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Sophie Daumier; actress (Independent obit)

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Jan 6, 2004, 9:05:25 PM1/6/04
Sophie Daumier
Zany comedienne with a wicked tongue
07 January 2004

Elisabeth Hugon (Sophie Daumier), actress: born Boulogne-sur-Mer,
France 24 November 1936; married 1965 Guy Bedos (one son by an earlier
relationship; marriage dissolved 1977); died Paris 31 December 2003.

In his bitter-sweet but always entertaining book of memoirs, Je craque
("Telling the Tale", 1975), the comedienne Sophie Daumier's former husband
the artiste dramatique Guy Bedos describes how he met and eventually married
her. It was no easy task. He tells us he had to win her over by
"effraction", like a burglar breaking into a fairground fun-house. She just
swept over him in a whirlwind of mocking laughter and irresistible
inconsequential chatter.

Daumier was a devastatingly pretty blonde with a wicked tongue, who made her
mark on the tough world of the music hall with her zany mimicries of
Brigitte Bardot and other top-heavy stars of the 1960s and 1970s. She was an
inexhaustible source of hilarity who knew how to make an audience laugh
itself silly. It was that outrageous defiance of bourgeois common sense that
attracted Bedos, who finally tamed the tempest long enough to get her to the
altar in 1965. It was the start of a series of disasters.

In 1957, Daumier got her first big stage role in Marcel Achard's highly
successful comedy of manners Patate, in which she played opposite the great
classical actor Pierre Dux, who had been her drama teacher. He was a leading
light at the Comédie Française, and he thought very highly of her comic
talent. She could have played soubrettes in all the classical comedies of
Molière. But she preferred to tread the boards in more popular stuff.

Bedos was writing brilliant sketches for club theatre and music-hall
audiences, and they soon joined up together in a rapid succession of
ephemeral hits whose come-hither titles indicate the genre - Toutes les
salopes ("Up the Sluts"), La Drague ("Pickups") - which they introduced to a
dazzled public at La Nouvelle Eve and Galerie 55; their successes led them
to bigger stages such as the Bobino and the Olympia. It is curiously
significant that one of Bedos' later sketches was entitled Le Dictionnaire
medical, the first hint that all was not well with the couple. The same
rather sinister autobiographical note is sounded in the title Ce n'est qu'un
Au Revoir, in which the couple appeared at the Comédie des Champs Elysees
just before their break-up, in 1977. In 1978, he married Joelle Bercot.

Daumier was beginning to behave more strangely than usual. She was still a
popular figure on and off the stage. Because of what Bedos called her
"enormous laugh", the couple were often in demand at the first nights of
comedies where that laugh was music in the ears of authors and directors,
for it could set the whole theatre in a roar, thus assuring the success of
the new play with both audiences and the press.

She had many adoring friends on the "legitimate" stage - many of them, like
Bedos, former pupils at the drama school in the Rue Blanche: Jean-Paul
Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Marielle and Jean Rochefort. Among the comedians, the
stalwarts of Galerie 55, once a working conservatoire for wits such as
Raymond Devos, Jean Yanne and Roland Blanche - those fellow clowns remained
her admirers even after they became stars. They were all attracted by what
Bedos describes as "her genuine Pigalle-type with her pertly comic
street-urchin's face", her sexy, flouncing walk, her hyperactive erratic
gestures and her sharp delivery of crisp, pungent one-liners, the essence of
demotic irony.

Yet her comic style was the exact opposite of Bedos' suave Saint-Germain
snootiness. He adored the "song-poems" of Jacques Prévert and the new jazz
numbers and novels of Boris Vian, names that left Daumier cold. She was
totally different, in a crazy world of her own. Claude Sautet, who directed
her in a film starring Romy Schneider, Une histoire simple (A Simple Story,
1978), wrote:

It was a role I had written especially for Sophie. But she's quite
un-directable, indeed uncontrollable. She keeps starting her scenes before
I've shouted "Camera!" and goes on acting even after I've called "Cut!"

This was now typical Sophie behaviour, a dire foreboding of what was to

Bedos had finally had to leave home to spend the nights in hotels, as her
violent behaviour became more and more acute. She would tear up the scripts
he was rewriting for them, and she began to refuse to rehearse with him. In
the end, the situation became impossible, and he had to seek a divorce. "If
only I had known what was wrong with her, I'd never have divorced her," he
later declared.

Daumier's eccentric behaviour had become no longer funny. It became
downright alarming. Finally, she was diagnosed as suffering the first stages
of a rare hereditary disease, Huntington's chorea, named after the American
neurologist George Huntington who first discovered it. It is a disorder of
the brain that begins in early middle age, around 40, which was Daumier's
age when it was first diagnosed. The chorea (from the Greek word for
"dance", choreia) provokes involuntary spasmodic gestures and movements of
the facial muscles. It is a disease that works with debilitating slowness,
and results in a gradual deterioration of mental health from gradual
degeneration of the nervous system. The analogy with Daumier's often
frenzied movements on stage is tragically clear.

Guy Bedos supported her for the rest of her life, providing the best medical
attention and financial aid to the very end. When he discovered the nature
of her disease in a medical dictionary, he was overcome with horror. "I
would never have wished such a fate even on my worst enemy," he said.
Daumier gradually failed to recognise the faces of all those friends she had
made in her brief professional life. And Bedos himself had become a stranger
to her.

She was a great trouper. But she belonged to the common folk who loved her
zany patter and eccentric stage presence. Unlike Guy, she was no
Saint-Germain "intello". Yet it was one of their artistic idols, the stage a
nd screen actress Jeanne Moreau, who paid the greatest tribute to Sophie
Daumier on her death: "Sophie was not an intello - she was simply
intelligent, too intelligent to be just that!''

James Kirkup

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