Marcel Pagnol, one of the great creative minds of France in the 20th century, was commemorated in the Principality on the 50th anniversary of his death. On Tuesday, April 16, HSH Prince Albert paid public tribute in front of Pagnol’s memorial, which can be found in Monaco’s Square Marcel Pagnol, in the presence of Nicolas Pagnol, the grandson of the writer.

Pagnol died in Paris on April 18, 1974, as one of the most celebrated people to give a special identity to the life of Southern France. He was a gifted playwright and an esteemed filmmaker, but he also wrote several books, which are considered evergreens for French literature, such as “La gloire de mon père” and “Le château de ma mère”.

Yet he is also best known for his triptych about life in Marseille and in the Old Port of that city: Marius–Fanny–César, after his play, Topaze became a huge success in 1928. Pagnol became an artistic jack-of-all-trades, who was appointed a member of the prestigious Académie française immediately after the Second World War.

Marcel Pagnol lived in Monaco for ten years, first on the Boulevard d’Italie and then on the Boulevard des Moulins (in a villa demolished in the 1970s). He maintained a very good relationship with Prince Rainier III, who found in this contemporary of his father a confidant in the cultural field. Pagnol was appointed by the prince as president of the Prix Prince Pierre (the literary prize of Monaco) and as president of the Television Festival of Monte Carlo.

This is certainly also the reason why the country is commemorating the anniversary. Prince Albert recently said of Pagnol: “My father considered him a close friend, a confidant even. For a very long time, until the writer’s death, they maintained a continuous correspondence. He was the person in the literary and artistic world for whom he had the most affection.”

The Prince himself has few memories of Pagnol, who sometimes visited his father at the palace. “I was very young, but I remember the discussions between him and my father in the early seventies. I remember him as a very warm man who impressed me because I knew his films. Our generations have been immersed in a Pagnol culture, but it is important to pass on the taste for it to the youngest. Today, I continue to admire the filmmaker, the memoirist, and the writer. His work has not aged a bit.”

Marcel Pagnol was a special artist and there is even an adjective ‘pagnolesque’ to describe the type of people or situations he shows in his works. He was born (in 1895) and raised in the town of Aubagne, between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, where he studied philosophy at the university. He had to do military service because of the First World War and was assigned to a regiment in Nice.

After the war, Pagnol became a teacher in Marseilles and from that time on he devoted himself to writing plays. He had great success with the play Topaze and moved to Paris. Out of nostalgia, he then begins his trilogy about life in Marseilles with the titles in first names: Marius-Fanny-César. He chose the well-known actor, Raimu for the leading role of César. This piece was a huge success. In the 1930s he focused on making feature films and for the film version of Marius he worked with actors such as Raimu and Fernandel. Near Marseilles, he established a film studio, which is also described as the “Hollywood provençal”.

When he refused to participate in a propaganda film for the Nazis during the occupation in World War II, he withdrew and isolated himself in Monaco, but after the war he turned to filmmaking again, including the first French full-colour film, having also worked on a television adaptation of “les Lettres de mon moulin” by the Provençal writer Alphonse Daudet.

After Pognal’s daughter died from the effects of a ketosis attack, he immediately left Monaco out of grief, but retained ties to the palace. Thereafter, he devoted himself to writing several autobiographical books.

In a special issue of Nice-Matin about the writer, Pagnol is described by its editor Lionel Paoli as follows; “This eternally worried man has drawn on his career to shake up the energy that has allowed him to move mountains, without ever being able to fully reassure himself. The man who was taken for a dilettante of genius was at first a hard worker, an unsatisfied craftsman.”

Three years after his death, Prince Rainier III dedicated a small square near Place des Moulins to him. Underneath a monument is a quote from Pagnol about Monaco: “Here the arts can still live in the shade of the olive tree, on the shores of the Latin Sea, where the authority of one guards the freedom of all.”

On Tuesday, April 16, a commemorative plaque was also unveiled in front of the villa ‘La Lestra’, located at 12 Boulevard des Moulins, Pagnol’s residence from 1951 to 1954.

Featured image courtesy of the Communications Department: HSH Prince Albert and Nicolas Pagnol