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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?