Although attracted to the theatre from his early youth, Gratien Gélinas
realized it was practically impossible to make a career on the stage in
those difficult times. Forced to give up his classical studies at the
Collège de Montréal due to the economic depression, he went to work for
an insurance company, first as a book-keeper and later as a publicist.
To improve his chances of being promoted, he registered at the Ecole des
Hautes Études commerciales de Montréal, where he completed the entire
At the same time, along with a few former classmates, he founded La
Troupe des Anciens du Collège de Montréal. For the next four years, the
young amateur actors presented about three productions each season in
the auditorium of their Alma Mater. That gave Gratien Gélinas the chance
to satisfy an irresistible taste for acting contracted during his
student days. He also made his debut as a monologist during the
Gratien Gélinas joined the Montreal Repertory Theatre, where a number of
the city's most experienced non-professional actors worked under the
direction of Martha Allan. Here he acted in English as well as in
French, taking on Shakespeare for the first time with the role of Dr.
Caïus in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
After participating in occasional broadcasts, particularly at
Radio-Canada, he made his formal debut as a radio actor on CKAC, in
Robert Choquette's Le Curé de Village, the first series to
be presented in Montreal.
Gratien Gélinas was first recognized as a monologist with the general
public in the revue Télévise-moi ça! written by Louis
Francoeur and Jean Béraud and presented at the Théâtre Saint-Denis in
He faced a sound camera for the first time playing the comic lead in a
one-hour publicity film made in New York for a commercial company.
On CKAC radio, he created the Fridolin character in a
series of his own writings entitled Le Carrousel de la gaieté
(The Happy Merry-Go-Round). Thanks to the rapid success of this
program, he was able to leave his job at the insurance company. From
then on, Gratien Gélinas lived and worked exclusively in theatre and
He brought the Fridolin character to the stage in his own topical revue
Fridolinons, which played 24 times at the Monument
National, a record run for Montreal, where three or four performances
was the average for most successful shows.
The radio program starring Fridolin acquired a new name with a new
sponsor, becoming Le Train de Plaisir (The Pleasure
Train) for the next two seasons.
Gratien Gélinas presented his second revue, Fridolinons '39
in Montreal and Quebec City.
Acclaimed as the most popular actor of the year, he was the recipient of
the first Gold Medal awarded by the Montreal newspaper Radiomonde.
The growing success of his revues prompted Gratien Gélinas to devote all
his time to his stage work and to give up the radio program he had been
writing and performing in for the last three seasons, concurrently with
his theatre activities. Fridolinons '40 was presented in
Montreal and Quebec City, and the success continued through 1946.
Note: The Fridolinons revues included about 20 actors, 12
dancers and a 15 member orchestra. The numerous scenery and lighting
changes required the services of some fifteen technicians. As this was a
purely commercial venture, the show, to be profitable, had to play to an
average capacity of 85% at the Monument National in Montreal (1400
seats) and at the Théâtre Capitol in Quebec City (1800 seats).
Gratien Gélinas wrote and produced La Dame aux Camélias,
la vraie, a parody of Dumas's work, in which he starred as Fridolin.
Presented during the Fridolinons '43 revue, this
short-length film, is the first fiction sound colour film to be produced
In Montreal and Chicago, Gratien Gélinas starred with Miriam Hopkins in
St. Lazare's Pharmacy by Miklos Laszlo, under the
direction of Eddie Dowling.
Back in Montreal, Gratien Gélinas presented Fridolinons '46
which contained, in addition to new sketches, some of the highlights of
his past revues. This revue of revues ran for 82 performances,
and Mr. Gélinas planned to make it the last of the Fridolinons.
The sketches of his revues, in terms of length and form, have gradually
begun to look like one-act plays and Mr. Gélinas felt it was time to try
his hand at a three-act play.
