Fernand Gravet — Parisian Playboy (1938) 🇺🇸
Something about a young man who takes his play as well as his work seriously.
by Terry Kelly
The first streaks of dawn were pushing over the sky when that bunch of startled people began tumbling out of the apartment house door into the street. A fire drill could have been no more efficient, and Fernand Gravet, watching from a nearby car, was laughing himself sick.
This was vengeance the way he wanted it. Almost everyone living in this building had pulled jokes on him during the past six months. His friends in Paris were growing a little dull with their charges that he, as a fellow jokester, was slipping.
So Fernand, sitting there in the car, saw Marie and Jacques, and a lot of other thespians in their night clothes hurtle out the door and shiver in the cold dawn.
Fernand leaned out the window and blew them a kiss. “Now, my friends, you may return to your beds,” he shouted as the car drew away.
The noted comedian had bided his time before pulling this coup. Then, early one morning, he drove to the theatrical hotel, slipped past the concierge with a bundle under his cloak, and moved happily to the top floor.
There, in the hall, he planted his first gift for his pals, a nice loud noise bomb. And on each succeeding floor he did the same, then departed to his car to watch the results.
Yes, Fernand got his revenge, but like all events of this sort, he was of course laying himself open to further retribution from the victims of this little affair.
The French actor was in a reminiscent mood when we found him idle for a moment out at Warner Brothers.
He had been working all morning on a scene for Fools for Scandal, his second American appearance under the banner of Mervyn LeRoy. Carole Lombard and Ralph Bellamy were in the scene with him. Carole had been laughing hysterically at Fernand’s grave face. And truthfully, the graver Fernand looks, the funnier he is. That just happens to be the chief way he makes you laugh.
Well, just as Fernand finished the scene, he spied an acquaintance over at one side reading the morning paper. Fernand has the memory of two elephants. He recalled almost instantly this was the chap who introduced him to the little joke of “hot foot” by putting a match along Fernand’s shoes when he wasn’t looking, and then lighting it.
So the actor slipped over beside his friend, calmly pulled out a cigarette lighter, and touched off the top edge of the newspaper. The chap was so engrossed with the sports page that he did not notice the flames until they had eaten away a good portion of his material. Then he leaped to his feet, very startled, and began shouting wildly.
Fernand beamed. “That,” he said, “is our favorite version of your American match game. Do you enjoy it?” And was off to his dressing room where we were getting a bird’s eye view of the fun.
That’s how Fernand happened to be in a reminiscent mood. Things like these reminded him strongly of Paris, where he and the pals who moved around town with him were unmerciful in the jokes they played on each other. Outsiders seldom bore the brunt of these pranks. To fool someone who was innocent of the constant plotting and counter-plotting going on among this group was akin to shooting a rabbit with a shot gun. The idea always was pleasant revenge on friends who ought to be smart enough to see the joke coming.
There was the time, for instance, when Fernand and a friend named George arranged a neat little conspiracy against a third actor called Jacques. At least, these names will do to tell the story.
The trio had just arrived back in town from a London engagement and registered at a hotel. Jacques, coming across on the boat, had duped both Fernand and George with one of his pleasant little jokes, so the other two, upon arriving at the hotel, went to the manager for a conference.
“Our friend, Jacques, is a little difficult but not dangerous,” they explained to the official. “He is suffering from a mental malady called dementia praecox. Will you please instruct all of your employees to ignore his orders and do as we say? Fine. Jacques should not be served liquor of any sort. Always oblige him with a glass of soda. And whenever he orders meat, be sure he is served with nothing but the finest vegetables.”
The manager agreed readily, and the first explosion came a few hours later when Jacques ordered a brandy to be brought to his quarters. The waiter appeared with soda water. Jacques was patient, and carefully re-ordered. The waiter soon returned with more soda water, and poor Jacques went into a rage. Of course the employee left convinced this was a madman.
At dinner that night the three of them looked over a menu and Jacques ordered a fish dinner to be carefully prepared. The waiter, another fellow who had heard of this man’s rages, wrote the order hurriedly and departed. It was no pleasure on his part to return presently with a vegetable plate, arranged as nicely as the chef could suggest.
Jacques immediately roared his wrath. His two friends tried calming him down between chuckles, but were not too successful.
