17 June, 2012
Louis Jouvet was a renowned French actor, director, and theatre director.
Overcoming speech impediments and sometimes paralyzing stage fright as a young man, Jouvet's first important association was with Jacques Copeau's Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, beginning in 1913. Copeau's training included a varied and demanding schedule, regular exercise for agility and stamina, and pressing his cast and crew to invent theatrical effects in a bare-bones space. It was there Jouvet developed his considerable stagecraft skills, particularly makeup and lighting (he developed a kind of accent light named the jouvet). These years included a successful tour to the United States.
While influential, Copeau's theater was never lucrative. Jouvet left in October 1922 for the Comédie des Champs-Élysées (the small stage of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées). In December 1923 he staged his single most successful production, the satire Dr. Knock, written by Jules Romains. Jouvet's meticulous characterization of the manipulative crank doctor was informed by his own experience in pharmacy school. It became his signature and his standby; "Jouvet was to produce it almost every year until the end of his life".
Jouvet began an ongoing close collaboration with playwright Jean Giraudoux in 1928, with a radical streamlining of Giraudoux's 1922 Siegfried et le Limousin for the stage. Their work together included the first staging of The Madwoman of Chaillot in 1945, at the Théâtre de l'Athénée, where Jouvet served as director from 1934 through his death in 1951.
Jouvet starred in some 34 films, including two records of Dr. Knock, once in 1933 and again in 1951. He was professor at the French National Academy of Dramatic Arts. He had a heart attack while at his beloved Théâtre de l'Athénée and died in his dressing room on Thursday, August 16, 1951. Louis Jouvet is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. The Athénée theatre now bears his name.