On May 22, Tit-Coq, Gratien Gélinas's first full length
play, opened at the Monument National. As it was late in the season,
only a few performances were given in Montreal and Quebec City before
summer closing. At the end of September, the play re-opened at the
Théâtre Gésu and ran continuously in Montreal until early in June of the
January 29 of 1949 marked the 100th performance of Tit-Coq. The Mayor of
Montreal, Camilien Houde, Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis and
Monseigneur Joseph Charbonneau, the Archbishop of Montreal, were among
the notables attending the gala celebration of this event, which was
without precedent in Canadian theatre.
Gélinas was awarded the Grand Prix of the Société des Auteurs
dramatiques de Montréal.
On the occasion of the 150th performance of Tit-Coq, at a
gala presentation at the University of Montreal, Gratien Gélinas
received an Honorary Doctorate, the first ever awarded to a member of
the theatre in Canada.
The play continued to enjoy success in an English translation as well.
The presentation of Ti-Coq by the same company of Quebec
actors in the country's two official languages was another first in
Canada. Three years later, the same will be done on television with
Roger Lemelin's Plouffe Family, and with all of Mr.
Gélinas's subsequent plays.
Gratien Gélinas began a three-year appointment as a Board member of the
National Film Board.
After its English run in Montreal, Ti-Coq was presented in
Toronto, Chicago and New York. An extensive tour in both languages took
play into several Canadian cities, with performances sometimes being
given in English and in French on the same day, to meet the demand of
the audiences. Gratien Gélinas's company gave a total of 542
performances, breaking all Canadian records. (It is significant to note
that grants and subsidies for the performing arts were still a long way
off in Canada).
Mr. Gélinas was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of
Gratien Gélinas adapted Tit-Coq for the screen. He
produced the film himself, co-directing it with René Delacroix.
received the Film of the Year Award from the Canadian Film Awards.
TV season as author and star of the series Les quat' fers en l'air
on the Radio-Canada network.
Gratien Gélinas wrote his tenth topical revue, re-introducing the
Fridolin character, which he presented at the beginning of the following
year at the Orpheum Theatre, in Montreal, under the title of
A season with the Stratford Shakespearean Festival (Ontario). Under the
direction of Michael Langham, Gratien Gélinas once again took the role
of Dr. Caïus in The Merry Wives of Windsor, which he
played with the Montreal Repertory Theatre in 1933. He also played
Charles VI in Henry V, with Christopher Plummer in the
title role. At the end of the season, the company was invited to the
Edimburgh Internationl Festival.
Gratien Gélinas was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Greater Montreal Arts
Council, a position he occupied until 1963.
He announced his decision to start a theatre movement whose primary
function was to foster a national character in the performing arts
through the presentation of Canadian works. For this purpose, he bought
and renovated the old Gayety Theatre in Montreal, with backing from the
Quebec Government and Dow Breweries. He founded the Comédie-Canadienne
and became its director.
was presented on stage and on radio in Finland and Sweden.
Gratien Gélinas was made a Member of the Royal Society of Canada.
Gratien Gélinas's second play, Bousille et les Justes
opened at the Comédie-Canadienne. Mr. Gélinas played the part of
Bousille, directing the play in co-operation with Jean Doat. More than
300 performances were given, in English and in French, in 26 Canadian
cities, particularly at the Vancouver International Festival. It was
also Canada's official dramatic presentation at the Seattle World's
Mr. Gélinas was appointed Vice-President of the Union des Artistes de
Montréal and President of the Canadian Theatre Centre for the year .
Gratien Gélinas was a Founding Member of the National Theatre School of
Bousille et les Justes
was televised in English and in French on the two national networks.
At the Comédie-Canadienne, Gratien Gélinas stages and plays the lead
part in his eleventh topical revue, Le diable à quatre.
Bousille et les Justes
was televised in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland by the British
Broadcasting Corporation. Stage adaptations and presentations were done
in Finland, Czechoslovakia and Germany.
Gratien Gélinas's third play, Hier les enfants dansaient,
opened at the Comédie-Canadienne, under his direction.
He received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan.
