Louis Germain David de Funès de Galarza was born on July 31, 1914, in Courbevoie, France. His father, named Carlos Luis de Funes de Galarza, was a former lawyer of Seville, Spain, who became a diamond cutter. His mother, named Leonor Soto Reguera, was of Spanish and Portugese extraction.
Young Louis de Funès was fond of drawing and piano playing. He dropped out of school and worked various jobs, mostly as a jazz pianist at Pigalle, making his customers laugh every time he made a grimace. He studied acting for one year at the Simon acting school. There he made some useful contacts, including Daniel Gélin among others. During the occupation of Paris in the Second World War, he continued his piano studies at a music school, where he fell in love with a secretary, named Jeanne de Maupassant, a grand-niece of writer Guy de Maupassant. She had fallen in love with “the young man who played jazz like god”; they married in 1943, and had two sons born in 1944 and 1949. Funès continued playing piano at clubs, knowing there wasn’t much call for a short, balding, skinny actor. His wife and Daniel Gelin encouraged him until he managed to overcome his rejection. He made his film debut in 1945, at the age of 31, and went on playing about one hundred film roles in the next twenty years.
Louis de Funès shot to international fame in the 1960’s after his roles in such slapstick comedies as The Troops of St. Tropez (1964) and the Fantomas (1964) trilogy. He brilliantly portrayed a funny French policeman, whose hilarious hyperactivity, uncontrolled anger, and sardonic laughter produced a highly comic effect. Funès was voted the most favorite actor in France in 1968, and remained very popular in Europe during the 1970’s. He also continued to play on stage during his career as a film star, and was acclaimed for his stage works in classic French theatre. Funès was instrumental in making film adaptations of such theatre plays as ‘Oscar continues’ and the Molière’s ‘The Miser’, among other plays.
Nicknamed “the man with the forty faces per minute”, Louis de Funès played bit parts in over eighty films, before he got his first leading roles, eventually becoming the leading French comedian. He co-starred with the major French actors of the time, including Jean Marais and Mylène Demongeot in the Fantomas trilogy, and also Jean Gabin, Fernandel, Bourvil, Coluche, Annie Girardot, and Yves Montand. Funès’s collaboration with director Gérard Oury produced a memorable tandem of Funès-Bourvil. He also worked with Jean Girault in the famous ‘Gendarmes’ series. In a departure from the Gendarme image, Funès collaborated with Claude Zidi, who wrote for him a new character full of nuances and frankness in L’aile ou la cuisse (1976), which is arguably the best of his roles.
Funès played over 130 roles in film and over 100 roles on stage. From 1943-1983 Louis de Funès was married to Jeanne Barthelemy de Maupassant. Their son, Olivier De Funès , had a brief acting career before becoming a pilot with Air France, his other son, named Patric de Funes, became a medical doctor. Louis de Funès was also a rose grower, a variety of roses has been named the “Louis de Funès rose” after him. He died of a heart attack and complications of a stroke on January 27, 1983, in Nantes, France. He was laid to rest in the Cimetière du Cellier, and a monument of him was erected in the rose-garden of his wife’s castle.
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