Gratien Gélinas, man of the theatre (born 8 December 1909 in St-Tite, QC; died 16 March 1999 in Montréal). The multiple activities of Gélinas - actor, director, producer, playwright - laid the base for contemporary Québec theatre. In 1937 Gélinas created the radio character Fridolin - a naive, resourceful, softhearted but cynical young Montréaler. Fridolin became, in monologue form, the central character in annual theatrical revues, the Fridolinons or Fridolinades (1938-46), which were a spirited, popular and professional mixture of musical comedy, dance, mime and song, romantic sketches, satires and scenes of contemporary mores and trends. Les Fridolinades did not begin to appear in written form until 1980. Besides being a commentary on the social, political and cultural scene, they were a revue of theatrical styles and genres from burlesque to melodrama, and from radio series to official speeches.
Tit-Coq, created in 1948, grew out of Fridolin. The drama of the bastard who did not want to leave bastards behind him, the unemployed conscript, the soldier sent to England who never really came home, contrasted in the play with vivid, moving tableaux of traditional family life. Tit-Coq triumphed in Canada (though it failed on Broadway) and inspired other playwrights. It dominated Gélinas's life for several years - revivals, tours, translations, films - but he worked briefly for TV, appeared in plays at the STRATFORD FESTIVAL and in 1957 founded La COMÉDIE-CANADIENNE, which he directed until 1972.
Gélinas's second play, Bousille et les justes (1959), is stronger and tougher than Tit-Coq. Another orphan, Bousille, is servant and scapegoat to a hypocritical and evil family of entrepreneurs, typical representatives of the class that rose to prominence during the Maurice DUPLESSIS regime. Hier, les enfants dansaient (1966) is a more conventional study of family tensions arising from Québec/Ottawa political tensions. Gélinas's last play, La Passion de Narcisse Mondoux (1987), is forgettable, but his first "revues,"Les Fridolinades, finally published from 1980 to 1988, appear frequently on stage and have been produced for television.
Gélinas was chairman of the CANADIAN FILM DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION from 1969 to 1978 and was co-president of the Groupe de travail sur le statut de l'artiste, created by the federal minister of communications in 1986. In 1969 he was the translator-adapter for George RYGA's The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. He was a remarkable director of his own shows from the 1940s on, and a born writer for and about the theatre. Gélinas worked within a popular cultural tradition and transformed it.
One of his granddaughters, Anne-Marie Sicotte, published a biography called Gratien Gélinas. La Ferveur et le doute (2 vol., 1995, 1996), revised and abridged in Gratien Gélinas du Naïf Fridolin à l'ombrageux Tit-Coq (2001).