WCW: Madame du Barry

19

Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry (1743-93) gets a LOT of filmic love! This 18th-century mistress of Louis XV came from the working classes, so I think perhaps that’s why she’s so interesting to us.

François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of Madame du Barry (1743-1793), 18th century, via Wikimedia Commons

François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of Madame du Barry (1743-1793), 18th century, via Wikimedia Commons

Born the illegitimate daughter of a seamstress, she ended up getting a convent education thanks to her mother’s employer. At some point her mother was fired, so Jeanne left the convent and took on a number of jobs, ending up a shopgirl in a milliner’s shop. She was scouted by a high-class pimp named Jean-Baptiste du Barry who made her his mistress, and established her as a popular courtesan to the nobility and well-to-do in Paris.

King Louis XV spotted Jeanne at Versailles, and the two struck up a relationship. She had to be married in order to be presented at court, so du Barry and the king arranged for her to marry du Barry’s brother, Comte Guillaume du Barry.

François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of the Countess Du Barry as Flora, 1769, Palace of Versailles

François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of the Countess Du Barry as Flora, 1769, Palace of Versailles

Given her low class roots, Jeanne was scorned by much of court society. She was eventually presented formally at court, after which Louis XV made her “maitresse en titre” (titled mistress, an official position in the French court). She was a style leader, known for her luxurious wardrobe, and much criticized by the public for her extravagant spending (it was she who commissioned the famous diamond necklace that caused Marie-Antoinette so much trouble). She and Marie-Antoinette (who married the heir to the throne) had a tense relationship.

Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Louis XV died in 1774, and she was first sent to a convent. Eventually she managed to buy property and establish herself, and had several love affairs.

Du Barry was executed in the French Revolution. She owned an enslaved man, Zamor, who became involved with the revolutionaries; when du Barry found out, she fired him (EDIT: ordered him to quit her service), and he then denounced her. She famously was terrified on her way to the guillotine, screaming and crying “You are going to hurt me! Why?!”

Now, let’s run down the famous Madame du Barry on film!

 

Du Barry (1914)

An early Italian silent film, so early that there’s no cast listed on IMDB!

1914 Du Barry

I assume that’s du Barry on the right?

 

Du Barry (1915)

Another silent, based on a play, starring Leslie Carter.

1915 DuBarry

A photo from the stage production in 1901.

 

Madame Du Barry (1917)

Yet another silent film, this one starring Theda Bara (known best for Cleopatra) — I guess that’s why all the eye makeup? We reviewed the hair.

1917 Madame du Barry

YES TRYSTAN I AM USING A PUPPY PICTURE

1917 Madame du Barry

A surviving costume from the film. Note all the ermine tails on the skirt!

1917 Madame du Barry

I actually really like this — the giant hat, the capelet, the crazy floral trim… but then I’m weird that way.

1917 Madame du Barry

KWEEN

 

Madame DuBarry (1919)

The silent era LOVED du Barry! This was a German filmed directed by the famed Ernst Lubitsch (NinotchkaHeaven Can Wait) starring Polish actress (and Hollywood success) Pola Negri. We reviewed the hair.

1919 Madame du Barry

It’s face-eating wig time!

1919 Madame du Barry

Ok, this is cute! I like the little hat.

1919 Madame du Barry

From her formal court presentation?

 

Du Barry, Woman of Passion (1930)

Another adaptation of the 1901 play, this time with talking and starring Norma Talmadge.

1930 Du Barry, Woman of Passion

1770s, Regency, who cares!

1930 Du Barry, Woman of Passion

I’m getting a Nell Gwyn vibe here…

 

Madame Du Barry (1934)

The BALLS OUT BEAUTIFUL film we’ve never been able to track down — but I finally have! Look for a review soon-ish. Dolores del Rio plays du Barry, with costumes by Orry-Kelly.

Madame du Barry (1934)

They decided to COMMIT to the feathers!

Madame du Barry (1934)

That’s a LOT of floof!

Madame du Barry (1934)

I do love 1930s-does-18th century, especially the hair…

1934 Madame du Barry

A chemise a la reine over a hoop — why not!

 

The Loves of Madame Dubarry (1935)

A British film based on a stage operetta, although I can’t tell if there’s singing in the film version. Du Barry was played by Gitta Alpar, a Hungarian-born opera singer, so I’m guessing yes!

1935 The Loves of Madame Dubarry

This feels very Southern Belle…

1935 The Loves of Madame Dubarry

Okay that cape SCREAMS 1930s!

 

Marie Antoinette (1938)

Gladys George plays the relatively small part of du Barry in this Norma-Shearer-as-Marie-Antoinette biopic. Du Barry and Marie-Antoinette basically scoff at each other before du Barry gets tossed.

1938 Marie Antoinette

SO pretty!

1938 Marie Antoinette

 

Remontons les Champs-Élysées (1939)

One of director Sacha Guitry’s episodic vignettes-through-history films. Ariane Pathé plays du Barry, but I’m guessing it’s not a very big role based on the one other Guitry film I’ve watched.

1938 Let's Go Up the Champs-Élysées

 

DuBarry Was a Lady (1943)

A musical comedy starring Lucille Ball, in which there’s a dream sequence set in the 18th century where Ball becomes du Barry.

best costume oscar

Many of the costumes were reworn from Marie Antoinette (1938), so they’re actually really beautiful!

Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)

Including wigs.

Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)

Ok I would totally wear that hat!

 

Black Magic (1949)

How have I never heard of this??!! Orson Welles plays hypnotist/charlatan Comte de Cagliostro. I can only find one image of Margot Grahame as du Barry, so it must be a small part. This is definitely on my shortlist!