“Really, it looked like our joke had gone far enough,” Fernand recalled, smiling over a cigarette. “But Jacques walked out on us after refusing our company. An hour later he was in his room with a private bottle of brandy, feeding his injured pride. It was not long before he was disturbing guests on the floor with some very bad singing.
“Finally the manager came to us, imploring that we stop this business. We tried to shut Jacques up, but got nowhere. The manager’s patience was at an end. He disappeared, but presently returned with two strong policemen, and then we were in a fix.
“It took a good hour to convince them this was all a joke. Meantime, even after our explanations, they were all for ejecting our friend from the hotel for being too noisy. Finally, God bless him, he solved that problem for us by going to sleep. But the joke was scarcely worth the grief.”
It would be a mistake to gather from this that Fernand Gravet is forever playing jokes on other people and never having them played on him. Not at all. For instance, on another occasion, Fernand was dining with some friends who had him served with raw carrots, uncooked peas, and similar things. It looked like Fernand could do little but eat them in apparent unconcern, or else be laughed at heartily.
Fernand chose neither course. He picked up a raw carrot, carefully carved it into the shape of a fish, and got up. His purpose was to be funnier than those who planned this hoax. So he walked across the room to where some goldfish were gamboling about in a little pool. Concealing the carrot in his right hand, he apparently dipped down in the water and came up with a wiggly fish which he downed with one gulp. Patrons put down their forks and stared unbelievingly. One woman shouted hysterically and left the room. Then a couple of husky waiters moved in on him and assisted the “poor demented man” out of the room.
The carrot was gone down inside him. There was no evidence, then, to prove his innocence, and he had no desire for a stomach pump. So Fernand’s friends, realizing he was trapped in his own joke, let him soundly suffer with the visions of a straight jacket before they finally rescued him!
“And then there was another thing, more recent. We had a friend who was the son of an auto manufacturer. One day the fellow showed up with a new, beautiful car,” Fernand reminisced. “He demonstrated it repeatedly to everyone, and was horribly proud of it.
“Well, some of us slipped over to his father’s factory, got to the right man, and secured a set of duplicate keys. Then we began trailing him. Several times we pulled the same stunt. He would park his car and enter a building. We would climb in and drive away. Presently he would discover the car missing, and go to phone the police. When he returned, there was the car again.
“One day — the last time we tried this little conspiracy, he was all ready for us. He entered the building as usual, but had already planted officers near the car. When we drove away in it, we were suddenly seized upon and taken into custody. Really, it was most embarrassing. I said to the officer, ‘I am Fernand Gravet. I have not stolen this car. It is just a joke.’ And the officer replied, ‘My name is Rudolph Valentino. Come on to jail.’”
Well, no wonder they call Fernand Gravet the Parisian Playboy. He has a strong sense of the ridiculous, and can spend hours arranging some little thing which will panic the crowd. Perhaps that is how he sharpens up the amazing facility he possesses for comedy. For in Paris, even as in Hollywood, this young and handsome fellow is toasted for his great acting.
American films were never able to secure Gravet before he met Mervyn LeRoy. But after these two men got acquainted, and found themselves in so many ways kindred spirits, Fernand agreed to come to the United States for one picture a year. If you saw “The King and the Chorus Girl” a year ago, then you realize what an excellent guess LeRoy made in signing this young Frenchman.
Gravet, as a human being, will fool you. He almost always looks extraordinarily serious. He talks with keen facility on almost any subject you wish. He does not sound particularly humorous.
But once you get the man in action, either as an actor or as an every day personality, that delight of comedy begins to creep out in his movements, his reactions to situations. Sometimes he confounds you by being elderly in conversation for a few moments, then completely reversing his field to appear almost boyish.
In Fools for Scandal, a mad comedy such as America enjoys so much these days, Fernand gets excellent opportunities for his special brand of acting. When you add to Gravet the irrepressible Carole Lombard, it is inevitable that this picture will be full of funny, impossible and delightful situations.
This is the engaging smile which Fernand Gravet turns at the camera as well as at his practical-joking friends.
Gracie Allen speaks with a fine fury on a matter close to her heart. “Husbands Are Exasperating” she says, and tells just why in some detail.
The inflammable George Burns always has something to say, too, and he says it is under the title “So Are Wives!”
You’ll find this funny story in the June issue of HOLLYWOOD Magazine.
... on the stands May 8. Don’t Miss It.
Source: Hollywood, May 1938