Obituary: Elvire Popesco

Elvire Popescu (Elvire Popesco), actress: born Bucharest 16 May 1894; married Aurel Athanasesco (one daughter), 1938 Vicomte Sebastien Foy (died 1967); died Paris 11 December 1993.

IN THE HEYDAY of French popular cinema, people liked stories of princes and princesses set in the remote kingdoms of real or imaginary central and Eastern Europe. With her bubbly blonde beauty and strong accent, Elvire Popesco was the exotic queen of the genre, on stage and on screen.

Born Elvire Popescu (as an actress in France she called herself Popesco) in Bucharest, in 1894, into a theatrical family, she was a member of Bucharest's national theatre; she married and had a daughter, Tatiana. Legend has it that King Ferdinand was madly in love with Popesco, a story which sounds just like one of her French plays, as does that of her Parisian debut. In 1923, the playwright Louis Verneuil asked her to take over the lead in his hit play Ma Cousine de Varsovie. Popesco promptly came to Paris, where she remained for the rest of her life. Her triumph in Ma Cousine de Varsovie (filmed in 1931) started a long personal relationship with Verneuil, and a longer professional one; on and off, she performed the play until 1955.

Popesco's genius was her ability to evoke both exoticism and typical high Parisian life. In the 1920s and 1930s, many Russian exiles lived and worked in Paris. With the flourishing 'Slav' cabarets and restaurants, they popularised the glittering nostalgic culture of the exiled aristocracy, a champagne- drinking world where women, however impoverished, had constant love affairs, and wore satin dresses and jewels - exactly Popesco's image on and off stage and screen. In this context, her exact origins did not matter. Her sophisticated looks and strong accent evoked white, aristocratic European otherness. At the same time, her comic talent was brilliantly suited to boulevard comedy. Her best films were adaptations of Verneuil's plays, such as L'Habit vert (1937), Andre Berthomieu's Eusebe depute (1937, based on Tristan Bernard), Abel Gance's Paradis perdu (1939), and Sacha Guitry's Ils etaient neuf celibataires (1939), in which Guitry famously summed her up with the judgement 'She's not French, but she's a Parisienne'. Like many exiles in show business, she resented, but capitalised on, her stereotypical 'foreignness'.

Apart from small parts in Rene Clement's Plein Soleil and Guitry's Napoleon (both 1959), her film career was mostly confined to the 1930s filmed plays. She pursued a brilliant career in boulevard theatre, however, well into the - and her - Seventies (her sole tragic part was Jocasta in Cocteau's La Machine infernale in 1954). Andre Roussin's La Mamma, written for her in 1957, and which she played until 1974, was her last triumph; she went back on tour with it in 1982. She crowned her theatrical career as director of the Theatre de Paris, and later the Theatre Marigny.

Elvire Popesco was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 1970, graduating to the higher rank of Commandeur in 1989.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen