Pierre Fresnay

Pierre Fresnay (4 April 1897 – 9 January 1975) was a French stage and film actor.

Pierre Fresnay
Pierre Fresnay in 1939.
Pierre Jules Louis Laudenbach

(1897-04-04)4 April 1897
Died9 January 1975(1975-01-09) (aged 76)
OccupationActor, film director
Years active19101974
Spouse(s)Rachel Berendt
Berthe Bovy


Born Pierre Jules Louis Laudenbach, he was encouraged by his uncle, actor Claude Garry, to pursue a career in theater and film. During the 1920s, Fresnay appeared in many popular stage productions, most notably in the title role of Marcel Pagnol’s Marius (1929), which ran for over 500 performances. His first great screen role was as Marius in the 1931 film adaptation of the play of the same name. He replayed the role in the next two parts of Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy, Fanny (1932) and César (1936).[1]

He appeared in more than 60 films, eight of which were with Yvonne Printemps, with whom he lived since 1934. In that same year, he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's first version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. In 1937, he portrayed the aristocratic French military officer Captain de Boeldieu in Jean Renoir's masterpiece La Grande Illusion.[1]

In 1947, he played Vincent de Paul in Monsieur Vincent, for which he won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival. He also portrayed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Albert Schweitzer in Il est minuit, Docteur Schweitzer (1952).


A soldier in the French Army during World War I, he returned to his career a hero. However, under the German occupation of World War II, he worked for the Franco-German film company Continental, making Henri-Georges Clouzot's Le Corbeau and other films.[1]

After the war, he was detained in prison while allegations of collaboration were investigated. After being held for six weeks, he was released as a result of a lack of evidence. Despite Fresnay's declarations that he worked in films to help save the French film industry in a period of crisis, the move damaged his popularity with the public.

Later years

In 1954, he published his memoirs, Je suis comédien (Eng. I am an actor). Fresnay continued to perform regularly in film and on stage through to the 1960s. In the 1970s, he appeared in a few films for television. From then on, he lived with the French actress and singer Yvonne Printemps for the rest of his life, co-directing the Théâtre de la Michodière in Paris with her until his death in 1975.[1]


He died of respiratory problems, aged 77, on 9 January 1975, at Neuilly-sur-Seine and he is interred alongside Printemps in the local cemetery. In his autobiography (My Name Escapes Me), Alec Guinness states that Fresnay was his favourite actor.[2]


Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest "I think my name is to be pronounced fray-nay. At least, it is the way I pronounce it." (Charles Earle Funk, What's the Name, Please?, Funk & Wagnalls, 1936).

Selected filmography

Year Title Role Director
1931 Marius Marius Olivier, César's son Alexander Korda
1932 Fanny Marius Olivier, César's son Marc Allégret
1934 The Man Who Knew Too Much Louis Bernard Alfred Hitchcock
1935 Kœnigsmark Raoul Vignerte, French teacher Maurice Tourneur
1936 César Marius Olivier, César's son Marcel Pagnol
1937 Street of Shadows Captain Georges Carrère Georg Wilhelm Pabst
La Grande Illusion Captain Boeldieu Jean Renoir
1938 Adrienne Lecouvreur Maurice de Saxe Marcel L'Herbier
1939 Le Duel Father Daniel Maurey Pierre Fresnay himself
1939 La Charrette fantôme David Holm Julien Duvivier
1942 The Murderer Lives at Number 21 "Monsieur Wens Henri-Georges Clouzot
1943 Le Corbeau Doctor Rémy Germain Henri-Georges Clouzot
1943 La Main du diable Roland Brissot Maurice Tourneur
1944 Traveling Light Gaston Jean Anouilh
1947 Monsieur Vincent Vincent de Paul Maurice Cloche
1949 The Paris Waltz Jacques Offenbach Marcel Achard
Vient de paraître Moscat Jacques Houssin
Au grand balcon Gilbert Carbot Henri Decoin
1950 Justice Is Done narrator André Cayatte
Dieu a besoin des hommes Thomas Gourvennec Jean Delannoy
1951 Le Voyage en Amérique Gaston Fournier Henri Lavorel
1953 Napoleon Road Édouard Martel Jean Delannoy
1954 The Unfrocked One Maurice Morand Léo Joannon
1955 If All the Guys in the World narrator Christian Jaque
1956 The Hunchback of Notre Dame narrator Jean Delannoy
1957 Les Fanatiques Luis Vargas Alex Joffé


  1. Pierre Fresnay on IMDb
  2. Guinness, Alec (1998) My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor, p. 65, Penguin, ISBN 0140277455

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