Death in Hollywood: Philipe, Gerard–French Movie Star and Icon, Dead at 36

Gérard Philipe (born Gérard Albert Philip, December 4, 1922– November 25, 1959) was a prominent French actor who appeared in 32 films between 1944 and 1959.

Active in both theater and cinema, he was, until his early death, one of the main stars of the post-war period. His image has remained youthful and romantic, making him an icon of French cinema.

Gérard Philipe
S.Kragujevic, Gérard Philipe 1955.JPG

Philipe in 1955

“Theatre is a social issue, like all artistic questions.” (Quotation from Philipe on a pillar of the Théâtre des Abbesses, Paris.)

Born Gérard Albert Philip in Cannes to well-off family, he was of one-quarter Czech ancestry from his maternal grandmother. His father, Marcel Philip (1893–1973), was a barrister and businessman; his mother was Maria Elisa “Minou” Philip, née Vilette (1894–1970).

On his mother’s advice, in 1944 Gérard changed his surname from “Philip” to “Philipe.”

As a teenager, Philipe took acting lessons before going to Paris to study at the Conservatoire of Dramatic Art.

Philipe made his film debut in Les Petites du quai aux fleurs (1943), directed by Marc Allégret, in an uncredited role.

He had a minor role in George Lacombe’s Box of Dreams (1945) then was third billed in Land Without Stars (1946) after Jani Holt and Pierre Brasseur.

When he was 19, he made his stage debut at theater in Nice; and the following year his strong performance in Albert Camus’ play Caligula made his reputation.

Philipe had a lead role in The Idiot (1946), an adaptation of the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, co-starring Edwige Feuillère for director Georges Lampin. This was seen in other countries and established Philipe as a leading man.

He was in Ouvert pour cause d’inventaire (1946), a short film and early work for Alain Renais.

He was invited to work with the Théâtre national populaire (T.N.P.) in Paris and Avignon, whose festival, founded in 1947 by Jean Vilar, is France’s oldest and most famous.

Philipe gained fame after his performance in Claude Autant-Lara’s Devil in the Flesh (1947), alongside Micheline Presle, which was a huge box office success.

He starred in La Chartreuse de Parme (1948) for director Christian-Jacque, which was even more popular than Devil in the Flesh.

He followed it with Such a Pretty Little Beach (1949) for Yves Allégret; All Roads Lead to Rome (1949), a reunion with Presle, for Jean Boyer; and Beauty and the Devil (1950) for René Clair.

Philipe was one of several stars in Max Ophüls’ version of La Ronde (1950).

He followed it with another all-star film, Lost Souvenirs (1951) for Christian-Jacques.

In 1951, Philipe married Nicole Fourcade (1917–1990), actress-writer, with whom he had two children. She adopted the pseudonym, Anne Philipe, and wrote about her husband in two books, the first called Souvenirs (1960) and a second biography titled Le Temps d’un soupir (No Longer Than a Sigh, 1963).

Philipe was in Juliette, or Key of Dreams (1951) with Suzanne Cloutier for Marcel Carné;

The Seven Deadly Sins (1952), all-star anthology film;

Fan Fan the Tulip (1953), a swashbuckling adventure with Gina Lollobrigida for Christian-Jacque, which was very popular.

He was in Beauties of the Night (1952), again with Lollobrigida, and Martine Carol, directed by Clair;

The Proud and the Beautiful (1953) with Michèle Morgan;

two more all-star anthologies: It Happened in the Park (1953) and Royal Affairs in Versailles (1954).

Philipe tried an English movie, Lovers, Happy Lovers! (1954, aka Knave of Hearts), directed by René Clément and co-starring Valerie Hobson.

He then did The Red and the Black (1954) with Danielle Darrieux and had big success with The Grand Maneuver (1955) for René Clair, co-starring Morgan.

Philipe did The Best Part (1956) for Yves Allégret and was one of many stars in If Paris Were Told to Us (1956).

He wrote, directed and starred in Bold Adventure (1956), a comic adventure film.

He starred in Lovers of Paris (1957) for Julien Duvivier and Montparnasse 19 (1958) for Jacques Becker.

He was one of many stars in Life Together (1958) and top billed in The Gambler (1958).

In 1958 he went to New York and performed on Broadway in the all-French “Lorenzaccio” and “Le Cid.”

Philipe played Valmont in Roger Vadim’s modern day version of Les liaisons dangereuses (1959), alongside Jeanne Moreau.

His last film was Fever Mounts at El Pao (1960) for Luis Buñuel.

He died from liver cancer while working on a film in Paris, a few days short of his 37th birthday. His doctors concealed from him the nature of his disease.

He is buried, as he had wished, dressed in the costume of Don Rodrigue (The Cid), in the village cemetery in Ramatuelle, Var, near the Mediterranean coast.

To commemorate the centenary of the cinema in 1995, the French government issued a limited edition of coins that included a 100 franc coin bearing the image of Philipe.

Among the most popular French actors of modern times, he has been elevated to mythic status, not least because of his early death at the peak of his popularity.


Gérard Philipe Street in Paris
“Rue Gérard-Philipe” is a street in the 16th arrondissement of Paris named in his honor.

In 1961, his portrait appeared on a French commemorative postage stamp.

The “Gérard-Philipe Theater” (TGP) in Paris was named after him. From 1962 to 2000, the “Grand Prix Gérard-Philipe de la Ville de Paris” was awarded almost annually for the best actress or best actor at a Parisian theater.

Prize winners included Gérard Depardieu, Daniel Auteuil, Maria de Medeiros and Isabelle Carré.

There’s film festival named in his honor as well as some theatres and schools (such as the College Gérard Philipe – Cogolin) in various parts of France.

A cultural centre is named after him in Berlin.