduated from the Conservatoire National de Déclamation, Paris; married Jacques Feyder (a director), in 1917; children: three sons.

Selected filmography:

Falstaff (1913); Têtes de femmes, femme de têtes (1916); Crainquebille (1923); Gribiche (1926); Les Deux Timides (1928); Le Procès de Mary Dugan (The Trial of Mary Dugan, 1929); The One Woman Idea (US, 1929); Si l'Empereur savait ça! (English version, His Glorious Night, and German version, Olympia, 1930); Le Petit Café (Playboy of Paris, 1930);Jenny Lind (A Lady's Morals, 1931); The Magnificent Lie (US, 1931); La Chance (1931); Le Rosier de Madame Husson (He, 1931); L'Abbé Constantin (1933); Remous (Whirlpool, 1933); Le Grand Jeu (1934); Pension Mimosas (1935); Maternité (1935); La Kermesse héroïque (Carnival in Flanders, also appeared in German-language version, Die klugen Frauen, 1935); Jenny (1936); Un Carnet de Bal (1937); Drôle de drame (Bizarre Bizarre, 1937); Paix sur le Rhin (1938); Ramuntcho (1938); Le Joueur d'Echecs (The Devil Is an Empress, 1938); Les Gens du Voyage (Fahrendes Volk, 1938); Die Hochzeitstreise (Ger., 1939); Elles étaient Douze Femmes (1940); Une Femme disparait (Portrait of a Woman, Switz.-Fr., 1942); Half-Way House (UK, 1944); Johnny Frenchman (UK, 1945); Macadam (Back Streets of Paris, 1946); Saraband for Dead Lovers (Saraband, UK, 1948); Quartet (UK, 1948); The Naked Heart (Maria Chapdelaine, UK-Fr., 1950); Donne senza Nomme (Women Without Names, It., 1950); September Affair (US, 1951); The Thirteenth Letter (US, 1951); L'Auberge rouge (The Red Inn, 1951); Les Sept Péchés capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins, 1952); That Lady (UK, 1954); La Reine Margot (1954); The Seventh Sin (US, 1957); Interlude (US, 1957); Me and the Colonel (US, 1958); Le Joueur (1958); The Sound and the Fury (US, 1959); Du Rififi chez les Femmes (Riff Raff Girls, 1959); The Full Treatment (Stop Me Before I Kill!, UK, 1961); Frau Cheney's Ende (Ger.-Switz., 1961); Le Cave se rebiffe (The Counterfeiters of Paris, 1961); The Longest Day (US, 1962); Up from the Beach (US, 1965); La 25e Heure (The 25th Hour, 1967); Faut pas prendre les Enfants du Bon Dieu pour des Canards sauvages (Operation Leontine, 1968); Un Merveilleux Parfum d'Oseille (1969); Der Fussgänger (The Pedestrian, Ger., 1974).

Born in Paris in 1891, Françoise Rosay attended school in Versailles and studied acting in Paris at the National Academy of Declamation. She made her stage debut in Fantaisies Parisiennes in 1908, then joined a French theatrical troupe that was performing in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1912. The following year, she made her film debut in Falstaff. The highly versatile Rosay also sang as a member of the Paris Opera during the years 1916–18.

In 1916, she appeared in Belgian-born director Jacques Feyder's film Têtes de femmes, femme de têtes. Rosay, who married Feyder in July 1917, had a small role in his Crainquebille (1923) and appeared as a rich American woman who adopts a working-class boy in his Gribiche (1926). In 1928, she accompanied her husband to Hollywood, surfacing the next year in The One Woman Idea as well as in several of Feyder's French versions of the new sensation, talkies. In one of these, Ferenc Molnar's Olympia (1930), Rosay appeared in both a French and German version. In these and other films, she mastered dramatic skills that would soon make her one of the greatest actresses of the French cinema.

Returned to France, Rosay starred with Fernandel in 1931 in Le Rosier de Madame Husson (The Virtuous Isidore). By the mid-1930s, she had become a star and was featured in such films as Un Carnet de Bal (1937) and Marcel Carné's Jenny (1936). In this, Carné's first full-length film, Rosay played a key role in assuring not only its success but its very existence. She offered the young director her services free of charge, having become aware of Carné's talent while he worked as an assistant to her husband. With dialogue by Jacques Prévert and the outstanding acting of Rosay, Jenny enabled Carné to launch his career with a quality product. Also of considerable interest is Rosay's performance in the surrealist film of 1937, Drôle de drame.

The most outstanding film from this period of Rosay's career, and likely her best-remembered film role, was that of the leader of the Flemish women who dealt with the problems of survival in a conquered town in the 1935 film La Kermesse héroïque ( Carnival in Flanders). In a story set in Flanders in 1616, Rosay portrays the Burgomaster's wife who welcomes and flirts with the Spanish commander. This tongue-in-cheek comedy, a lavish reconstruction down to the last detail, is set in the real-life Belgian town of Boom. Some film historians have argued that this sophisticated, cynical film is a pioneer feminist screen comedy.

When France was defeated in the summer of 1940, Rosay and Feyder fled to Switzerland in order to avoid being pressured to work for either the Vichy collaborationist regime or the Germans. After completing a film in Switzerland, Rosay went to England while Feyder remained in Geneva. She worked as a broadcaster for the Free French in London, and by the end of the war was in liberated North Africa. There, she worked as a director of Radio Algiers in charge of cultural broadcasting, a position she held from 1944 through 1947. For her wartime activities, she was later awarded the Legion of Honor.

After her husband's death in 1948, Rosay continued to work in films as well as on stage, although she had initally thought of retirement, believing she could never work again without her husband. "But everywhere," she noted, "the film people are nice and keep me busy. They think of me as being only tragic and strong. But I can be very, very comic—maybe something like Marie Dressler ." In the 25 years between her husband's death and her own, Rosay appeared in an average of one film a year and occasionally performed on stage in Paris and London. From 1956 through 1967, she taught a course in dramatic art in Paris. In 1961, she made her New York stage debut, starring as Catherine II the Great in Once There Was a Russian. Among the better-known films of the final years of her long career are The Longest Day (1962), and her last, Maximilian Schell's The Pedestrian, which she filmed in Munich in the summer of 1973 when she was 82 years old. Some motion picture historians have suggested that Françoise Rosay shared with Arletty the ability to be both world-weary and touching.


Crisp, Colin. The Classic French Cinema, 1930–1960. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Harvey, S. "Bonnes Femmes: Making International Stars in the French Cinema," in Film Comment. Vol. 17, no. 6, 1981, pp. 40–47.

Legrand, Catherine, and Robyn Karney, eds. Chronicle of the Cinema. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995.

O'Leary, Liam. "Rosay, Françoise," in Nicholas Thomas and James Vinson, eds., International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Chicago, IL: St. James Press, 1990–94, pp. 1056–1058.

Vincendeau, Ginette, ed. Encyclopedia of European Cinema. NY: Facts on File, 1995.

Williams, Alan Larson. Republic of Images: A History of French Filmmaking. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia