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Excerpts from
"Louis Jouvet: Man of the Theatre"
by Bettina Liebowitz Knapp


About his stuttering and theatre in high school:
[...]Such early speech training was excellent for Jouvet, since it forced him to control his articulation. Applying all his will power to speaking his lines very slowly, he tried to overcome his hesitation and conceal his embarrassment. In this he was only partially successful; he never could quite overcome his handicap. Later on he learned to disguise and partially offset it by adopting a special manner of speech.[...]


How he was perceived by others:
[He showed] a tendency to be harsh in judgment toward lesser men. He would respect and give himself only to those who worked as hard and as faithfully as he did. He did not feign his dislike for the bluffers, the lazy, the noisy and the chatterers, and for this reason many thought him disagreeable.[...]


[...] Jouvet was a highly emotional man, yet he impressed some people as being cold and unfeeling. There was perhaps a reason for this impression. He had been frustrated in his youth: he had been rejected by the Conservatoire three times; he was a stutterer, and his ambitions had been thwarted by his family. The net result was a guarded manner which suggested more than a hint of coolness to those who did not know him well. Moreover, because of these frustrations, he retained an ingrained dread of failure. Though he had already been much applauded and acclaimed, he was still to some extent unsure of himself and he expressed his deeply personal opinions only to his closest friends. This tendency toward aloofness, his way of shielding himself from the world, inhibited him from being spontaneous, except with those very close to him. Few could be said to have known all of Jouvet, Jouvet plain. This relationship with people suited Jouvet. He had always entertained a deep dread of exposing himself to the world. Moreover, his tendency to hide and withdraw from close association, to wrap himself in mystery, was marked in his characterizations in which he would frequently assume mask-like attitudes. [...] If one were to enumerate the many parts in which Jouvet sought a curious kind of concealment, the list would be long and would suggest the conclusion that he had a psychological dread of revealing himself, even physically, to the public. For this reason, perhaps, his portrayals achieved a more vivid reality, since by throwing himself completely into the role to lose himself in it, he developed more amply the character portrayed.[...]


On Knock:
[...] He was forever grateful to Romains for this play, which, because of its outstanding financial success, enabled him from that time on to produce the works of relatively unknown authors. After every failure, Jouvet would put this "money maker" back on stage to refill his coffers. For this reason he called it his "magic play."[...]


Nerves:
[...] But in spite of the rich and unique humor that the play [Knock] possessed and the long hours devoted to rehearsing, Jouvet was worried as usual about how audiences and critics would receive it. As opening night drew closer this anxiety increased until it finally came close to panic. "I was worried, because, of course, I am naturally a worrier. And one must be. One would never know how to do anything well without this menacing and healthy uncertainty of knowing whether one is doing his best. I was worried and I found ground for worrying in all sorts of reasons and motives."[...]


[...] Every time he went on stage, even when completely possessed by his character, his body succumbed to a certain nervous contraction, which affected him to such an extent that a kind of paralysis overcame him for several seconds. The calmer, the more self-possessed the character to be portrayed by Jouvet, the more difficult it was for him to be sufficiently relaxed. Sometimes he stiffened with fright and felt miserably inadequate when he tried to give the impression of ease and naturalness which a part called for.[...]


Melancholy:
[...] Jouvet was only 41 when these recurrent spells of melancholy took hold of him. He was obsessed with a sense of futility and fear. Strangely enough, it was at a time when he was beginning to make his greatest contributions to the stage. It might be that the absence of friends, for whom he had a constant need, created a void, inviting the eruption of the deeper fears that had always lurked beneath the surface. Jouvet could never completely yield himself to others, but had wanted others to express their affection for and confidence in him. This may have been due to a compelling desire to penetrate the masks of people, to penetrate their secrets the more fully to undersand them. [...] But, above and beyond all this, there is no doubt that Jouvet deeply loved people and had an emotional need of them. The highly sensitive actor had an affectionate and understanding nature, and he responded sympathetically to the call of both friend and stranger.[...]


His return to Paris after WWII and 4 years on tour:
[...] But Jouvet was also a sadder and older man on his return. His great friend, Jean Giraudoux, had died and he would always feel the void, which no other man would ever fill.[...] He was no longer familiar with modern theatrical trends in the parisian theatre, nor acquainted with the rising young directors such as Jean-Louis Barrault; perhaps he could never be as close to them as he had been to the directors of an older day. [...] It came to him as a shock that instead of attracting talents to his orbit since his return, he was now looked upon as a "has-been", a man speedily going to seed. He intended with all his power to challenge that notion. [...]


