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Louis Germain David de Funès de Galarza ( ) (31 July 1914 – 27 January 1983) was a Frenchmarker actor who is considered by many to be one of the giants of French comedy. His acting style is remembered for its high energy performance, a wide range of facial expressions and an engaging, snappy impatience.

He was enormously successful in several countries for many years, but remained almost unknown in the English-speaking world. He was only noted in the United Statesmarker in 1974 with the release of The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob. In a 1968 poll, he was voted France's favourite actor. In a personal statement he claimed only to be interested in films that would draw an audience of 500,000 at least.

Biography

He was born in Courbevoie, Hauts-de-Seinemarker to parents from Sevillemarker, Spainmarker. His father, Carlos Luis de Funès de Galarza had been a lawyer in Spain, but became a diamond cutter once arriving in France. His mother, Leonor Soto Reguera was of Spanish and Portuguese extraction. They settled in France in 1904, after their families opposed their marriage.

Known to friends and intimates as "Fufu", de Funes spoke French, Spanish and English well. As a youth, he was fond of drawing and piano playing. He was an alumnus of the lycée Condorcetmarker in Parismarker, a distinction he shared with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Valéry, Paul Verlaine, Marcel Proust, Jean Cocteau, Serge Gainsbourg, and Claude Lévi-Strauss amongst others. He later dropped out, and was not successful in his early life; as a youth and young adult, de Funès held modest jobs, from which he was repeatedly fired. He became a pianist, working mostly as a jazz pianist at Pigallemarker, famous for being a touristic red-light district. There he made his customers laugh each time he made a grimace. He studied acting for one year at the Simon acting school. There he made some useful contacts, including Daniel Gélin among others. In 1936, he married Germaine Louise Elodie Carroyer with whom he had one child, a son named Daniel; they were subsequently divorced in late 1942.


During the occupation of Paris in the Second World War, he continued his piano studies at a music school, where he fell in love with a secretary, Jeanne Barthelemy de Maupassant, a grandniece of the famous author Guy de Maupassant. She had fallen in love with "the young man who played jazz like god"; they married in 1943 and remained together for forty years, until Funès' death in 1983. They had two sons: Patrick (born on January 27, 1944) and Olivier (born on August 11, 1947). Patrick became a doctor who now practices in Saint-Germain en Laye. Olivier became an actor for a brief while. He became known for the roles he had in his father's films (Les Grandes Vacances, Fantômas se déchaine, Oscar, Le Grand Restaurant, Hibernatus are the most famous). He is now an aviator for Air France Europe.

Through the early 40's, Funès continued playing piano at clubs, thinking there wasn't much call for a short, balding, skinny actor. His wife and Daniel Gelin encouraged him until he managed to overcome his fear of rejection. His wife supported him in the most difficult moments, while helping him to efficiently manage his career.

Theatrical career

De Funès began his show business career in the theatre, where he enjoyed moderate success. He pursued a theatrical career, while playing smallish roles in films. Even after he attained the status of movie star, he continued to play theatre. He became better known as a comedian in films. His stage career culminated in a magnificent performance in the play Oscar (a role which the actor would reprise a few years later in the film version).

Film career

He made his film debut in 1945, at the age of 31 in a small walk-on part in Jean Stelli's 1945 film La Tentation de Barbizon. He went on to perform in 130 film roles over the next twenty years. However, he played minor roles in over eighty films before he got his first leading roles. During this period, Louis developed a pattern of daily activities: in the morning he did dubbing for recognized artists such as Toto, an Italian comic from this era, during the afternoon he worked in film, and in the theater in the evening.

From 1945-1955, he appeared in 50 films, usually as an extra or walk-on. A break came in 1956, when he appeared as the black-market pork butcher Jambier (another small role) in Claude Autant-Lara's well-known film WWII comedy, La Traversée de Paris. He achieved stardom in 1963 with Jean Girault's film, Pouic-Pouic. This success film guaranteed de Funès top billing in all of his subsequent films. At the age of 49, De Funès unexpectedly became a major star of international celebrity with the success of Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez. After their first successful collaboration, director Jean Girault had perceived de Funès as the ideal actor to play the part of the accident prone gendarme. The first film lead to a series of six 'Gendarme' films.

