Paul Dupuis is not a name that rings a bell to many people of my generation. However, if I talk about him with my grandparents or older people, they’ll remember him as this handsome man with a very deep voice who was “great in Les Belles Histories des Pays d’en Haut“. He was one of those French-Canadian actors that had its notoriety, but is unfortunately a bit forgotten nowadays. On my side, if I hadn’t seen Madness of the Heart, I would probably have not come across him. When I watched this British film for the first time, this handsome young man, who was cast as Margaret Lockwood’s love interest, picked my curiosity. So, I checked what was his name: Paul Dupuis. Hum, that’s sounded French! It was even better, he was Quebecois (or French-Canadian if you prefer). Last year, in my class of Quebecois cinema, I decided to do my final essay on films of the 40’s and the 50’s, but, to tell you the truth, that was mainly an excuse to see more Paul Dupuis’ films. 😉 I don’t regret it, because I saw some interesting stuff, movies that, just like Paul, are not remembered very well today.
I’m really not an expert on Paul Dupuis and I’ve seen only three of his films. But I’ve chosen to write about him because I think he deserves more recognition. And if, like me, you like to discover new actors, well, there you go. I, however, have a sort of obsession with him and sometimes I can spend hours looking for articles and videos about him on the web. Quite a stimulating activity. It’s mostly through this research that I discovered myself a real fascination for the man. Paul Dupuis was one of a kind, and he was much more than a “simple” movie star.
With the help of all my readings, I created this mini biography that I hope you’ll find complete and informative.
Who Was Paul Dupuis?
Birthday and college years
Paul Dupuis was born in Montreal on August 11, 1916. He was the son of Carmel Girouard and Pierre-Louis Dupuis, a juvenile court judge. From 1933 to 1934 he did classical studies at Collège de l’Assomption. Paul Dupuis’ love for acting started when he attended Collège St. Laurent and was part of the amateur theatre group “Les Compagnons de St. Laurent” (or simply “Les Compagnons”) create by Father Legault, to whom he owned his love for the theatre. In an article from La Voix de Shawinigan, Gabriel Langlais describes Paul Dupuis as “father Legault’s spiritual son”. Later, after Paul became an established movie and onstage actor, he eventually became assistant director, actor, professor, and director at Les Compagnons, at the request of Father Legault. His passage at Les Compagnons is well remembered for his successful performance in Shakespeare’s Henry IV as the leading role, in 1951.
It’s important to know that, despite his talent for acting, it was a bit by accident that he became an actor. Yes, he spent glorious times performing with Les Compagnons, but Paul first worked (briefly) as a newspaper cartoonist. He also worked as an announcer and director at Radio-Canada and joined CBC in 1937 and was sent, not long after, in London, as a War Correspondent. Meanwhile, he married Jacqueline-Thérèse Godin (daughter of Joseph-Eugène Godin et Hortense Mongenais) at St. Léon de Westmount church in 1939. They had two children, Pierre-Louis and Marie. In 1945, Paul, who then was a journalist, not an actor yet, made an important war reportage entitled Mort du Soldat Bourdage au Front in which he talked about the death of Private Bourdage and made a glorious portrait of him. However, the soldier was not really dead! His trace was lost after an explosion and he was declared dead, but a bit too early. Fortunately, this allowed Bourdages to see Dupuis’s wonderful tribute to him.
The raise of an actor
Paul Dupuis’s first on-screen role (or should I say “appearance) was in Yellow Canary, a 1943’s British spy movie. He, however, was uncredited. Paul Dupuis first important role was in 1945’s Johnny Frenchman, a film about a Breton Fisherman directed by Charles Frend and also starring Patricia Roc, Paul Walls and Françoise Rosay. It’s a screen-test arranged by his friend Gerry Wilmott (who also worked at Radio-Canada) who led him to obtain an important role in the film. Paul then became a revelation, both in Europe and in his native country, Canada, where the film was first screened at Imperial Theatre in Montreal in Spring 1946. Johnny Frenchman was praised for its quality. An article from Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin said about it that it had “a realism impossible to duplicate in Hollywood-made product.” The same journalist wrote that he and his co-star Patricia Roc were “natural and appealing as the British-French romantic pair.” Journalist Marc Thibeault also described him as a future big star of British Cinema in his article “Johnny Frenchman”, avec Paul Dupuis, une agréable surprise. Due to his success in the film, Paul Dupuis signed a long time contract with J. Arthur Rank in the 40’s.