[...]He was not able to get back his theatre until the fall of 1945, since the Athénée, then rented, was housing a very successful play. In the fall of 1945, installed again at the Athénée theatre, Jouvet followed a hard daily schedule.[...] His co-workers at this period noticed a more than usual frenetic anxiety in Jouvet, an almost compulsive urge to labor. He often worked sixteen to eighteen hours a day at the Athénée and at several motion picture studios. [...] This anxiety stemmed in all probability from the fact that he was no longer sure of himself. He wavered in his approach to a production because he saw so many possiblities in it. For example, after he had done a rehearsal scene to his satisfaction, he would later have misgivings about his interpretation during that same night. In the morning, he would alter the entire scene. Jouvet always surffered to some extent from emotional turnabouts and indecisiveness, but never so much as now. His tension, his wavering and sense of insecurity had increased to an alarming degree. Jouvet's realization that he was growing old and the frightening anticipation of his approaching death were added burdens to his already troubled spirit. Although only fifty-eight years old at this time, he was convinced that he had only a few years to live. So many of his dearest friends had passed away during the last few years that he knew he would soon follow them. And, as his dread of death took a stronger hold on him, he became increasingly religious, in a very personal, mystical sense.[...]


Religion:
[...] What attracted Jouvet to his religion was chiefly its intense drama and the mystery at its source. Always essentially a lonely man, he had tried to communicate his ideas and feelings to others but felt he had never fully succeeded. Jouvet found communion with religion necessary; in it he could lose himself to achieve a fuller, more knowledgeable self. It was also an outlet for his pent-up emotions.[...]


His first performance of Madwoman of Chaillot (1st new play after his return to France after WWII):
[...] With trepidation the rag-picker (Jouvet) walked on stage. A hushed silence filled the house as the audience watched him, about to speak his first lines. Tenderly and firmly he began. [...] Jouvet felt the rising tension on the part of the audience, and he knew then that he had recaptured them, that he had never really lost them. [...] Jouvet had won perhaps the most trying battle of his career [...] the younger generation of directors and actors accepted his leadership as had his contemporaries. And his contemporaries once again realized how gifted Jouvet was and how much integrity and devotion he brought to his profession.[...] He had not lost his place in the French theatre, he was not being passed by, he was not being pitied.[...]


On acting and the movies:
[...] Jouvet felt spiritually lost in the movie world, and he considered it an immature art form. "The actor, on stage, has an eminent position being instrument and instrumentalist, violin and virtuoso, playing by himself and controlling himself, being his own music, and holding suspect the echo of this music among those people who are watching him, breathing to his rhythm."[...]


[...] Jouvet often pictured the actor as "a tight-rope walker, relying on sensitivity or mechanics to keep his balance. At some point along the wire neither is needed, and as the actor stands there in perfect equilibrium, nobody, not even the playwright, can experience his dizziness, vertigo, madness, and intoxication".[...]


His Death:
[At rehearsal,] Jouvet began to yawn rather frequently, and one actor told him that he looked pale. To this he replied, "I, I have never been pale!" His cast suggested that he rest for a few minutes. He retreated to the bar of the theatre and stretched out on the carpeting. He yawned more often now, and some members of the cast noted a bizarre sound when he opened his mouth. A few minutes later, Jouvet closed his eyes. The cast, now alarmed about his condition, summoned the doctor. About a half an hour later, the doctor arrived. He gave Jouvet an injection of sulphocamphor and morphine and ordered a complete rest, since the slighest exertion might prove fatal. With the help of a mechanic, Paul Barge carried Jouvet, sitting on a chair, to a small staircase which led to his office. Once in his loge-bureau, they stretched him out on a divan and an extraordinary expression of vitality returned to the actor. Jouvet said, 'Leave me". A few minutes later, he complained of a pain in his left arm. The pain became acute. Paralysis enveloped the entire left side of his body. The next two days, he lay motionless on the divan. Then further complications set in, and at about 6:15 of the second evening, after receiving the last rites, Jouvet died. [...]


All excerpts from:
Louis Jouvet: Man of the Theatre
by Bettina Liebowitz Knapp
1957 Columbia University Press


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