Suzy Delair, memories from beyond the grave

Por the older ones, when we think of Suzy Delair, the chorus of the song by Headquartersthe film by Henri-Georges Clouzot. “With her tra-la-la / Her little tra-la-la / She turned all heads. » For the youngest, she remains the unforgettable Germaine Pivert, the wife of Louis de Funès in Rabbi Jacob. His posthumous memoirs and a collection of letters from his companion and pygmalion Clouzot appeared simultaneously. A treasure for cinephiles*.

She was 102 years old when she bowed out on March 15, 2020, the day before the first confinement. “En douce”, as in the song by Albert Willemetz and Maurice Yvain that she once performed. If the press had other concerns in these circumstances, the news was relayed by its admirers. The less informed thought that Suzy Delair was long dead. Thus Laurent Ruquier in the early 2000s made a blunder during a broadcast We are not in bed. Suzy didn’t sleep that night and immediately phoned the channel, which she still called Antenne 2, to say with her banter that she was still on the move. The following Saturday, a denial was given by the facilitator, who sent him flowers.

politically incorrect

Suzy Delair’s life is long and intense. This daughter of a coachbuilder and a seamstress, born a year before the armistice of 1918, experienced a stormy youth during the Second World War. Until the Popular Front, the workers did not go on vacation. For them, the countryside was the Parisian suburbs, Villiers-le-Bel or Gonesse for young Suzy, unruly and dissipated, to whom her father repeated that she would end up on the sidewalk penniless if she became an actress. Determined, the one who is still called Suzanne Delaire will only listen to her vocation. “On the sidewalk, perhaps, she would say later, but with my name in luminous letters on the pediment of the music halls. »

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Revue, singing tour… so many expressions that we no longer use today. “Little woman” either, it was nevertheless a job in the theatre. You could recognize the Parisienne by her pair of gloves, her pumps and her approach, all in candid vivacity. Everything to displease those who despise the mores of the past.

Suzy Delair’s confession reflects no regret, no remorse, and above all no form of forgiveness. Politically incorrect, we would say today, she loves jewelry, furs and the men who go with it. A woman in love, she is free to please whoever pleases her. It doesn’t matter to her to snatch one of her lovers from Mistinguett, or to knock in the middle of the night on the door of one of her partners’ bedroom because she’s cold. So many comical scenes where love is a pleasure. Suzy Delair’s daily life in the city resembles a play by Feydeau, an operetta by Offenbach, the authors she feels closest to on stage. Love is also the passion that devours with the director Henri Decoin, then which ravages with Henri-Georges Clouzot, a genius, one of the few to have won the greatest awards in European cinema (Palme d’or , Golden Lion and Golden Bear). He will give her two of his finest roles.

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The pages she devotes to her mentor and companion, as well as the unpublished letters found at her home after his death are essential to understanding the filmmaker’s obsessions. Suzy Delair hides nothing of this cow love pushed to the paroxysm of violence, made up of disputes, separations and reunions, to the point of no return. In 2017, she will admit: “What bullshit I did to leave him… Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. »

Suzy Delair, blue flower and serious at the same time

Troubled by Alain Delon on the set of Rocco and his brothers of Luchino Visconti, she avoids him for fear of succumbing. In 2007, at the age of 90, when she went to greet him one evening in his dressing room at the Marigny theatre, Delon said to him: “You resisted me. She replies: “I was afraid of you, afraid of falling in love.” » Suzy Delair, blue flower and serious at the same time.

Generous, above all. It is thanks to her that Louis Armstrong recorded the American version of “C’est si bon”, which became the international success that we know. International, it is also turning in 1951 Attol Kthe latest film from Laurel and Hardy.

Free, Suzy Delair was, until the end of her life, to the point of having the reputation of having a bad character, character would be more just. She does not compromise, she moves instinctively with disconcerting frankness. At her debut, she received the “lemon prize”, given by journalists to the most unpleasant star (another old-fashioned word) there is. His outspokenness is matched with sparkling retorts. In the late 1980s, coming out of a performance of Francis Lopez’s operetta Dream of Vienna, she let go: “It’s more of an old woman’s dream. »

Jean-Louis Barrault, who directed it in Parisian life, said that when the show resumed at the Odéon, she was surprised to see the names in small print on the poster. Barrault told her that the public theater was a big family, to which Suzy replied: “A big family, but the parents, Renaud-Barrault, are written roughly, them! »

Intimate moment with Mitterrand

Ten years ago, after the publication of a portrait that Point dedicated to her, she was shocked that we recalled her promotional trip to Germany during the Occupation, with Danielle Darrieux and other actors. An episode belonging to history, on which she returns in her memoirs by providing the certificate of the CGT spectacle federation of December 12, 1944. It is written that no complaint has been lodged against Miss Suzy Delair. In another, of November 15, 1945, the National Purification Committee attests that she is not the subject of any proposal for disciplinary sanction. Move on, there is nothing more to see on that side, just beautiful films shot in the gray zone of cinema under the Occupation. Clouzot’s letters to Delair are unpublished testimony to this period.

In 1991, President François Mitterrand, ten months his senior, had insisted on presenting him himself at the Élysée with the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor. The President of the Republic had then traced the career of the actress, for nearly fifteen minutes, without a note. With each film cited, he associated a personal memory. He reminded her of a visit to Bobino in the 1950s by humming to her the penultimate verse of the song “En douce” : “Me, so that my burial doesn’t / Hinder traffic / I’ll do it quietly / And without sending an announcement. » Mitterrand had laughed and Suzy too, to the point of daring to reply “We still have time, Mr. President! The next day, Arletty, to whom the story had been told, said: “She always amazed me, that hen.” »

*Suzy Delair Memoirscollected by Jacqueline Willemetz, L’Harmattan; Delair ClouzotNoël Herpe with Jacqueline Willemetz, Marest Publisher.

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Suzy Delair, memories from beyond the grave