Funès's collaboration with director Gerard Oury produced a memorable tandem of Funès with Bourvil, another great comic actor, in the 1964 film, Le Corniaud. The success de Funès-Bourvil partnership was repeated two years later in La Grande Vadrouille, one of the most successful and the largest grossing film ever made in France, drawing an audience of 17,27 million. It remains his greatest success. Oury envisaged a further reunion of the two comics in his film La Folie ds grandeurs, but Bourvil's death in 1970 led to the unlikely pairing of de Funès with Yves Montand in this film.

Eventually he became France's leading comedian. Between 1964 and 1979, he topped France's box-office of the year's most successful movies seven times. His most popular movie ever was La Grande Vadrouille (1966).He went on to star in such films as Ah! Les belles bacchantes and The Sheep Has Five Legs. He co-starred with many of the major French actors of his time, including Jean Marais and Mylène Demongeot in the Fantomas trilogy, and also Jean Gabin, Fernandel, Coluche, Annie Girardot, and Yves Montand. He also worked with Jean Girault in the famous 'Gendarmes' series. In a departure from the Gendarme image, Funès collaborated with Claude Zidi, who wrote for him a new character full of nuances and frankness in L'aile ou la cuisse (1976), which is arguably the best of his roles. Later De Funès' considerable musical abilities were showcased in films such as Le Corniaud and Le Grand Restaurant. In 1964 he debuted in the first of the Fantômas series, which launched him into superstardom.

In 1975, de Funès was hospitalized for heart problems and forced to take a rest from acting. After his recovery, he appeared opposite another comic genius, Coluche, in L'Aile ou la cuisse. In 1980, de Funès realised a long-standing dream to make a film version of Molière's play, L’Avare.

Louis de Funès made his final film, Le Gendarme et les gendarmettes in 1982.

Style

De Funès was said to be a very shy person in real life, unlike the characters he played. Capable of an extremely rich and mobile facial expressiveness, de Funès was nicknamed "the man with forty faces per minute". In many of his films, he played the role of a humouristicly excitable, cranky, middle-aged or mature man with a propensity to hyperactivity, bad faith, and uncontrolled fits of anger. Along with his short height, (he measured 5'4") and his facial contortions, this hyperactivity produced a highly comic effect. This was particularly visible when he was paired with Bourvil, who was always given roles of calm, slightly naive, good-humoured men. In de Funès' successful lead role in a cinematic version of Molière's The Miser (L'Avare), these characteristics are greatly muted but remain visible nevertheless percolating just beneath the surface.

Later Years and Death

In the latter part of his life, De Funès achieved great prosperity and success. He became a knight of France's Légion d'Honneur in 1973. He resided in the Château de Clermontmarker, a 17th-century monument, located in the commune of Le Cellier, which is situated 27 kilometers (17 mi) from Nantes in France. This castle, overlooking the Loire Rivermarker, was inherited by his wife, a descendant of the Maupassant family. De Funès was an aficionado of roses. He planted a rose garden on the château grounds and a variety of rose has been named for him (the Louis de Funès rose). A monument honoring him was erected in the rose garden of his wife's castle.

In his later years, he suffered from a heart condition after having suffered a heart attack for straining himself too much with his stage antics. Louis de Funès died of a massive stroke on 27 January 1983, a few months after making his final film. He was laid to rest in the Cimetière du Cellier, the cemetery situated on the grounds of the château.
The tomb of Louis de Funès


One of his sons, Olivier de Funès, pursued an acting career alongside him (often playing the son of Louis's character) before becoming an Air France pilot. Another son, Patric de Funes, became a medical doctor.

De Funès Legacy

Louis de Funès is portrayed on a postage stamp issued on Oct. 3, 1998 by the French Post Office. He is the uncle of actress Isabelle De Funès. He was portrayed as a gambler in the "The One-Armed Bandit" issue of the cult comic book series Lucky Luke. The character "Skinner" in Ratatouille (2007) was loosely based on him.

Filmography



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