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Louis de Funès de Galarza was born on July 31st, 1914 in Courbevoie, in the Hauts-de-Seine French département, of Spanish parents. His father was a senior lawyer at Sevilla. But, being conscious that he had to work a lot to earn enough for his family, decided to become a diamond cutter.
We can hardly believe this today as he's remembered by many people, but Louis took near than twenty years to get recognized in the actors world. His adult life started by switching from little job to little job; industrial draughtsman, photography apprentice, sewing house employee... His employers have been discouraged by his character and permanent jokes; but having several different jobs enabled him to gain experience and polyvalence.
Then arrived the famous 1939's WWII: in this period, because of a medical folder mistake, he is judged as being enable to make war, his little size might also have played a role in this error. He thus comes to a cabaret in Paris, near Pigalle place, when he plays the piano during entire evenings, like Eddie Barclay, whom he met in this cabaret
He has unique listening abilities. One day, when asked to by an armed German soldier to play a music piece, he managed to play it without even knowing it, only by ear. After that, he wanted to be a comedian. He subscribes to the famous French "cours Simon"; actually a failure, but which will give him the opportunity to meet this friend Daniel Gélin, who will be an decisive person for his career starting. Meanwhile, he comes back to piano.
At this period, he meets Jeanne Barthélémy de Maupassant, who will be his second wife starting from 1943. She will support him in the most difficult moments, while helping him to efficiently manage his career - his partnerships with Claude Gensac being one of her ideas. With Jeanne, Louis will have two children - he already had a son, Daniel, from his first marriage - Patrick (born on January 27, 1944) and Olivier (born on August 11st, 1947). Patrick is a doctor in Saint-Germain en Laye, and his brother Olivier, who remains known for the of the roles he had in his father's films (Les Grandes Vacances, Fantômas se déchaine, Oscar, Le Grand Restaurant, Hibernatus for the most famous) is now an aviator for Air France Europe.
He obtains his first role in 1945 thanks to his friend Daniel Gélin. Then he will accept more and more roles, which will progressively lead him to the top. According to Louis, "a prodigious chance. I was getting out of a first-class metro wagon, and Daniel Gélin (my friend from Simon) was getting into a second-class wagon. The door was about to close, when he shouted: "Give me a phone call tomorrow. I have a little role for you.". It will be in "La tentation de Barbizon", where he will have... to open a door. His beginnings will be difficult, because he'll always have to face directors and actors who will never understand this nervous and constantly moving character, and his extreme sense of perfection.
Then it will be a succession of nearly 80 films, with insignificant roles, and small salaries. Actually, his face was rarely filmed, which maybe helped him, indirectly, to create his "character". While awaiting for the role which would launch his career, Louis had several daily activities to "survive": in the morning, dubbing (including Toto, an italian comic from this era), he plays in the afternoon, and in theaters in the evening.
The role he was waiting for so many years will come in 1956 with "La Traversée de Paris" by Claude Autant-Lara, which finally gives him access to the first roles. With Jean Gabin and Bourvil, he's playing his first notable character, Jambier, a cynical grocer involved in black market. This film will bring him his first reviews, and he will obtain the title of "best current comic" with "Ni vu, ni connu" in 1957, starring with Moustache. The next year, he'll play in "Taxi, Roulotte et Corrida", going back to Spain, his origin country.
In 1961, he plays in "Le crime ne paie pas", his first film with Gérard Oury, who will offer him the best roles of his career. Then, in 1963, thanks to Jean Girault - "Pouic-Pouic"'s author - he'll play in the first episode of his famous "Gendarme" series, le "Gendarme de Saint-Tropez", a six-episode series.
However, tensions start to rise between him and the other actors: Gabin was irritated by his jokes, and Fernandel was nearly ignoring him. But it wasn't the case with Bourvil, who did not judge him, but even more with Michel Galabru, the "adjudant" from the "Gendarme" series, a real friend of his, like their tandem in the series. Also a friend of Jacqueline Maillan in "Ah ! Les Belles Bacchantes" by Robert Dhéry, then in "Pouic-Pouic" which will lead him to the top where he'll stay forever.
Fufu simultaneously takes care of his theater carrier, boosted by the huge success of "Oscar" in 1962 - he will even reprise his role in 1967 for a cinema version which will encounter the same success. A so successful play, that he'll once again reprise the play in 1971 to add some additional details and twenty minutes of entertainment.
