Youth and Studies
The Beginnings
The Vieux-Colombier theatre
New York
At the Comédie des Champs-Elysées
The Athénée and the movies
South America
Back in Paris

Biography (part two)

South America
During their South American tour, Jouvet and his company are scheduled to present series of performances in three cities: first in Rio de Janeiro (Brasil) where they arrive on June 27th, then in Buenos Aires (Argentina), and finally in Montevideo (Uruguay). Formal invitations, receptions, and always the same unmitigated success greet the 'Jouvets' (as they will be called), ambassadors of France in America, throughout this 1941 season. In December, the South-American season is coming to a close and Louis Jouvet holds a meeting of all his company where he informs them that he intends to stay and give another season. Things aren't getting any better in France. Who knows what is waiting for them back home. Will they be able to work, go on tour again? There are five desertions after this meeting.
Jouvet quickly hires other actors and begins preparations for the second season. He wants to present a repertory of eight new plays to his South American public, and with the same quality the Athénée was known for back in Paris. He has new sets constructed, new costumes made, and the company's finances are soon depleted. The rehearsals are unusually tense, Jouvet and Madeleine Ozeray are close to breaking up. Madeleine no longer responds to Jouvet's directions and often mocks him publicly. She is convinced that Jouvet is wasting her talent, that at this point he needs her more than she needs him.
On June 12 1942, Jouvet opens his second South American season in Rio with a performance of Tessa. But soon, on June 30, he is burnt out, he feels sick. The doctor diagnosis is a nervous breakdown and he orders complete rest. Jouvet takes only a five-day rest, during which he'll hold rehearsals in his bedroom. On July 5, he's back at work, thinner and in bad shape. The season in Rio ends on July 19 and Jouvet can clear some of the company's debts.

The 1942 season continues in Sao Paulo, but unfortunately they don't have the same success there. The house is half empty and the creditors are getting nervous. They move on to Buenos Aires where Jouvet has chosen a different theatre than the year before. Bad choice: there are practically no subscribers to this new season and worst of all, a fire breaks out in the theatre on September 24, and destroys half the sets. As if this wasn't bad enough, the person entrusted with collecting the insurance vanishes with most of the money. In view of this, the Montevideo theatre, where they're due to perform next, cancels its season (along with the 38000 pesos guarantee).
Marcel Karsenty manages to find another theatre in Montevideo, but without the guarantee. It's a disaster. There are no suscribers, Jouvet is threatened with boycott: people want him to choose a side, either he's for Vichy or for Free France. Jouvet remains silent and ends up being boycotted by both sides. The house remains empty.

October 17: stormy meeting as the company reaches the end of the second season. Jouvet is determined not to get back to France. Staying in place didn't work out, so they must go on tour. Karsenty has found something for them in Chile, he says. But many in the company are unhappy about it. They want to go home. Also, because of the financial problems, each member has had to forego receiving a salary; they only get $3.00 per day to cover expenses.
Until they're ready to leave for Chile, the company stays at the Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires, where the manager, a great fan of Louis Jouvet, offered to host them for free. Through contacts, he'll also help Jouvet to obtain the money that will pay for the trip.

After a train journey of several days, the 'Jouvets' finally arrive in Chile on November 18. Jouvet is very much surprised and pleased to be greeted on arrival by hundreds of fans, journalists, and photographs. The performances of L'Ecole des femmes they give in Chile are a triumph. They must add six performances to the run. There are cocktails, galas and receptions to attend, and Jouvet's mood greatly improves. He can relax and even live a short romance with a young Chilean aristocrat. Soon comes an invitation from the president of Peru who wants them to perform in Lima. Unfortunately, Jouvet cannot afford to pay for the trip. The solution: the company will board a Peruvian war ship in Valparaiso. At that point, Madeleine Ozeray and Jouvet are no longer living together. She wants to quit the company and marry her new lover, but she finally accepts to make the trip to Peru.

