French actor Louis de Funès was born on July 31, 1914. He’s sort of the French equivalent to Don Knotts, known for his expressive face, wild eyes, and comedic roles. Although at some points in his career he was France’s most popular actor, he was largely unknown in the English-speaking world. His early career was a series of disappointments. De Funès became a jazz pianist in a club in the red-light district of Paris. He found that he could get a laugh from his customers every time he contorted his face, which led him to study acting for a year.
His wife encouraged him to persist with his aspirations as an actor despite numerous rejections. The skinny, bald actor began to have some success in the theatre while he continued to try to make his way in movies. He had bit-parts in 80 different films before he began to land starring roles. To support his family, de Funès worked three different jobs at a time. In the mornings, he did voice-overs for foreign movies; in the afternoons, he worked on his latest film project, and in the evenings, he worked in the theatre.
After almost 20 years of ceaseless striving, de Funès finally had a breakthough in Pouic-Pouic. This led to a series of six films in which he starred as a bumbling police officer, the first of which was Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez. Like many great comic actors, he comedic talents were enhanced by his collaboration with another actor, Bourvil, with whom he made several films, including La Grande Vadrouille (lah grahnd vad-rue-ee), which means “The Big Ramble.” one of the most successful French films ever, with over 17 million tickets sold. When it was recently aired on French TV, 9 million viewers tuned in.
The actor with the funny face was awarded the Légion d’honneur in 1973. De Funès died of a heart-attack on January 27, 1983, leaving behind a nation of adoring fans.
- La grande vadrouille – Gérard Oury (spacefiction.wordpress.com)