BirthParis, France (1909)
DeathParis, France (1993)
French puppeteer and director. The son of a toy salesman who specialized in the sale of guignols, Robert Desarthis very early on showed a passion for puppetry, and at the age of six was already performing in a small puppet booth (French: castelet) on the Place d’Italie in Paris. At thirteen, he was experienced enough to take over for Gaston Cony at the Concours Lépine exposition, and became a professional two years later. In 1930, he established his first company, the Théâtre Guignolia. Winning concession of the Parc Montsouris theatre in Paris, he performed an innovative programme for that period: variety shows, ballets, and satires by Catulle Mendès using glove puppets.
In 1933, the Jardin du Luxembourg theatre concession was put up for bid and the young Desarthis won. The architect and puppeteer Marcel Temporal was chosen to rebuild the theatre. The two men created a very modern space in terms of conception and structure: cement, with a working stage area that allowed all forms of manipulation and elaborate machinery. The puppet theatre produced very successful extravaganza plays adapted from famous titles: Don Quichotte (Don Quixote), Michel Strogoff (Michael Strogoff) …or tales: Le Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb), Ali-Baba …
Desarthis’ work was rewarded with a Gold Medal at the International Festival of Puppetry during the 1937 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques (International Art and Technology Exposition). Open to new ideas, Robert Desarthis was one of the first to conceive of puppets for Parisian department store Christmas window displays as early as 1935. He was also a pioneer performing puppetry in the very young television medium in 1938.
At the end of World War II, he repaired his damaged theatre and continued performing until his death. His son, François-Claude, trained in the family business, followed his father’s legacy at the Jardin du Luxembourg theatre.