A committee appointed by the Canadian Centennial Library, under the
chairmanship of the Right Honourable Vincent Massey, named Gratien
Gélinas one of the twenty-five great Canadians whose achievements
stand out above all others in the century since Confederation.
Hier les enfants dansaient
was presented at the Charlottetown Festival in an English version by
Mavor Moore, under the title Yesterday the Children Were Dancing.
Gratien Gélinas was awarded the Grand Prix de Théâtre Victor-Morin by
the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal.
He was awarded the Order of Canada Medal for exceptional services
rendered to the Nation.
Honorary Doctorate from McGill University, Montreal.
Television presentation of Yesterday the Children Were Dancing
on the CBC national network.
Honorary Doctorate from the University of New Brunswick.
Special Award from the Concert Society of the Jewish People's Schools
for the outstanding contribution of Mr. Gélinas to the Canadian theatre.
Gratien Gélinas was appointed Chairman of the Canadian Film Development
Honorary Doctorate from Trent University.
Yesterday the Children Were Dancing
was presented through the United States on the educational television
by Gratien Gélinas, La Dame aux Camélias (1942) and
Tit-Coq (1952) were presented at the Journées
cinématographiques de Poitiers (France).
In May, Mr. Gélinas sold his interests in the Comédie-Canadienne theatre
to the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde, of Montreal.
Mr. Gélinas headed the Canadian Delegation to the XXVe Festival
International du Film in Cannes, as he did again in 1975.
On December 16, première of Bousille et les Justes at the
Chem Theatre (Czechoslovakia), in a Czech adaptation by Ivana
was presented at the Théâtre de la Renaissance in Paris.
Honorary Doctorate from Mount Allison University (New Brunswick).
Gélinas directed a revival of Bousille et les Justes at
the Nouvelle Compagnie Théâtrale in Montreal.
The revival of Bousille et les Justes continued at the
Compagnie Jean Duceppe in Montreal, the Théâtre du Trident in Quebec
City, the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and the Théâtre Populaire du
Québec, which took the play on tour to some thirty Canadian cities. The
567 professional performances given so far of Bousille et les
Justes broke the national record, held until now by
Tit-Coq, Gratien Gélinas's first play.
Yesterday the Children Were Dancing
was included in this season's program at the Peterborough Summer Theatre
On February 28, Gratien Gélinas left the chairmanship of the Canadian
Film Development Corporation, to go back to his first calling as
playwright and actor.
Following two years of revision and compilation, publication by
Montreal's Editions Quinze, of Fridolinades 45-46, the
first publication of four volumes presenting the sketches of his
Fridolinons! revues, written by Mr. Gélinas from 1938 to 1946
Bousille and the Just
was presented at the Lodz Theatre (Poland) in a Polish version by
Publication by Editions Quinze, of Montreal, of Fridolinades 43-44
and Fridolinades 41-42.
Gratien Gélinas directed a revival of Tit-Coq at the
Nouvelle compagnie Théatrale, in Montreal.
Preparation for publication of Fridolinades 38-39-40.
Gratien Gélinas played the part of Sam Latour, in English and French, in
the feature film The Tin Flute, based on the novel by
Gabrielle Roy, directed by Claude Fournier.
Gratien Gélinas was elected First Vice-Chairman of L'Union des Artistes,
of Montreal, occupying this position until April 1985.
He adapted for Radio-Canada (Television) his play Tit-Coq,
which he directed in cooperation with Florent Forget.
He played the part of Father Martineau in Norman Jewison's feature film
Agnes of God, with Jane Fonda and Ann Bancroft.
Gélinas was made Chevalier of L'Ordre National du Québec.
He was elected Chairman of La caisse de Sécurité du spectacle
of L'Union des Artistes.