1949 Black Magic

This must be Louis XV dying?

 

Die Dubarry (1951)

A German film that I think is a musical, in which case it may be another adaptation of the operetta. Sari Barabas plays du Barry.

1951 Die Dubarry

 

Madame du Barry (1954)

A French biopic starring Martine Carol, with super cotton-candy costumes.

1954 Madame du Barry

This is really pretty.

1954 Madame du Barry

There’s a LOT of princess seams in this sucker.

1954 Madame du Barry

I was entertained!

 

Die Dubarry (1975)

Another German adaptation of the operetta, with Gail Robinson as du Barry.

1975 Die Dubarry

THIS WIG MAKES ME CACKLE SO HARD!!! Must remember for when I do my 1970s-does-historical-hair post!

 

Marie Antoinette (1975)

A French TV miniseries that I plan to review … someday! Michèle Grellier plays du Barry.

1975 Marie Antoinette

 

The Rose of Versailles (1980)

I like to include this one, because you fans are SO RABID! The animated Japanese film.

1980 The Rose of Versailles

 

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Asia Argento plays a goth dreamgirl du Barry in Sofia Coppola’s Marie-Antoinette biopic.

“She BURPED (shudder).”

This is so not historically accurate, but it’s fabulous and it makes the point.

I’m not sure which costume Trystan wants more! [Editor’s Note: DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE!]

Louis XV, le soleil noir (2009)

A French TV movie biopic about King Louis XV. Du Barry is played by Carolie Revel.

2009 Louis XV, le soleil noir

I have a LOT of questions about her outfit.

2009 Louis XV, le soleil noir

Somebody went a little crazy with the prints…

 

 

Who’s your favorite du Barry? Which of these films that we haven’t reviewed should we get to first? If you pick one of the silent films, you’re outta luck!

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

19 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    Orson Welles gained all that weight from all the scenery he chewed. He even ended up in a Superman comic book in 18th-century costume. Superman saves him from real Martians. This came out late 49s-early 50s. Fame is where you find it. I remember seeing Black Magic very late one night back in the days of black-and-white TV. Has anyone ever done a halfway decent film about Giuseppe Balsamo? He seems to appear as a supporting character in a lot of stories, but never stars.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Excellent point, thank you for making it. I’ve edited the post to reflect that she “ordered him to quit her service.” Not entirely sure how that works, given that right, he is enslaved. Thanks for keeping us on the right track!

      Reply
  2. Jamie LaMoreaux

    the poor woman was literally dragged from her home by the tribunal, she was an elderly woman known for her charity work and kindness. the neighborhood granny. when they dragged her up the steps to the national barber, they had to pry her fingers off the railings. she was sobbing and weeping, and begging them for mercy. THAT started the end of the love for the guillotine.
    I rented out her living room when friends and I went to Paris in 2010. the restaurant at the end of the street (il Tambour) was owned by her dwarf, the one who ratted on her to the authorities. her home had been split up into a lot of different apartments, we rented the first floor (european) front rooms. it was lovely, loud and I can say I slept in Madam du Barrys living room. :-)

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Yes, the crowd was shocked and very upset. They saw a woman like themselves, acting like a normal, terrified human being instead of an aristo with a stiff upper lip seeming almost inhuman in their composure. That together with du Barry’s good local reputation and by then remote royal connection made people start to rethink what they were doing.

      Reply
  3. Lily Lotus Rose

    I love Orry-Kelly, so my vote is for a review of his version! The costume with the 1,000 ermine tails is gorgeous!! Out these pics, the women who look most like the portraits of du Barry are Martine Carol from Madame du Barry (1954) and Michele Grellier from Marie Antoinette (1975).

    Reply
  4. LisaS

    After seeing that Drouais portrait at the beginning of your narrative – I am convinced Maisie Williams must be cast in a new movie about du Barry.

    Reply
  5. SarahV

    Dubarry was a Lady is one my favorite movies, but people look at me funny when I say that out loud because it’s quasi-obscure.

    Lucille Ball at her most luminous in big, floufy Frenchified dresses!!!! It’s delightful.

    Reply
  6. Popka Superstar

    I’ve seen the 1919 one, and honestly can’t remember what the costumes were like. I enjoyed it though. I’d love a review of it because I find historical fashion filtered through other historical fashion so interesting.

    Reply
  7. Natasha Rubin

    I have to say, I really love when you do MCM and WCWs for historical figures! It’s really cool to see all the onscreen versions compared.

    Reply
  8. Kari Ronning

    The 1915 “DuBarry” film may well have started stage actress Mrs Leslie Carter ,a noted stage actress c. 1900-1910s. I don’t know anything about any Mr. Leslie Carter. Some actresses used the Mrs. to signal respectability (Mrs Kendal) or to take it (Mrs Patrick Campbell)

    Reply
  9. DuBarry

    I’m extremely glad to come by this article! People who know me know well enough my deep love for this woman. Ever sice I read her description in Antonia Frasier’s Marie Antoinette bio, I was hooked! This lead me to buying up to 30 or so bios and related books of Du Barry, not to mention had a replica of the diamond necklace made and recently purchased a copy of Pajou’s well-known bust. I own quite a few of the above films in DVD and Bluray, but I still deeply yearn a detail-saturated miniseries (because a movie is too short) with well researched material and proper looking actors to give this woman the cinematic fame she truly deserved! It would be my greatest wish to time-travel to 22nd April 1769 Versailles and see her wearing the presentation gown, which I am sure was the most splendid she ever wore in her life!

    Reply

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