Louis will play his best films with Girault, Oury and André Hunebelle, who will give him a major role in the "Fantômas" series, starring with Jean Marais, who had the first role. Actually, Louis' character, the "commissaire Juve", was so popular that he was often considered to be the main one. Jean Marais will even become somewhat jealous: when the third and last episode from the series came out, "Fantômas contre Scotland Yard", he will say that the film should have been named "Juve contre Scotland Yard"!
Then, Gérard Oury will have the excellent idea, in 1964, to join Bourvil and Louis in "Le Corniaud". The film and its character tandem will reach its goal, thanks to two actors who perfectly complete each other with their huge differences. Although they actually meet only two times in the film, at the beginning and at the end. But constant switching between Louis and Bourvil actually gives the impression that the two characters are near from each other. With the memorable scene of the camping shower, Louis definitely unveils his comic touch, only composed of facial expressions, without a word.
This explosive trio will work together for the second and last time in "La Grande Vadrouille" in 1966. The plot of the film, done with humour but accuracy, focuses on the painful experience of English soldiers landed in France during WWII, in danger of being caught by the German soldiers. This film will be one of the best French films ever, and a worldwide success, which will lead our two heroes and their director to become internationally famous, it will even become the largest grossing film in French history, a record, beaten only thirty years after by James Cameron's "Titanic".
Thus, a third Bourvil-Oury-De Funès is planned; unfortunately, Bourvil dies in September 1970, a death which will deeply sadden Louis. The film will be done anyway, with Yves Montand playing the role initially thought for Bourvil. You might have guessed it, it will be "La Folie des Grandeurs". Louis accepts to play with Yves, who will nicely do his job, as the film will be another success.
Louis will play, two years after (in 1973), in another film by Gérard Oury, les "Aventures de Rabbi Jacob" (released as "The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob" in the US). Once again, a success, but it will be, unfortunately, the last collaboration of Louis with Gérard.
A new collaboration project between Louis and Gérard should have been unveiled in 1975. But it'll never come. And here's why: Louis has just been hospitalized for suffering a double myocardial infarction. Shaked by his jumps, mood variations, tomfooleries, his heart warned him. Louis is overworked by his rigorous activities and his extreme taste for perfection.
At rest, now... No more runnings after horse-drawn vehicles in Spain, no more skids into bubblegum tubs, no more intensive gags or ragging on home employees. Louis takes care of his Clermont castle and gardens.
Louis promises himself to never play anymore angry, as he gave so much for them, maybe too much. He now plays in "quieter" movies: in 1977, a collaboration with Claude Zidi leds him to play with Coluche, the famous French humorist, in "L'Aile ou la Cuisse". One year after, Louis will play in "La Zizanie" along with Annie Girardot, giving birth to an excellent rowdy pair.
In 1980, Louis will realize one of his greatest dreams, for which he had been thinking for a long time to numerous gags, by adapting a play from Molière with "L'Avare" which he directs himself. However, the film will only have a moderate success, even if Louis respected the spirit of Molière while following his own imagination quite freely; some people will indeed consider at the film's release that the actor has been somewhat lost in his project.
He will then play with Jean Carmet and Jacques Villeret in "La Soupe aux Choux" in 1981, his last but one film. And, if it's far away from being his best one, the famous farting contests of the "Glaude" and his mate, "le Bombé", will mostly make you laugh out loud.
Louis will end his career with Jean Girault. After having requested him in 1979 for the fifth episode from the series, "Le Gendarme et les Extra-Terrestres" - the worst one - he'll offer him in 1982 to play in the sixth and latest episode, "Le Gendarme et les Gendarmettes". Better than the previous one, with more suspense than the others, even if Jean Girault died during the filming. The film will be finished by his assistant, Tony Aboyantz.
This film will actually be the final point of our Fufu's career, who will die on the evening of January 27th, 1983, at the age of 68, of a third and fatal heart attack. He was scheduled to play in "Papy fait de la Résistance" by Jean-Marie Poiré. He'll finally be replaced by his friend Michel Galabru for the role.
Louis remains today one of the best French comics, unforgettable, a myth, a legend. He is interred in the Cellier cemetery, near Nantes, in the Loire-Atlantique French département. He invented a comic style, done from face games and grimaces executed at a very high speed, with some little parts of emotion, mainly thanks to his duos with Claude Gensac. A comedian which still makes us laugh today, and so will forever; us, his fans he loved so much to give the best of himself. Rest in peace, Louis.
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