Last Tuesday I was in Paris with Paul Duane and Christine Leteux filming material for our as-yet untitled, undistributed and partially unformed documentary on producer Bernard Natan. We got to interview Gisele Casadesus, perhaps the only surviving cast member of a Natan film. If we had made this a year ago we could have spoken to Paulette Dubost (THE RULES OF THE GAME), who was in LE BONHEUR, and with whom I am still in love.
Madame Casadesus played the romantic lead opposite Victor Francen in her very first film, L’AVENTURIER, in 1934. Marcel L’Herbier directed, and Jean Marais had one line.
We spoke to the great lady in her home, where she has lived all her life. She was born just across the street. She was charming and twinkly and remembered her first film extremely well.
It should make a great chapter for our film.
Afterwards, while Paul was taking pictures of her various souvenirs, she asked me over, saying something that my mental Babelfish translated as “I need to borrow your biceps.” She pointed to a stone bust of Moliere atop a high cabinet and asked me to fetch it down. “There is an inscription on the back which she wants to show you,” explained Christine. I didn’t like the look of the bust. I could barely reach the base of it with my fingertips, and felt strongly that if I did manage to move it, being heavier at the top where most of M. Moliere’s brain was, it would be likely to tilt forward and slip from my grasp, possibly embedding itself in my skull but quite likely falling over my head onto Mme. Casadesus. I demurred. She urged me on. I gesticulated. She assured me I could do it. “You look strong,” Christine translated.
“I don’t want to go down in history as the man who assassinated a leading light of the Comedie Francaise with a bust of Moliere,” I started to say. I indicated that maybe if I had a ladder or a chair to stand on I could at least try safely. Mme. Casadesus agreed at once and went off to fetch a stool. Climbing this, I was now level with Moliere, and took hold of his neck. Being made of papier-mache, a prop for a stage production from some time in Mme Casadesus’ distinguished career, it rose between my fingers as if I were Jean Valjean hefting a party hat. I had been, in the parlance of our times, “punkd” by a nonagenarian French film star.
Right: Victor Francen. Left: Gisele Casadesus. L’Herbier’s L’AVENTURIER (1934).
Casadesus to Francen: Have I changed much?
Francen to Casadesus: Not to me.