On December 30 1942, Jouvet and all his company board the Rimac in Valparaison and they arrive in Callao, Peru, on January 6, 1943. The season in Lima goes well. The good mood is holding, and Jouvet takes some time to meet the Pères Blancs. Religion becomes an everyday preoccupation for Louis Jouvet from that point on.
On the 23, there's a meeting. Madeleine wants to stop the tour and rest. But Jouvet is still determined to continue. Convinced that stopping would mean death, he won't stop; and he won't go back to France. Karsenty has been busy preparing their arrival in Colombia. More actors quit at that point...
Jouvet recasts their roles. When Madeleine is back in Chile for a vacation, she informs Jouvet that she'll come back on two conditions: first he must rename the theatre "Athénée Louis Jouvet-Madeleine Ozeray", and second she wants a share of all the receipts. While he's desperate to have her come back, Jouvet refuses on both counts. Madeleine won't write again. This is a very difficult period for Jouvet who's afraid he won't be able to replace her. He tentatively recasts Micheline Buire and Monique Mélinand in her roles, and on March 4 1943, the company leaves for Colombia: they reach Bogota on March 20 after a perilous journey during which some of the sets are damaged.
On March 26, Louis Jouvet is a nervous wreck. In a rotten mood, worse than usual, he's continually touching wood. For the very first time, he will have to perform in L'Ecole des femmes without Madeleine as Agnès. But he worries for nothing... Micheline Buire is very good in the role, and the play is a tremendous success. Jouvet is happy: he no longer needs Madeleine. Nine performances until April 16, then they move on to Medellin, and finally take a vacation for six glorious weeks....

But pretty soon, Karsenty is back at work. Next stop: Venezuela. He obtains an offer of $6000 for the company to perform there, but again there are no funds for the journey. Jouvet must once again intervene personnally and use his name and prestige to get the sponsorship needed to cover the cost of the trip. The company reaches Caracas in DC3 (even if the 'boss' has some anxiety about flying), and they'll stay there for ten weeks. Jouvet is happy about the success they have and also to find a great number of francophiles and French-speakers in the community.

Then on to Cuba. Karsenty was able to get a very generous offer for the 'Jouvets': they'll get room and board at a luxury hotel for four months in exchange for half the receipts. On August 19 1943, Jouvet settles in Havana and gets to work on preparing what will be the Mexican season: he wants four new plays added to the repertory. The finances however are at their lowest. The trip from Caracas to Havana and the expenses of the company have cost them $19000. At the end of their Cuban stay, they only have $80 left. Still, Jouvet would like to go to Haiti next. He thinks it would be indecent not to visit the only French-speaking country of the region. He sends a telegram to the Haitian President, offering to perform in his country in exchange for the cost of the trip and expenses of the company. Unfortunately, Haiti is too poor to sponsor such an enterprise and must refuse. Jouvet then offers to give up all their receipts, in exchange for the cost of the trip and expenses. Under these conditions, Haiti can no longer refuse.
Louis Jouvet arrives in Haiti in December 1943: he is greeted as a head of state and is awarded the Croix de commandeur dans l'ordre Honneur et Mérite. He is speechless when, on January 5 1944, the Haitian President hands him a check for $14000: the receipts he had given up to be able to perform in his country.

On January 11 1944, the 'Jouvets' board a ship for the 8-day journey that will bring them to Mexico. Unfortunately, what Karsenty has found for them is a cargo ship that is not designed to carry passengers. There are no cabins so they must sleep on the deck, in the rain and wind. There are no showers, the food is disgusting and the comfort nil. But since Louis Jouvet must endure the same conditions, no one in the company dares complain....
On January 22, they arrive in Mexico. The Las Bellas Artes theatre is at their disposal for free until the end of March and they also receive a check for $10000 from General de Gaulle. Jouvet is grateful for it though he's a bit leery of the political aspects of the gift. The season starts on January 28, 1944 with a performance of L'école des femmes in front of a packed house. Until March 31, Jouvet wants to give his Mexican public twelve plays that are as perfect as possible, as if the reputation of the Athénée depended on it, and once again he spends all the money on sets and costumes.

