Biography of Jean Cocteau (1889-1963)

Writer, painter and film director French, born on July 5, 1889 in Maisons-Laffitte (Seine-et-Oise) and died on October 11, 1963 in Milly-la-Forêt.


Son of Georges Cocteau, Jean small rentier lived some seasons with his brothers Paul and Marthe in the hotel which was his paternal grandfather, Eugène Lecomte owner in Paris. That establishment welcomed them permanently when the father committed suicide, and also served the small Jean to discover the life of the literati, mundane and Bohemian Paris. This atmosphere contrasted with the memory of the parental tragedy, that somehow the rest of his life chased him. Encouraged by his grandfather, started a few studies which helped him to channel his artistic talent.

Since 1900 the Lycee Condorcet was its new environment, but was not a good student and the discipline was not going well with his dreamy, and nervous character revealing a precocious poet and enormous talent. Surely, he preferred to go ride with his housekeeper, Josephine Ebel, who, in addition to learning German, visited the Théâtre du Châtelet, a Parisian stage where artists of varieties, magicians and dancers represented live similar arguments that later led to Georges Mélièsfilm.

At this time, he wrote juvenile poems and devoted to the theatrical world. He even discovered the first love in this environment, which fascinated him always. In addition, it had fortunate to interact with Marcel Proust, Catulle Mendès and other writers of renown, whose side grew as a lyric poet, reciting his new verses at all parties that it was possible.

From 1909 he was director of the literary magazine Scherezade and a year later had the opportunity to engage in the assemblies of modern Russian ballet by Diaghilev and Nijinsky, along with those who collaborated as designer and arguer. Geniuses of the musical environment of the moment, Erik Satie and Igor Stravinskycase, were among the friends of Cocteau, whose social life was also very active in the atmosphere of the painters of Montparnasse (Paris), among them Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris.

It was an environment that also took him to meet characters such as Apollinaire and Max Jacob, decisive in French cultural life and the creative evolution of Cocteau. In its condition of Idol of the avant-garde, the poet Apollinaire was considered a mentor to new authors such as André Breton, Louis Aragón, Tristan Tzara and the same Cocteau.

Caring partner of musicians, graphic artists, choreographers and the young poet not ceased publishing new poetry books and also premiered theatrical productions of great originality, with the participation of musicians like Georges Auric, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger. But this was joined by the excesses of drugs, linked to his depressive temperament, which was then forced to undergo several cures Detox.

In 1930, completing the scope of his artistic activity, he shot him sang d' d'un poète, film which was released on 20 January 1932, date very close to the start of his relationship with Natalie Paley. In 1937 he made a montage of the play Oedipe roi in which participated the actor Jean Marais, who intervened in new theatrical projects of Cocteau and was a collaborator in the film of the artist.

His mother, Eugénie, together which had long lived died in 1943 in a dark period for the life of Jean Cocteau, which coincided with the German occupation of France. On August 27, 1945 began next René Clément, acting technical advisor, the filming of beauty and the beast, starring Jean Marais, who joined him already a great friendship. Other members of the team were the artistic director Christian Bérard, Henri Alekan operator and musician Maurice Auric.

Marais makeup lasted five hours, a difficulty added to a filming of itself complicated. Cocteau had all kinds of problems, but managed to finish this film which confirmed an outstanding crossing of influences as varied. Warns in her pictorial surrealism, the aestheticism of the engravings of Gustave Doré and even a touch of naivety narrative, ideal to give life to the old fairy tale of the beautiful young woman and the beast sentenced for a spell. It seems logical that, despite the stormy of that experience as director, Cocteau would like to return to the cinema with new purposes: his great film Les parents terrible (1948), adaptation of his eponymous play, portrays the dark side of a morbid, obsessive family. Shortly after, Jean-Pierre Melville took a text by Cocteau to roll another exciting drama, Les enfants terrible, premiered in 1950.

He received the appointment of Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1949, and in November of that year began filming of Orpheus, one of the most inspired films of French cinema of the time. In 1950, Orpheus was screened in the Cannes Film Festival and won the international critics prize at the Venice Film Festival. But the biography of Cocteau is made of chiaroscuro, and soon travel to Spain, suffered a heart attack on June 10, 1954 in Paris. His health was faltering, but the official recognition of his merits was a fact: in 1955 he entered the Royal Academy of the French language in Belgium and shortly after it was received at the French Academy.

His play was released around the world, continued the edition of his poems and other filmmakers requested their collaboration as an actor or screenwriter. Trips to Spain also occurred, which inspired his "Ceremonial espagnol du Phénix" (1961), poetic text which coincided in time with the death of his brother Paul. To not neglect his graphic activity, Cocteau continued painting, designing Theatre sets and organizing exhibitions with his latest drawings. But that constant occupation slowed by a new heart attack, on April 22, 1963. His apparent recovery released for the moment from the fear of death that him but finally arrived on 11 October of that same year, when he was working on several projects.

From the beginning of his creative activity, Jean Cocteau followed a path of complete artist, knowledgeable of varied disciplines and grower of all nature, oscillating between curiosity and boundless passion. The work of Cocteau took part of the artistic avant-gardes and expanded with a singular interpretation of psychoanalysis. In the first instance, is considered a man of letters in the broadest sense: poet, storyteller, playwright and columnist. His forays into the drawing, painting, opera and ballet confirm his search for an aesthetic that goes beyond the written word. He made drawings and posters, worked ceramics, and designed costumes, scenery and precious metalwork.

