A vintage postcard of a Paris landmark, the storied Théâtre des Gobelins on the avenue of the same name. Boulevardiers, bistro habitués, a cyclist and, perhaps, theater staff pose outside. A postmarked stamp indicates 1908, but the photograph itself might date ten, even fifteen years back. Of particular interest to us: The sandwich board poster advertising the theater’s current offering, Le Monstre et le Magicien, the French Frankenstein play. It’s very likely the first ever photograph of a Frankenstein marquee.
“The Monster and the Magician”, directly inspired by Richard Brinsley Peake’s Presumption; or, The Fate of Frankenstein, the London stage phenomenon of 1823, opened in Paris at the Porte Saint-Martin in 1826. Not only would its success rival that of the British original, Le Monstre borrowed Presumption’s star when T.P.Cooke, the first actor to play Frankenstein’s Monster, came to Paris to reprise his celebrated role in the new French version. Amazingly, Le Monstre was still being staged eighty years on, at the turn of the century. I could find no listing of the players for this version, the last actor of record to play the Monster’s part being a certain M. Ravel in a revival of Le Monstre et le Magicien at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu-Comique in 1861.
The Gobelins, a spacious 800-seat theatre, was built in 1869 as a home to large-scale spectacles the likes of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days. Its unique and elegant façade, dominated by the floating figures of a man and a woman representing Drama and Comedy, was sculpted by Auguste Rodin, no less, in his young Beaux-Arts student days. The Gobelins began showing films in 1906 and became a permanent movie house in 1934. The aging interior was gutted and transformed into a twin-screen cinema in 1993, operating as the Gaumont Gobelins-Rodin until its final closing in 2003, and used as a warehouse since then.
The good news is that the original façade has survived, protected under the historical monument act, and an entirely new building is currently being erected behind it to house the Pathé archives and museum.
Gobelins, though suggestive of folkloric monsters, is actually the name of a famous family of 15th century dyers whose factory turned to tapestry work in the early 1600s. The name, today, is literally synonymous with fine tapestries.
Théâtre des Gobelins postcard on Carthalia.
With thanks to Jeffrey Eernisse.