Obituary: Jacqueline Delubac

Jacqueline Basset (Jacqueline Delubac), actress: born Lyon 1910; married 1935 Sacha Guitry (marriage dissolved); died Paris 14 October 1997.

"I am 50 today. Jacqueline is 25. What could be more reasonable than that I make her my better half?" So said Sacha Guitry - actor, dramatist, film-maker, wit and, for 60 years, the epitome of Parisian boulevardier panache - of his marriage to Jacqueline Delubac in 1935.

Delubac was the third of Guitry's five wives and protegees. The first was Charlotte Lyses, then came Yvonne Printemps, who might be described as the French Gertrude Lawrence. Then, in fourth position, Genevieve de Sereville, and, last, Lana Marconi . Printemps apart, the career of each of these actresses was entirely predicted on Guitry's patronage. As soon as he had divorced them, they were, professionally speaking, finished.

So it was with Jacqueline Delubac, whose filmography abruptly tails off in the Fifties after their estrangement. Unlike either de Sereville or Marconi, however, she was more than just a chic stooge. Even if one cannot abide Guitry's flamboyant urbanity and nasally whinnying delivery, it is possible to enjoy the dozen feathery comedies in which they co-starred (and all of which he directed) for their pert, soubrettish leading lady, with her near-supernatural vivacity, her deliciously retrousse nose, her oddly flapping lips - you have to see her deliver one of Guitry's mots to know what I am talking about - and her charming artlessness. Never at a loss for words, Guitry himself evoked her appeal thus: "You turn up from the provinces - and you look it - just a year on, one wonders if you were born in La Villette or Montmartre and, 18 months after that, you've become so indelibly Parisian one begins to suspect you might be a foreigner."

In fact, it was in Lyon, the capital, as it were, of the French provinces, that she was born - into a family which had amassed a fortune from the manufacture of artificial silk. From her earliest youth, however, her resolve was to become an actress; and, by the mid-Thirties, she had gravitated to Paris, where she appeared in a revue, impersonating, quite unimaginably, Josephine Baker. Possibly realising that there was no future in so patent a misdirection of her talents, she arranged to have herself introduced to Guitry, who immediately cast her in a new play, Villa a vendre, and, slightly less immediately, married her.

Thereafter, she was his glamorous foil in a series of now classic movie comedies. In Bonne Chance (1935) she played his gambling partner. In Faisons un reve (Let's Dream Together, 1936), a seamless confection, as airy, hollow and insubstantial as a bubble, perhaps, but an amorously chiselled one, she has a knack all her own of "witticising" an ostensibly innocuous line of dialogue that makes one regret she never played Wilde or Coward. ("My darling," she pointedly asks a philandering Guitry at the breakfast table, "will you please give me a direct answer to a direct question? Do you or do you not want butter on your toast?") And in Mon Pere avait raison (My Father Was Right, 1937), a self-styled "light tragedy" which, on stage, had featured Sacha's own father, the great Lucien Guitry, she so persuasively captured the style of the original that Guitry absent- mindedly remarked to his director of photography, "I love the way you lit that scene between my father and Jacqueline".

Jacqueline Delubac, in short, never put a foot wrong. Except, alas, in the circumstances of her passing. She died, at 87, as a result of injuries sustained in a traffic accident.

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