Popular French comedian starring in more than 160 films.
Fernand Joseph Desiree Contanden (real name Fernandel) was born May 8, 1903 in Marseille, in the family of a pharmacist.
The Contanden family supported the son’s desire for the stage and at the age of five he made his debut at the Marseille Chav Theater in melodramas and pastorals.
The idol of Fernand was the then-famous couplet singer, Polen. Seeing his performance, Fernand was determined to become a comedian. Two days later, having learned Polen’s repertoire, he tested it in one of the cafes. Steamy couplets on the lips of a ten-year-old boy delighted the not too picky audience of Marseille cafes and cabarets. This was the first success. The fame of little Cine went beyond the boundaries of their native Shav Boulevard. Then Fernand took part in the competition of chansonnier-lovers, held by a Paris newspaper, and took second place.
World War I temporarily interrupted a successful career. Fernand needed to replace in the family of his father, who went to the front. The young man served at the National Credit Bank, the Marseille Credit Society and even at a soap factory. And in the evenings he still performed couplets and studied courses to complete his education.
After the war, he changed his profession as in a kaleidoscope, Fernand again and unsuccessfully tried to start a career in banking. Soon he realized his unsuitability for all prosaic pursuits, Fernand wanted to do only what he loved and knew how to make people laugh.
At the age of 19, two important events took place in his life. He married the beloved Henrietta Mans, sister of the future screenwriter Jean Mans, and entered into his first contract with the Eldorado cabaret in Nice, for which he received 110 francs a day for his performances. On the poster, the actor already appears under the name Fernandel, which was invented by his mother-in-law and in translation meant “her Fernand”, where by “her” was meant of course Henrietta.
In 1925, Fernandel’s artistic career was interrupted by draft in the army. Fernand began his service as a clerk in the 95th Mining and Artillery Regiment, but soon achieved a transfer to Marseille, where his wife Anrietta and the recently born daughter Josette were waiting for him. After the service, in order to feed his family, the actor is again forced to go to work at a soap factory.
But here, “His Majesty the case” intervened in the life of Fernandel. First, he replaced the sick actor in one of the theaters, then he was offered a many-month tour of the country. After him, Fernandel received an invitation to the famous Parisian theater “Bombino”. “It was written in the book of fate that I should not end the days in soap.” This was followed by an invitation to the movie – the role of “small, but very funny.”
Fernandel first appeared on the set in 1930 with director Marc Allegre in the short film “The Best Nanny.” In 1931, Mark Allegre offers the artist the role of an inexperienced raider in the film adaptation of Sasha Guitry’s play “White and Black”. Success was not long in coming, and offers to act in films followed one after another. Cinema brought Fernandel national fame, he becomes one of the most popular French actors.
With the outbreak of World War II, the artist was drafted into the army and even carried out guard duty on the Maginot Line. However, the famous smile of the sentry gathered at the post so many onlookers that the authorities hastened to free Fernandel from soldierly hardships. During the war years, French film production was not stopped, but people were not laughing.
In 1942, Fernandel made a completely unexpected role – the director. As a result, Fernandel made three films: “Ademar and the toy of fate” (1951), “Adrien” (1943), and “Simpleton” (1942).
After the war, in the 1950s, the work of Fernandel was once again flourishing. His fame stepped outside of France, he made a concert tour of Europe and America, was repeatedly awarded the Courtelen Prize, awarded to the best comedian in France.
In 1951, Fernandel starred in the film directed by Julien Duvivier “The Little World of Don Camillo” (dr. “The World of Don Camillo”), which marked the beginning of a series of six films about rural pastor Don Camillo, which lasted for nineteen years. But Fernandel’s best film is Christian-Jacques comedy “The Law is the Law” (1958), where the Italian comedian Toto acted as his partner. This film was a huge success, and not only in France.
In the 1960s, Fernandel starred less often in comedies, preferring melodramatic scenes. One of his last eccentric roles was a sick man who escaped from a madhouse in the film “The Devil and the Ten Commandments” (1962) by Julien Duvivier.
In 1963, Fernandel on shares with Jean Gabin created his own film company, GAFER (GAFER – Gabin & Fernandel), whose goal was purely commercial success. For Gafer, Gabin and Fernandel starred together in the film “The Ungrateful Age” (1964).
In the 60s, Fernandel made over 50 short films for television, including English and American.