- (1922-1959)Actor and director. Born in Cannes, Gérard Philippe wished to pursue acting, despite his parents' desire that he become a lawyer. He took private lessons and eventually, with encouragement, applied to the Conservatoire d'art dramatique in Paris. He began his career on the stage, where he was acclaimed as a talented dramatic actor. He acted onstage for much of his career, and in 1951, he became a member of the Théâtre National Populaire. However, the cinema caught his attention, and he made his screen debut in Marc Allegret's Les Petites du Quai aux fleurs (1944) and went on to small roles in such films as Yves Allegret and Jean Choux's Les Boîtes aux rêves (1945), Alain Resnais's Ouvert pour cause d'inventaire (1946), Georges Lampin's L'Idiot (1946), and Georges Lacombe's Le Pays sans étoiles (1946), before landing the role that would make him a film star, the part of François Jaubert in Claude Autant-Lara's adaptation of Raymond Radiguet's Le Diable au corps (1947).From 1947 until the end of his life, Philippe was one of the major film stars of French cinema, a screen idol who was arguably the most popular actor of his time. Film audiences adored him for his striking features and his charm, and directors loved him for his well-developed and understated acting style, his range as a performer, and his ability to become whatever character he played. He appeared opposite some of the most prominent leading ladies of the 1940s and 1950s, including Simone Signoret, Michèle Morgan, Danielle Darrieux, Jeanne Moreau, and Martine Carol, and starred alongside some of the great stars of the cinema.Philippe appeared in such films as Christian-Jacque's La Chartreuse de Parme (1948), Souvenirs perdus (1950), and Fanfan la Tulipe (1952), Marcel Carné's Juliette ou la clef des songes (1950), Max Ophuls's La Ronde (1950), René Clair's La Beauté du diable (1950), Les Belles de nuit (1953), and Les Grandes manœuvres (1955), Yves Allegret's Les Orgeuilleux (1953) and La Meilleure part (1956), Sacha Guitry's Si Versailles m'était conté (1954) and Si Paris nous était conté (1955), René Clement's Monsieur Ripois (1954), Autant-Lara's Le Rouge et le noir (1954) and Le Joueur (1958), Julien Duvivier's Pot-Bouille (1957), Jacques Becker's Les Amants de Montparnasse (1958), Clément Duhour's La Vie à deux (1958), Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959), and Luis Bunuel's La Fièvre monte à El Pao (1959), which was Philippe's last film.In addition to acting, Philippe directed one film, Les Aventures de Till l'Espiegle (1956), in which he also starred. He also narrated several documentaries, including Les Fêtes galantes (1950), a documentary about the painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, and Saint-Louis, angle de la paix (1951). He would, no doubt, have had a much longer career but for his untimely death from liver cancer just short of his thirty-seventh birthday. Philippe was married to Nicole Fourcade, who took the name Anne Philippe after their marriage. She published two books about him after his death.That Philippe played roles as diverse as the gullible but heroic Fanfan in Christian-Jacque's Fanfan la Tulipe, the philandering André Ripois in Clement's Monsieur Ripois, and the downright despicable Valmont in Vadim's Les Liaisons dangereuses is a testament to his range as an actor and serves as evidence that his popularity was not due entirely to his good looks. Nonetheless, it is true that Philippe's place in film legend has, at least in part, been rooted in his embodiment of youthful masculinity in an age that many look back on nostalgically. Philippe, like other stars who have died tragically, became an image of perpetual youth linked to an era now remembered as glorious. Like such stars, this peculiar position as youth and beauty frozen in time was assured by his death, and his status as a cultural icon, not surprisingly, has only increased in the years since he died. His image has appeared on commemorative postage stamps and coins, and he has a film festival named after him. It is unlikely that his reputation in French culture or film history will diminish. Rather, like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana, it is more likely that Philippe's appeal will increase with each year that passes.
Historical Dictionary of French Cinema. Dayna Oscherwitz & Mary Ellen Higgins. 2007.
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