But the full response to those concerns found it in the film, means of expression that served as a bridge between the different disciplines was practiced throughout his career. That is why heterogeneous cultural contributions, that guide their way of understanding cinema, neglecting the realistic expectations in order to retrieve content closer to the classical myth, magic, and the reverie of memory of poetic form are discovered in the films of Cocteau. Thanks to this kind of resource, the cinematographic work of this director raises imagery different, full of eclecticism and also freshness, which has captivated several generations of viewers.

Literary work

The extensive literary production of Jean Cocteau, disseminated in publications of any kind, would require a bibliography that is much more extensive than the chronological listing below. However, it specifies its most important works, always cited with its original title and date that held its first edition, which was subsequent to the death of the writer in more than one case. The list is limited to the creation narrative, theatrical and poetic, excluding anthologies, reviews, articles, interviews, factual texts, epistolary and forewords.


1919: Le Potomak.1923: Le grand écart; Thomas'imposteur l. 1928: Le livre blanc.1929: Les enfants terribles.1933: Le Fantôme de Marseille.1939: La fin du Potomak.


1919: Parade (ballet premiered in 1917, with music by Erik Satie and Picasso designs). 1920: Le boeuf sur le toit ou The Nothing Doing Bar.1923: Les maries of the Tour Eiffel.1924: Le train bleu.1926: Romeo et Juliette (piece premiered in 1924). 1927: Orphée; Le pauvre matelot.1928: Oedipe roi; Antigone (piece premiered in 1922, with scenery by Picasso and Chanel wardrobe). 1930: La voix humaine.1934: infernale.1937 machine: Les chevaliers of the table ronde.1938: Les parents terribles.1940: Les monstres sacres.1941: a ecrire.1943 machine: Renaud et Armide.1946: L'Aigle à deux tetes.1953: Bacchus.1954: Le jeunne homme et the Mort.1962: l'impromptu du Palais-Royal. 1971: Le gendarme incompris (co-written with Raymond Radiguet).1978: Le portrait de Dorian Gray (co-written with Jacques Renaud) surnaturel. 1981: the patience of Penelope (co-written with André Paysan).


1909: The lampe d'Aladin. 1910: Le prince frivole.1912: Sophocle.1919 danse: Le Cap de Bonne-Espérance; L'Ode to Picasso.1920: Escales.1922: Vocabulaire.1923: Plain-chant; Rose la de François; The mort de G. Apollinaire.1925: Cri écrit; Prière mutilee; L'ange Heurtebise.1927: opera.1932: Morceaux choisis.1934: Mythologie (co-written with Giorgio de Chirico). 1939: enigme.1941: allegories.1944: poèmes Écrits in allemand.1945: Leone; Poemes.1946: The crucifixion.1952: the nappe du Catalan; Le chiffre sept.1953: Appoggiaturas; Dentelle d' Éternité, Poème-objet. 1954: Clair-obscur. 1958: l'autre monde; Paraprosodies.1959: Gondole des morts.1961: Ceremonial espagnol du Phénix; Partie d' échecs. 1962: Le Requiem.1965: pegase.1968: Faire-part, poèmes inédits 1920-1962.1972: Les Bachir-Selim vocalises. 1986: Embarcaderes.


As director:1925: Jean Cocteau fait du Cinéma. 1930: Le sang d' d'un poète. 1946: Beauty and the beast. 1947: L'Aigle à deux Têtes. 1948: Les parents terribles.1950: Orpheus; Coriolan.1952: La Villa Santo - Sospir. 1960: Le testamet d' Orphée (Ne me demandez pas pourquoi).

As a script writer, screenwriter or dialoguista:1939: the comedy of happiness. 1942: Le baron Fontome (and actor). 1943: L' éternel retour. 1944: Les dames du bois de Boulogne; Tennis (documentary; and voice). 1947: Ruy Blas; Amore (episode: La voce umana). 1948: Bodas de arena (documentary; and voice); La Légende de Sainte Ursule (documentary; and voice); Romantici a Venezia (documentary; and voice). 1949: Les enfants terrible. 1950: Ce siècle to cinquante ans (episode: author); The black Crown. 1951: Cisaruv slavik (text and voice). 1953: gate of hell (comment French version). 1957: indifferent bello (short film); A l'aube d'u monde (comment). 1961: the Princess of Cleves. 1962: Pauvre matelot. 1965: Thomas l'imposteur.

As an actor: 1943: La Malibran.1948: Ulysses et les mauvaises rencontres. 1951: Colette.1954: A melody, four pintores.1958: Le Musée Grévin.


BRUNO, Edoardo (ed.): Jean Cocteau: Il primato of the film. (Venice: XLVI Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, 1989).

CAIZERGUES, Pierre (ed.): Jean Cocteau aujourd'hui: Actes du colloque de Montpellier. (Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck/UPV, 1992).

LANGE, Monique: Cocteau: Prince royaume sans. (Paris: Éditions Jean-Claude Lattes, 1989).

PHILIPPE, Claude: Jean Cocteau. (Paris: Seghers, 1989).

ROLOT, Christian (ed.): Le Cinéma de Jean Cocteau: Hommage à Jean Marais. (Paris: Centre d' Étude du XX siècle de l' University, 1994).