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Although he harbored a desire to act, Jean Marais was rejected by the top drama schools in France. The son of a doctor from whom his mother separated in 1917, he came to the attention of film director Maurice L'Herbier who cast him in small roles in "L'Epervier" and "L'Aventurier" (both 1933). Marais worked at the theater run by Charles Dullin in return for acting classes and a chance to play minor stage roles. In 1937, the actor met the man who would change his life--poet, playwright and designer Jean Cocteau. They became lovers and Cocteau began to utilize the handsome Marais in various stage productions like "Oedipe Roi" and as Sir Galahad in "Les Chevaliers de la table rond." The writer created the role of the smothered son in "Les Parents terribles" especially for the actor, which proved an artistic high point for both. With his striking looks, ethereal charm and vulnerability, Marais proved a perfect choice to embody Cocteau's tragic heroes. He first made his mark in the author's retelling of the Tristan and Isolde myth in "L'Eternal retourne/The Eternal Return" (1943), directed by Jean Delannoy. But perhaps their best-known collaboration remains the poetic masterpiece "La Belle et la bete/Beauty and the Beast" (1945). Of their remaining films together, the 1948 version of "Les parents terribles" ranks as the best. By the time of "Orphee" (1949), their personal relationship was ending, although they remained close friends.
The 1950s saw Marais undertake swashbuckling roles and become France's version of Errol Flynn in a number of popular but critically-derided vehicles like "The Count of Monte Cristo" (1954) and "Le Bossu" (1959). On the advice of Cocteau, he accepted the role of "Fantomas" in the 1964 remake and went on to essay the athletic master criminal in several sequels. In 1970, Jacques Demy tapped him to appear as the widowed king seeking a new queen in the fairy tale "Peau d'ane/Donkey Skin," which was an homage to Cocteau. By then, though, his film career was all but over and Marais returned to the stage, reviving Cocteau plays and appearing as "King Lear." He reteamed with Demy to play the Devil in "Parking" (1985), an ill-advised musical version of "Orphee." His last screen appearances were in Claude Lelouch's "Les Miserables" (1994) and Bernardo Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty" (1995).
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