Biography (part two)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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....
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.
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
In August, he begins rehearsals for The Power and the Glory.