You have known him as a policeman, chef, rabbi in cinema and on television, especially during confinement. Did you know that Louis de Funès was also an eco-friendly castellan in real life? More surprisingly, it is thanks to the seventh art that the actor was able to lead the castle life he aspired to.
Married to Jeanne Barthélémy in April 1943 at the town hall of the 9th arrondissement of Paris, Louis de Funès spent many family holidays at the Château de Clermont, located near Nantes in Loire-Atlantique. A huge residence belonging to the Nau de Maupassant family from which the actor’s wife comes, since her aunt is none other than Marie Barthélémy, the wife of Count Charles Nau de Maupassant.
When her aunt died in 1963, Jeanne de Funès inherited half of the château and wanted to buy the entire property from her cousins. “Following a series of inheritances, the castle is in joint possession and it had to be sold. Louis de Funès was determined to buy it”, explains biographer Bertrand Dicale to Planet. On the strength of his success in La Grande Vadrouille released in 1966, the actor was paid on a percentage basis, allowing him to receive a phenomenal salary of several million francs.
In 1967, the entire chateau was put up for auction and Louis de Funès was well on his way to winning the property dear to his wife. Facing the Baron de Jamelières, the actor won and acquired the Château de Clermont for 830,000 francs, “the equivalent of a fee for a single film”, specifies the author in the biography Louis de Funès , from A to Z published by Gründ editions.
Enough to satisfy the famous Gendarme of Saint-Tropez, who had a special relationship with money. After experiencing difficult years during his war-torn childhood, he was close to his savings and had not hesitated to hide a chest in his garden. “At the time, many French people like Louis de Funès did not have confidence in the banking system, nor an extreme confidence in paper money”, explains the biographer to us. While he was shooting for a new Gendarme film, the May 68 revolt broke out and the actor asked his filmmaker friend Jean Girault to dig up his hidden gold. “You shouldn’t see it as an oddity of Louis de Funès, it was not at all something extraordinary at the time,” said the journalist.
Located near the Loire, the Château de Clermont has 30 rooms with 365 windows, vasistas and skylights, as well as outbuildings belonging to the property, and one or two farms. All occupied on an area of 30 hectares. If the huge castle was uninhabited and left in poor condition for six, the spouses of Funès undertook work for two years.
Withdrawn to the countryside surrounded by nature, far from city life in Paris, Louis de Funès indulged in his passion for gardening. “As soon as he started to earn a good living, he had a country house with a garden, it was always very important to maintain the garden”, says Bertrand Dicale. A very common hobby that he even shared while filming with his accomplice Bourvil, as the journalist and biographer tells us. “It was almost the first nucleus of their friendship when they met on the film Poisson d’Avril in 1950. They started talking, chatting on set, about flowers, vegetables, gardens”.
At the end of his filming every Friday, the hero of the film Les Grandes Vacances (broadcast this October 23, 2022 on C8) went to the Château de Clermont with his car loaded in the trunk “with pots that he was going to plant in his garden” . A star already green in the soul who liked to take care of his shrubs, vegetables, rose gardens, fruit trees and even already practiced sustainable agriculture with local farmers, according to the biographer. “When you see the size of the garden he maintained, it was a full-time job. When he was not on set, he gladly spent the whole day there. He could spend 6 or 8 hours in a day to garden”.
When Louis de Funès was not busy gardening, he watched many films in a specially equipped viewing room at the Château de Clermont. Or else he went to mass every Sunday. A devout Catholic, the actor practiced his faith discreetly among the faithful. “He was a very nice little man who smiled at the children, who signed autographs. But he was not the type to go to the bistro, bang on the counter and tell jokes”, says Bertrand Dicale.
Victim of a double heart attack in 1976, Louis de Funès must preserve his health. Very attached to his castle, he lived in Clermont until his last breath on January 27, 1983. A disappearance that affected the entire neighborhood at the time. “He was a good neighbour. People loved him very much, many of them were there at his funeral,” the writer assures us.
Three years after his death, his widow Jeanne sold the castle to L’ADAH, an association that takes care of disabled people with mental disorders. Then, in 2005, the house was bought by a property developer, who created around forty apartments. Finally, from 2014 to 2016, the orangery founded Le Musée de Louis, on the initiative of a local collective who wanted to perpetuate the memory of the icon of French cinema.