Obituary: Odette Joyeux
Kirkup, James, The Independent (London, England)
THE FILM star and popular writer Odette Joyeux was a born monstre sacre of French stage and screen.
Only child of an unmarried Parisian laundress, she later confessed, in her luminously frank, highly entertaining memoirs, Cote jardin (Child of the Ballet: memoirs of an opera "rat", 1952): "As a child, I was a real horror." She was indeed already a little monster, though hardly a "sacred" one, who demanded the whole attention of her overworked and harried mother. For a start, little Mademoiselle Odette would not allow her mother to marry and thus deprive the child of her full devotion.
Although still young and charming, her mother could refuse her nothing, for Odette was an enchantingly beautiful little girl. But that beauty concealed an iron will, a ferocious sense of humour and a sharp intelligence, all of which were deployed to the utmost all her life, and were already serving her determination to become a star at all costs.
Her first ambition, at the age of seven, was to become a prima ballerina assoluta. Through the influence of one of her mother's friends, she was admitted to the Paris Opera ballet school, where the pampered petit rat was a rebellious student but made good progress. She caught the attention of a rich balletomane, a woman friendly with all the artists and composers of the time, and who sponsored her first solo to music by Francis Poulenc.
Odette Joyeux thought she had it made. But as a result of insidious jealousies agitating less favoured members of the corps de ballet, she was temporarily demoted, only to be triumphantly reinstated as premier sujet (junior soloist in the hierarchy of the Paris Opera ballet).
Despite her wilful behaviour and exclusive interest in attaining her own ends, Joyeux won the hearts of all those she came in contact with. Feeling that her ballet career was taking her nowhere, she obtained a theatre audition with Louis Jouvet, France's leading actor and director. Odette stood on the empty stage and read the lines that were handed to her, from Jean Giraudoux's Intermezzo: "That's something I could never understand - that the dead should believe in death. You can only imagine the living believing in something so stupid . . ." And so on through the whole scene. Joyeux later confessed that she hadn't the faintest idea of the meaning of what she was saying. But, at the end of the audition, Jouvet announced: "Mademoiselle Joyeux, you are exactly the person we are looking for!" The man beside him, who stood up and applauded, was the great dramatist Giraudoux himself.
So, at barely 16, Joyeux starred as Isabelle, the fey girl-woman debating paradoxes of love and death. How was she able to make such a deep impression on two hardened men of the theatre? …