From 1945 to 1951, he shot about 15 films in England, including The White Unicorn, Passport to Pimlico, Madness of the Heart, The Reluctant Widow and Sleeping Car to Trieste. For many of these roles, only goods were said about Paul Dupuis:
For their performance in the comedy-thriller Sleeping Car to Trieste, Paul Dupuis and his co-stars Derrick de Marney and Jean Kent were said to be “prominent in the action” in a Showmen’s Trade Review article of April 1949. Another article from the same magazine qualified his performance in Passport to Pimlico (June 1949) of “convincing”. Moreover, a July 1949’s article praised Paul Dupuis’ performance in Madness of the Heart (his second film alongside Margaret Lockwood, the first one being The White Unicorn) and said about it:”Paul Dupuis proves his ability with a sincere, clear-cut characterization as the French husband.” The film has its faults, but, like many Margaret Lockwood’s films from the 40’s, it was a commercial success. There is no doubt on the convincing performances of the actors: Paul the French gentleman, Margaret Lockwood, his blind wife, and Kathleen Byron as the mean and jealous woman. The film was directed by Charles Bennett, most well-remembered for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock as a screenwriter (Blackmail, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps, Sabotage, Secret Agent, Young & Innocent, Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur).
Paul’s career in Europe was not only spent in England, but also in France where he starred in L’Inconnue de Montréal, Les Pépés font la loi,Passion de femmes, etc.
Despite his success in Europe in the 40’s and 50’s, and his international reputation, Paul’s heart really belonged to Canada, and I believe the importance of his career, his unique persona was really created in his native country. In a June 1951’s article for Photo Journal, Paul Dupuis was quoted saying ” Il faut quitter le Canada pour l’apprécier. Je n’ai jamais été un immigré. Les années passées loin de mon pays on été pour moi des années d’exil, malgré le succès qu’on s’est plu à me reconnaître en Europe.” ( You have to quit Canada to appreciate it. I never was an immigrant. The years spent far from my country were for me years of exile, despite the success I had in Europe.). This was his answer to the question ” Why are you coming back?” (to Canada). Interestingly enough, after the shooting of Madness of the Heart, Paul had a desire to go back to Canada with a Norwegian Cargo (as the road was more adventurous), but he had to cancel as the boat reservations were already all booked and he was requested to star in the film The Romantic Age (Edmond T. Gréville, 1949)
Paul’s first film made in Quebec was La Forteresse, a 1946’s film directed by Fédor Ozep in which he plays the role of an author-compositor suspected of murder. His co-stars were Nicole Germain, Jacques Auger et Henri Letondal. The exteriors of the film were shot in Quebec City and Montmorency Falls. That’s the second Paul Dupuis’ film I saw and he didn’t fail to impress me.
In Canada, Paul was also seen in Étienne Brûlé, Gibier de Potence, Ti-Coq, or Les Belles Histoires des Pays d’en Haut at the television. Actually, if you mentioned Paul Dupuis to a Quebecois, it’s more likely Ti Coq and Les Belles Histoires that will ring a bell. These are the productions he is most well-remembered for here. He grabbed the attention of writer Claude-Henri Grignon, author of Un homme et son péché and that’s how he obtained the role of Arthur Buies in the radio version of the novel as well as the television adaptation (entitled Les Belles Histoires des Pays d’en Haut). I have to be honest, I never saw Paul in Les Belles histories, but I’ve heard only goods about it. Paul Dupuis himself liked the character and found him to be appealing. As for Ti-Coq, this cinematographic adaptation of Gratien Gélinas’ play (also director by Gélinas and also starring Gélinas in the leading role), his role is a small, but appreciable and convincing. What I like about it is that he inspires wisdom.
The theatre man
” Actually, I would like to appear in the theatre, but I would have to be sure that the play and the part are just right for me, otherwise I think such an experiment would do me harm than good.” (Paul Dupuis, interviewed by Anthony Firth for Picturegoer, 1949)
We all remember that Paul’s interest in acting started while he was an actor for Les Companions de St-Laurent. His onstage career, however, didn’t stop there. While he was in England, he played in West-End London’s theatres, but, once again, his artistic heart truly belonged to Canada. There, we saw him on stage in Ten Little Indians in 1953 (presented by the Canadian Players), Henri IV (as I mentioned it earlier), or again in Claudel-Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher in the role of Brother Dominic. The play was staged by Jan Doat ( stage director at l’opéra de Paris) and bandmaster Wilfrid Pelletier. The premiere took place at the Palais du Commerce in July 1952 and opened the Festival 1953. Paul was chosen by la Société des Festivals de Montréal to star in the play, alongside Claude Nollier.
