OBITUARY: Edouard Dermit

In early 1947, when Jean Cocteau started to live at Milly-la-Foret, in the house where he was to die nearly 20 years later, he engaged a young gardener, the sensationally handsome Edouard Dermit, who was destined to play a leading part in his life and work.

Dermit was 22 when he first encountered Cocteau. He was the son of a Lorraine miner, and Edouard too worked in the iron mines, developing the magnificent blond physique that Cocteau was to reveal to the world in three of his greatest films, Les Enfants Terribles (1949), Orphee (1950) and Le Testament d'Orphee (1959). His name in this last of Cocteau's films was Segeste, but he had been baptised Antoine, and Edouard was a name given him by his mother, popularly shortened to Doudou. Segeste was the name of one of Cocteau's angels in his early poem "L'Ange Heurtebise."

The poet entrusted the direction of Les Enfants Terribles to Jean-Pierre Melville, and in its hothouse ambiance Dermit gives a fine restrained performance as Paul, playing opposite Nicole Stephane as his sister Elizabeth. This memorable performance by an unknown actor, carefully coached by Cocteau and sensitively directed by Melville, was a sensation. The beautiful lighting and the haunting music by Georges Auric added to the film's spell.

Dermit's beauty was again displayed to artistic effect by Cocteau in Orphee, which also had music by Auric. As in Les Enfants Terribles, Dermit was surrounded by well-known artists - Jean Marais, Maria Casares and Francois Perier, with Juliette Greco in a small part. But such was his natural dignity, physical charm and magnetic personality, he shone with a special magic among all those seasoned professionals.

Edouard Dermit excelled himself in Cocteau's last film, Le Testament d'Orphee. He plays a young poet, Segeste, who leads the poet Cocteau away from the questions asked by the tribunal at the end of Orphee. Segeste had died in the earlier film, and he returns here as the older poet's guardian. Most of the film was shot in Les Baux-de-Provence, which is perched high on a hill. The entrance to Les Baux is called le val d'enfer (the Valley of Hell) because Dante once lived there and there is a local belief that it inspired several scenes in the Inferno. The whole cast and crew stayed in what is now a famous hotel, La Baumaniere, and much of the film is set in the nearby white chalk grottoes of Les Baux. Cocteau had hoped to make a film there of Racine's Britannicus, starring Jean Marais, but it never came to fruition.

Marais appears in the role of Oedipus while Dermit plays two linked parts, as Segeste and as himself, the adopted son of Cocteau, who is also a painter. Among the many friends of Cocteau who appeared in his film are Yul Brynner, Daniel Gelin, Pablo Picasso, Charles Aznavour, the matador Dominguin, Francoise Sagan, gypsies from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and Madame Alec Weiswiller, in whose villa at Cap-Ferrat Cocteau stayed for several years. Dermit easily stands out among them as a person of grave authority and mysterious fascination.

Cocteau had soon discovered Dermit's gifts as a painter, and taught him all he knew about the techniques of art. When he died in 1963, Cocteau left many drawings and sketches for the frescoes of a small chapel in Frejus, and these his adopted son was able to use in order to complete his master's work there. Cocteau had also left in his charge the manuscript of a posthumous work, Passe defini, which Dermit saw through the press.

Edouard Dermit married and had two sons, Jean and Stephane. Jacqueline Picasso and Jean Marais were the godmother and godfather of the former, while Francine Weissweiler and Pierre Berge fulfilled these duties for the second. Along with Jean Marais, Dermit took care of Cocteau's artistic heritage, and continued to develop his own gifts as an artist.

James Kirkup

Antoine (Edouard) Dermit, actor and painter: born 1925; married (two sons); died 15 May 1995.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project