Often regarded as second only to Shakespeare, Molière remains one of the greats of European literature, known particularly for a series of comedies that puncture bourgeois pretension. He collaborated several times with Lully (eventually falling out), with Charpentier, and with his longstanding colleague Corneille. Molière, his close contemporary La Fontaine, and the younger Boileau (both friend and supporter) and Racine, were celebrated as the so-called Quartet of the rue du Vieux Colombier. Having premiered Racine’s first play, Molière’s relations with him went disastrously wrong. He died following an onstage haemorrhage while playing the hypochondriac in his own Le Malade imaginaire.
Pinter is generally recognised as the most influential post-war English dramatist, writing to disturb, not to please. Beckett became both friend and mentor, a role Pinter later played for Mamet. Always politicised, he went to Turkey with his friend Miller to investigate the torture of writers, read a defiant lecture of Rushdie’s, and joined Chomsky in berating US foreign policy. He wrote screenplays for Kazan, Schrader, Reisz and (especially – their collaboration was described as ‘perfect’) Losey. Osborne, Mamet and Stoppard were frequent correspondents as well as friends. Pinter underestimated the demands of portraiture, Freud’s painting abandoned after two sittings.
Keaton was one of the silent-screen greats, and as gifted a film-maker as actor. He himself claimed that Houdini (a friend and business partner of his father’s, a regular visitor in the house) gave him his nickname. Chaplin tried to stop him signing away his independence, and much later directed him in their one film together. Wilder and Lester both directed him too, Wilder as a bridge-player (he said he was tournament standard), Lester in his last film. Beckett unsuccessfully tried to get him to converse, but was impressed by his stamina and professionalism in front of the camera.
Gravelly, uncompromising, oddball: Waits is a one-off. He said he knelt at the altar of Ray Charles for years, and once shook his hand at an airport. Richards, proposed as a dream collaborator, became a friend and played on several tracks. Bryars said an afternoon spent recording with him was as beautiful a musical experience as he could remember. Jarmusch, Coppola (a long-time friend) and Altman all cast him in films. He called Gilliam a man you’d want in the boat at the end of the world. Waits worked on three pieces with Wilson (one with Burroughs), and said nobody had affected him as much as an artist.
Prévert and his better-known older brother Jacques worked extensively together, on a number of films. Duhamel also collaborated with the brothers on their first film (and in many other film projects), Ray and Boiffard also being roped in. As well as directing and writing, Prévert played parts in front of the camera – often uncredited – for Vigo, Renoir, Cavalcanti and Buñuel (L’Age d’Or), among others — and appeared in front of and behind the camera for Grimault.
Welles imposed himself on screen, stage and radio. He said Ellington was the only genius he’d met, other than himself. Wilder helped him get started; Wright worked with him on a triumphant stage production. By the time they met, H. G. Wells had softened his antagonism to Welles’ famous adaptation of his novel. Huston directed him, as did Zinnemann, Nichols, Chabrol and most famously Reed — the over-sensitive Welles initially refusing to be filmed in the Vienna sewers. Armstrong knew him and collaborated on a project (ultimately compromised) about jazz history. He corresponded with Eisenstein, and as a stage act sawed Dietrich in half.
Kazan directed Brando in the two films that made his name, Coppola in two of the three that salvaged his reputation (Bertolucci directed the other). Williams knew when he opened his door to him that he’d found the character he’d written, Capote famously interviewed him, and Milestone found him contradictory (Brando wore ear-plugs so he couldn’t hear him). He was a regular at the legendary Paris club Le Boeuf sur le Toît, and delivered Gréco back to her hotel on his motorcycle. Nicholson was his neighbour, and following Brando’s death bought his house, then out of respect for him, had it demolished.
Duhamel rented a house in Montparnasse, so that he, his friend Jacques Prévert (met on military service in Istanbul, who later wrote screenplays for him) and Tanguy could share it and “avoid misery.” Becoming one of the main bases of the surrealist movement, Queneau, fresh from military service, and Pérét also stayed there. In the 1950’s Duhamel persuaded Gallimard to publish the so-called Série noire, crime-writing, mostly American and in translation; he met Hemingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck and Caldwell through his publishing activities, and persuaded the hard-up Himes, whose work he’d already translated, to write crime fiction for him. (There is little online about Duhamel.)
She had been Grémillon’s favourite actress. Barrault was her third husband; together they set up an influential theatre-company, giving premières to Beckett, Ionesco and Genet among others. The 21-year-old Boulez became their musical director for 10 years, Renaud treating him like a son. Beckett entrusted her with his work without at first really knowing her; she worked with him for weeks to get ‘Not I’ right. She also worked closely with Duras and Sarraute, both writing pieces specifically for her, and was directed by Wilson. Desnos wrote to a mutual friend from Terezin before he died, sending Renaud (and Barrault) a kiss.
The 20-year-old Gréco encountered Vian, Cocteau and Davis — with whom she had a long affair — at a Paris nightclub. She called Vian her “incestuous brother.” Queneau and Prévert wrote songs for her. She starred in Cocteau’s ‘Orphée’, sang with her idol Brassens, was taken back to her hotel on a motorcycle by Brando, and met Welles in Hollywood. Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus were others she met in post-war Paris. She invited the young Gainsbourg to write for her, and was blunt with Michaux about his lyrics. Merleau-Ponty, in the vain hope of seducing her, threw gravel at her bedroom window.