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
  • Get to the point
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: HR and Payroll Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This dynamic outsourced contact...

Recruitment Genius: Production & Quality Control Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity for a ...

Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor - Kettering - £32,000

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group HR Advisor with an established...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Generalist

£40 - 50k (DOE) + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a HR Manager / HR Genera...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor