Frédérick

Definition

Theater

  • (Antoine-Louis-Prosper Lemaître; 1800 - 76) Flamboyant actor, who created some of the great Romantic roles of the French theater. Frédérick began his career in the small theaters of the Boulevard du Temple (see Boulevard theaters), where he made his debut as the lion in a pantomime version of Pyramus and Thisbe. From 1816 he was appearing in harlequinades at the Théâtre des Funambules with the Pierrot Baptiste - an association immortalized in the Marcel Carné film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Although a few 'straight' roles materialized, Frédérick spent most of the 1820s starring in popular melodramas at the Théâtre de l'Ambigu. It was while appearing in one of the silliest of these, L'Auberge des Adrets (1824), that Frédérick scored an outrageous coup by exaggerating the villainy of his character, Robert Macaire, to the point that the play became a spoof on itself. The character of Macaire became a huge popular success, and one that Frédérick would continue to exploit for the rest of his career.

    From 1827 the now famous Frédérick appeared regularly at the Porte-Saint-Martin, the Paris theater chiefly associated with the Romantic revolution in French drama. It was here that he gave electrifying performances in Thirty Years of a Gamester's Life (1827), a sensational piece about the dangers of gambling, and Victor Hugo's Lucrèce Borgia (1833), in which he appeared opposite Mlle George. His other leading roles of the 1830s, many of which were created especially for him, included the title parts in Dumas's Napoleon Bonaparte (1830) and Kean; or Disorder and Genius (1836) and Hugo's Ruy Blas (1838).

    In 1840 Frédérick's career suffered a sudden check when he starred as the title character, a master criminal, in Balzac's Vautrin; largely because Frédérick had made himself up to resemble the unpopular King Louis Philippe, the play was immediately banned and the Porte-Saint-Martin shut down. From the mid 1840s his career went into a decline from which it never recovered, owing to his failure to find suitable new vehicles and the general change of taste from Romanticism to realism. Although he continued to revive his earlier roles to the end of his life, he would die virtually destitute.

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