In May, Gratien Gélinas was appointed by the Honourable Marcel Masse,
Minister of Communications, francophone President of a bilingual task
force with a mandate to produce a report on the status of the Artist in
On September 29, a new play written by Gratien Gélinas, La Passion
de Narcisse Mondoux, was produced for the first time by Le
Théâtre du P'tit bonheur, of Toronto. It was performed by Huguette
Oligny and himself, under the direction of Yvette Brind'Amour.
January 9 marked the opening by the National Arts in Ottawa of a show
created from excerpts of the Fridolin Revues, which
Gratien Gélinas wrote and produced in Montreal starting in 1938 until
1946. Denise Filiatrault directed the production. The show was very well
received. It was re-presented in December at Le Théâtre du Rideau Vert,
in Montreal and in February 88 by Le Trident at the Palais-Montcalm
theatre in Quebec City.
On January 14, Le Théâtre du Rideau Vert also presented La Passion
de Narcisse Mondoux, again played by Huguette Oligny and the
author. (It is remarkable that two works by Gratien Gélinas, written
after an interval of forty five years, were played simultaneously on
Canadian stages, both being extremely well received). The play then went
on tour ending with a return engagement at the Rideau Vert in September.
Gratien Gélinas was awarded an Honorary Diploma by the Canadian
Conference of the Arts, in Calgary.
In June, in Saint-Tropez, France, Gratien Gélinas began the shooting of
Les Tisserands du Pouvoir continued in Montreal. It
consisted of two feature films and a six hour television series directed
by Claude Fournier.
Gratien Gélinas received an Honorary doctorate from University of
While La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux continued its career
in French, the play was translated into English by Linda Gaboriau and
the author. The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux opened in
English in Chester N.S. in July, with the same cast. A Canadian tour
followed, Huguette Oligny and Gratien Gélinas playing alternately in
English and French depending on the audience. The play was performed for
the 200th time in Quebec City October 8, 1988.
Publication by Leméac, of Montreal, of La Passion de Narcisse
Mondoux and of Fridolinades 38-39-40.
After a tour across Canada which ended in February in Montreal,
The Passion of Narcisse Mondoux opened in New York City for a
series of English performances at the Apple Corps Theatre, again with
Huguette Oligny and Gratien Gélinas. They also performed once per week
in French. The play was very well received by the press, notably the New
York Times and the New York Daily News.
Gratien Gélinas received an Honorary doctorate from the Royal Military
College in St-Jean.
In November, the Rideau Vert presented a second show from the
Fridolinades, directed again by Denise Filiatrault. Subsequently
the show was toured throughout the province of Québec with a greater
success than the previous one.
Gratien Gélinas was named Great Montrealer of the year during the
6th Great Montrealers gala.
The presentation of The passion of Narcisse Mondoux was
continued in English and in French on many Canadian stages.
In May la Compagnie Jean Duceppe revived Bousille et les justes
at the Port-Royal Theatre of the Place des Arts under the direction of
Gratien Gélinas became Companion of the Order of Canada.
In the Fall, the Montreal newspaper La Presse awarded Gratien
Gélinas the Prix d'excellence 1990.
In February, Huguette Oligny and Gratien Gélinas played the 500th
performance of The passion of Narcisse Mondoux concluding
one month of performances at the St-Lawrence Centre for the Arts, in
Toronto. The total number of performances reached 630 at the end of the
In October, the Trident revived Bousille et les justes at
the Octave-Crémazie theatre, in Quebec City, in the course of it's
In January, the théâtre de la Bordée, also from Quebec City, revived
Tit-Coq, also in the course of it's theatrical season.
In view of the success obtained the preceding year, la Bordée continued
the presentation of Tit-Coq, in January, for grand total
of 620 performances to date.
Gratien Gélinas was made a Chevalier de l'ordre de la Pléïade of the
Association internationale des parlementaires de langue française.
Bousille et les justes
was presented for the fourth time by Théâtre ProFusion Inc. at the Vieux
Terrebonne theatre before being presented on tour throughout Quebec as
well as at the Nouvelle Compagnie Théâtrale in November. 84 additional
performances are added to the play’s record, for a grand total to date