La Machine à Ecrire par Jean Cocteau
Posted on February 4, 2016
In addition to being a poet, novelist, screenwriter and director, artist, painter, and designer, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was a dramatist of some repute. Of all the arts in which he worked, the theatre perhaps came most naturally to him.
On the claustrophobic and often treacherous social stage of the German Occupation, Cocteau managed to transform his vast social circle into a cast who supported him through the War.
Widely known as a homosexual and trapped in a “situation limite”, Cocteau played to whatever part of an audience might best appreciate him, no matter who might be seated in that section of the house.
La Machine à Ecrire (The Typewriter) opened, then closed, then reopened at le Théâtre Hébertot à Paris in 1941.
Images from the archives of L’Association de la Régie Théâtrale – La Mémoire du Théâtre
Written in the style of a detective drama, the play starred the actor generally known – at least in the entertainment world at the time – as Cocteau’s sometime lover and perpetual companion, Jean Marais.
Performed in 1941 at the time of the Vichy Government and German occupation, the play (generally considered to be Cocteau’s worst) was perceived as a discernible expression of contemporary homosexual sensibility.
Violent protests, directed towards Cocteau rather than as a reaction to the play itself, and organised by fascist sympathisers and members of the Party Populaire Française (PPF), France’s largest collaborationist party, disrupted the play’s premiere performance. Stink bombs were let off in the aisles and hoodlums climbed on stage to shout obscenities at Cocteau and Marais.
Original theatre programme 1941
Bizarrely, the Vichy Government took exception to the play more than the German occupiers, who intervened to allow Cocteau’s play to reopen after the French authorities tried to ban it on the grounds of immorality. Of course, the Nazis were being neither progressive nor liberal-minded.
… Himmler argued that Germany’s interests lay in encouraging the degenerating consequences of homosexuality amongst the subject peoples, hence accelerating their decline. Homosexuals in [occupied] France had more to fear from homophobia within.
According to Himmler …”the conspiracy of homosexuals must be viewed side by side with the world Jewish conspiracy” for the two were “bent on destroying the German state and race as the implacable enemies of German virtue and will”. Thus Himmler’s reasoning in permitting homosexuality outside Germany, as bizarre as it may seem today, perhaps made sense to his fellow Nazis.
Extracts from “A Queer Premiere: Jean Cocteau’s The Typewriter (PDF)
Auric, Cocteau, Radiguet au Piquey: by Jean Hugo, 1923, Dessin au crayon