French actor and puppeteer. Yves Joly began his career in 1936 with the Comédiens Routiers (Travelling Actors) whom he met through Olivier Hussenot. He acted, worked on masks with Jean Dasté, built sets and props. His passion for puppets started in 1937 when he saw Faust by the German puppeteer, Max Jacob at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life) held in Paris that year. He created his first puppet for Histoire du tailleur Petitfil (Story of Petitfil the Tailor), a children’s play. In 1937, he married Hélène Charbonnier, faithful collaborator of the Comédiens Routiers. In 1939, during World War II, he was taken prisoner. While in the Oflag, he animated figures made of rags and gas masks.

In 1941, Joly set up a training programme for an introduction to the dramatic arts including puppetry, and in 1942 directed training sessions in puppetry in Périgueux with G. Grozes. This culminated in the creation of the Théâtre du Berger which travelled throughout the Massif Central region. During these two years Joly also performed in Paris, in children’s plays for the Grenier-Hussenot company. Enrolled into the forced labour service in 1943, he went underground. At the Liberation he was named “special instructor for the dramatic arts” and directed courses until 1955 when he settled in Périgueux. With P. Parsuis he created a show for children, L’Arche de Noé (Noah’s Ark) with enormous puppets using his mask-making techniques; then with his wife, Dominique Gimet and Georges Tournaire, he founded the Marionnettes Yves Joly. The troupe created La Fille à l’anneau d’or (The Girl with the Golden Ring) with the puppeteers “in view”, then Polka dans l’île (Polka on the Island), La Malle à malices (Suitcase of Mischief), Documentaire (Documentary), and Bristol. Little by little Yves Joly removed the décors and sets so the puppet would become the true focus of the play, which he set on a black background, with a single volume and one colour.

In 1948, the troupe won the prize for best young theatrical company “ex aequo” with Hubert Gignoux (actor, 1915-2008), not without some difficulty for the jury. In 1949, it played at the cabaret Rose Rouge with acts performed with bare or gloved hands (see Bare Hand Puppetry), including Ivresses (Ecstasies), Jeux de cartes (Card Games), Les Mains seules (Hands Alone). The late-nighters were dazzled by the display of imaginary worlds where simple objects became metaphors (Ombrelles et Parapluies, Parasols and Umbrellas). Yves Joly also created unusual forms by the extreme stylization of silhouettes cut out in paper and animated without the use of a screen. With this technique, Le Théâtre de Papier was condensed into two episodes: Bristol and La Tragédie de papier (The Paper Tragedy), about man’s destiny from his creation to his disappearance into nothingness. The metaphysical duel between two characters is executed by scissor cuts or by fire (see Training). On a lighter note, the characters of La Noce (The Wedding) are made of cardboard tubes embellished with a few drawn lines. The troupe performed in prestigious venues and festivals in North and South America, and won the prize for originality and fantasy at the World Festival of Bucharest in 1958.

That same year, Yves Joly became president of the Syndicat National des Marionnettistes Professionnels (National Syndicate of Professional Puppeteers), which was a member of the Fédération Nationale du Spectacle, and in 1959, he was asked to create an international season of puppetry within the Théâtre des Nations. In the 1950s, he also created over twenty short animated films for commercial use.

Within the troupe, Gimet and Tournaire were replaced by the Joly children, and in 1964 Renée Citron joined the company. At the death of his wife in 1976, Joly turned over the troupe to Citron, and ended his theatre career to devote himself to painting.

A public tribute was given to Yves Joly in 2001 at the Théâtre aux Mains Nues to the man who has become known as “the Matisse of the Castelet” (puppet stage or booth). He died aged 104.

(See France.)


  • Mignon, Paul-Louis. J’aime les marionnettes [I Love Puppets]. Lausanne: Éditions Rencontre, 1962, pp. 70-74.