Radio and television
In the 60’s, Paul Dupuis forged an important radio and television career in Canada, putting his cinematic career a bit aside. On the television, he was the animator of Voix de Femmes, a feminine magazine where Mme Françoise Gaudet-Smet was revealing to women the secret of a good housekeeper and where Thérèse Casgrain was defending women’s legal rights. He was also seen in the cinematographic television show : Billet de faveur. He often made important reportages for Radio-Canada, both on radio and television. I remember my uncle mentioning a coffee commercial with Paul Dupuis. I tried to find more information about it, but without success.
Apart from being recognized for his acting talent, his charm and his beauty, it seems that Paul Dupuis also had a magical speaking voice, which could surely assure him a successful radio career. Journalist Fernand Côté, said of Paul Dupuis that he was excellent to read texts and to give them all their “flavour and texture” and that he had a “convincing voice tone”. His voice was also said to be “amused, malicious and tragic”. On the radio, Paul Dupuis played the role of Julien Bédard in Jeunesse Doré, was the narrator of Une demie heure aver… directed by Madeleine Gérôme, reader for the special program of l’Organisation des mesures d’urgence, narrator for the show about the arctic Au Pays du Long Sommeil by André Morin (although I’m not sure if this was a television or a radio show…), animator for Billet de Faveur, etc.
Despite his success on the radio and television in the 60’s, Paul Dupuis mysteriously put and end to his career in 1970. In 1976, he was found dead at the Nymark hotel in St-Sauveur, where he lived. He was only 60. He was buried at the Côte-des-Neiges Cemetery. Now, I’m a bit confused by the subject since, an article from The Montreal Gazette says that he died of natural causes, while Claude Jasmin, writer and once Paul Dupuis’s neighbour, implicitly mentions a suicide in his blogging article ” Mort à St-Sauveur”. The writer mentions Paul’s difficult character (which led him on the “blacklist”), alcoholic problems and his career downfall (which could indeed eventually lead to a suicide). Is it all true? Just like the man, I think this will remain a mystery and for the moment the sources on the subject are a bit limited. However, Paul Dupuis was much more than that, and he will always be remembered for the goods he brought to journalism, cinema, radio and television.
Yes, because Paul Dupuis was much more than a simple actor, he was a real personality, one of a kind. Interestingly enough, when he was criticized about his look, his answer on the subject was a bit similar to Ingrid Bergman’s one: while being interviewed by Anthony Firth for Picturegoer in 1949, he said to the journalist “At the beginning of my career, I have been told that my nose is not right to which I only answer: so what? I do not consider myself a glamour boy of the screen, and if my nose can stop me from becoming a good actor then I might as well look for another profession.” Well, take me like I am or don’t take me at all! That’s the spirit. Paul loved his acting profession and it was much more about talent than physical look for him. However, don’t get me wrong, he was often known as “the handsome Paul Dupuis”.
Paul had a unique personality. Known as a very private man, he inspired both fear and respect, was a man of fine tastes, an independent, he was very polite, etc. Paul didn’t like to talk about himself, but he loved talking about his passions and interest. He appreciated music and his tastes were various: while he enjoyed Gregorian chants or Mozart, he also found a real revelation in blues and rock and roll, especially with Elvis Presley’s music. Paul also loved to read, especially authors of the 18e century. He loved nature, car rides (for him, to drive from St-Sauveur to Montreal and vice versa every day was not a problem), animals (especially horses and dogs), etc. His other hobbies were squash, singing, but what he liked to most was painting, as it is written in Anthony Firth’s article. Paul also was an eccentric of his own kind. For example, as it is revealed by Fernand Côté, if he has to go to the Place des Arts (an important concert hall in Montreal) after a day of horse riding, he would go wearing horse riding’s outfit! Fernando Côté also said of Paul Dupuis that, despite some of his life challenges, he chose meditation and reflection instead of wickedness and aggressively. Paul was a wise and thoughtful man.
As you can see, it is quite surprising that Paul Dupuis is a bit forgotten today, despite his success while he was alive. If I’ve seen only three of his films: Madness of the Heart, La Forteresse, and Ti-Coq, it’s really by reading all these articles about him that I became a fan. I mean, he was such a brilliant man!
I recently bought on eBay this autograph!
And also this old magazine with Paul on the front page.
I hope I succeed to give you an accurate life portrait of this magnificent French-Canadian man. It required a lot of research, which I had, fortunately, mostly done before I even
consider writing this article. If you wish to watch his films, why don’t you do like me and start with Madness of the Heart? 😉