The stay in Mexico will be marred for Jouvet by the news of the death of Jean Giraudoux that will affect him terribly. He'll also have a falling out with playwright Jules Romains at this time, because Romains will insist on collecting his 10% copyright fee on all receipts for his plays in Mexico, while Jouvet's finances are constantly in the red. However, he will be grateful for the generosity of Hyppolite Signoret, the owner of the great department store Palacio de Hierro. A devoted fan of Louis Jouvet, Signoret gives generous contributions to his theatre. Signoret is also the head of a movie company, and he's planning on making a film with Jouvet. Sadly, in this time of war, there's an embargo in effect and film is hard to come by; the project is abandoned.

The next logical move then for the "Jouvets" is to go to the West Indies. As they'll enter French territory, there are members of the company that will be drafted and some prefer to remain behind in Mexico. On June 30, there are only twelve faithful members left, and only six of those are actors. Jouvet must resign himself to disband his touring company.
On July 14 1944, Jouvet and the remaining members board the Duc D'Aumale leaving for Martinique: a happy, light-hearted 22-day cruise aboard a French ship. They reach Fort-de-France on August 5. The lack of actors means they won't be able to perform there, but the cost of living is very affordable and their life is pleasant.
Soon however, people want Louis Jouvet to present something to the public. During an interview on the radio, Jouvet asks for help. He needs to find amateur actors if he is to stage a play in this country. Some answer his call and with his improvised theatre group, Louis Jouvet is able to give a series of performances in September 1944 and have a great success. And he's working with a light heart, because Paris has just been liberated.
Now eager to return to France, he manages to have his company and material taken aboard the military ship Sagittaire, leaving on December 13 1944 for Morocco. After pleasant stops in Casablanca and Algiers, they finally are back in France!

Back in Paris
On February 12 1945, Louis Jouvet steps off the ship in Marseilles. He's eager to reconnect with his old world. He phones his family, and Pierre Renoir at the Athénée, and then he sets out for Paris where he is greeted by a barrage of photographs and journalists. Once he's settled back, he has a promise to fulfill. On the first page of the manuscript for Madwoman of Chaillot, Jean Giraudoux had written prophetically in 1943: "Madwoman of Chaillot was performed for the first time on Octobre 17 1945, on the stage of the Athénée theatre, by Louis Jouvet". Jouvet has nine months to make this come true.
To answer all the questions that are put to him since his return, Jouvet has decided to talk about his years of exile from the stage of the Athénée. So many people want to hear him that he'll give this talk three times during April 1945.
But all is not going smoothly at the Athénée for Louis Jouvet. The Grammont brothers, important share-holders in the Société du Théâtre Louis-Jouvet, have spent the war years trying to gain more power at the Athénée. And even now, they're trying to keep Jouvet out of his theatre. Their plan is simple: to put on the stage a play that is so popular that it will stay on for a very long time. Jouvet will no doubt get tired of waiting and will have to look elsewhere.
But for the time being, Jouvet is happy to wait. He wants his comeback in Paris to be a great success, and needs to bring his public back to him. The best way to do this is with the creation of Giraudoux's posthumous work Madwoman of Chaillot. He goes to work once again with his dear friend Christian Bérard for the sets, he auditions non-stop to fill the 62 roles that are required by the play, and on October 30, from the pages of the Figaro newspaper he tells Parisians that he needs old feminine clothing from the turn of the century, so that it could be used as costumes. The public answers his call promptly and generously: the costume department is soon submerged in ribbons, bonnets, etc.
The day of Opening night is growing closer but the Grammonts are still not budging from the Athénée. The play Arsenic and Old Lace is doing extremely well and it looks as though it will never close. Louis Jouvet gives one warning to the Grammonts: if they don't remove the play from his stage, he will give a press conference and reveal publicly how they've tried to keep him away from his theatre. The Grammonts give up, Jouvet takes back his Athénée with a short revival of L'Ecole des Femmes, and Madwoman of Chaillot finally opens on December 19 1945. It's a great event and a tremendous success! Louis Jouvet's Parisian comeback is triumphant; he is still the 'boss'...

1946 starts out well and is a great year for Jouvet. He is extremely busy: he works non-stop in the theatre, in the movie studios; he performs at the Edinburg festival, at the Paris conference. His only vacation is spent studying Molière's Dom Juan that will take the stage after the run of Madwoman of Chaillot. He's discussing the sets with Christian Bérard who, with Jean Cocteau, tries to convince him to stage their friend Jean Genêt's play The Maids. Jouvet isn't too keen on the play, but his Dom Juan is not ready, and this would calm the critics who have reproached him his choice of repertory. He accepts.

Success in the movies follows success in the theatre for Jouvet, Copie conforme and Quai des Orfèvres play to full houses, and in the fall of 1947, Louis Jouvet is reinstated as teacher at the Conservatoire d'art dramatique. In December, it's opening night for his Dom Juan. Still another great success.

His heavy workload isn't without consequence however. Louis Jouvet suffers from serious heart problems. He must see a cardiologist regularly and, for some time now, he has been very preoccupied with death and religion. As he gets older, he is getting increasingly terrified at the thought of death; he's obsessed with it. He realizes that he won't have time to do everything he wanted in life, and this causes him great anguish. He makes up for it by working more and more. In 1948, he goes on tour to Egypt and Eastern Europe. He's working on Tartuffe, and stages Molière's Les Fourberies de Scapin for Jean-Louis Barrault. During a rehearsal for this play at the Marigny theatre Christian Bérard collapses in the aisle and dies of a stroke. Louis Jouvet will have a hard time getting over the loss of his close friend. He alone now remains from the trio that had made the glory days of the Athénée before the war. His sense of loss is deepened even more when his friends from the early days at the Vieux-Colombier, Copeau and Dullin, also die in the same year. Jouvet is convinced that his turn will soon come...

He puts his mind on directing Molière's Tartuffe that opens on January 26 1950. The play is very popular with the public, but the critics hate it. Jouvet is reproached not having made the play funny enough and he is attacked in all the papers.

Later that Spring, Jouvet goes on tour, but he's very tired. He feels ill, but still ignores warnings and continues to perform. At the end of the year, he makes a movie version of Knock and embarks on a new project: Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. He feels that with this work he'll be able to reveal something personal to his public. Until then, he must undertake a North-American tour, as well as direct Jean-Paul Sartre's Le Diable et le bon Dieu at the Antoine theatre.

North America's welcome to Louis Jouvet is extremely warm. Jouvet is very happy and surprised by the way he's greeted. The receptions, conferences, added to the performances are extremely taxing to his health. Still, he doesn't want to stop. During a performance of L'Ecole des femmes in New York City, he has a cardiac emergency but chooses to endure the pain and finishes the performance. Back in Paris, knowing he's gravely ill, he asks his son to take care of his affairs when he dies. Sadly, what is waiting for him at the Antoine theatre won't help matters. While he was on tour, the cast, and costume and set designers have been chosen and hired without his consent. Worst still, Sartre who has finally finished the text, gave the play an anti-religious stance that it didn't have when Jouvet agreed to direct it and to which he is strongly opposed. The rehearsals are very tense, even stormy; this production is an ordeal for Jouvet from beginning to end. On opening night June 7 1951, Louis Jouvet can at last go back to projects that are close to his heart. He's now working on his next Molière play, L'Avare, takes part in a Jean Giraudoux commemoration in Bellac, and makes a movie, his last one, Une histoire d'amour. In August, he begins rehearsals for The Power and the Glory.
As usual, Jouvet is worried. He's insecure about his choices, about himself. On August 14, after a difficult rehearsal on a very hot day, he feels ill. He lies down and a doctor is called, but this is worse than usual. Louis Jouvet is having a heart attack. As the doctors believe that moving him could be fatal, he'll receive medical care in his dressing-room at the Athénée during the next two days. Unfortunately, his condition only gets worse as the hours go by. He dies on Thursday, August 16 1951, at 8h 30 PM.

Biographical summary: SylvieL
Based on "Louis Jouvet" by J-M Loubier

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