THE HORROR! THE FEAR! Or how to kill a woman in 10000 different ways: L.Paulais, Paula Maxa, the Princess of Horror and the world of violent entertainment

Posted by Tanja Jurković on March 18, 2014 in Guest Blog, Tanja Jurkovic tagged with , , , ,

Introducing the prominent French horror theatre in my previous post gave me the opportunity to write about everything connected to the theme of this interesting theatre and its gore representations, as well as the theme of horror in general.  Many enthusiasts brought together around this legendary venue over the years became experts in the field and prepared the foundations for the next generations and the evolution of their talent. One of the most important individuals, when we are talking about the Grand-Guignol, were the actors who brought everyday horrors to life with their exquisite performance on stage. L.Paulais and Paula Maxa marked the genre in theatre in France during the sixty years of existence and work of the Grand-Guignol.


Although there are not many facts from the life of L.Paulais, whose real name was Georges, according to few sources, his ability to present every emotion known to man through his mimicry on the stage of Grand-Guignol brought him the fame which marked his career. He was able to impersonate any villain, or victim, skillfully showing the inner monstrosity of the characters he played in the performances of the Grand-Guignol theatre. In an interview with a journalist who asked him about his representation of fear on stage, he answered: “In all my efforts to be very honest…And that is very hard to be, tirelessly, and with all necessary nuances during an hour…It requires “overacting”, and that on our part creates a nervous tension which – during an hour – overwhelms us.”

Luckily, he was “sentenced to life” with his colleague Paula Maxa, as they performed together in almost every play staged for the Grand-Guignol theatre. They made an indelible mark on the audience with their extraordinary performance of the plays.




According to Pierron, this young woman, with her real name Marie – Therese Beau, was a pale brunette with black eyes, and very gentle in appearance, as well as charming, therefore her role in the Grand-Guignol history was an odd and extraordinary one. Her debut appearance was in 1917 in the play by Jean Bernac, “Le Poison Noir” (Black Poison). She loved the Grand-Guignol, and she wanted to play the roles given to her in her own way and according to her own temperament, which gave her the status in this theatre which she has never forgotten herself: she was always dressed in a gown covered in blood. In that way, her nicknames, “Sarah Bernhardt de l’Impasse Chaptal” (Sarah Bernhardt of the Chaptal alley), and “La princesse de l’horreur” (The Princess of Horror), gave her a certain appearance in the eyes of the audience. She was the most assassinated woman in the world; over 10000 times she died the most gruesome deaths, in most horrid ways: “All the humiliations that this charming artist has endured during her short, but already glorious, career cannot be ignored. Cut into ninety-three pieces by an invisible Spanish dagger, stitched back together in two seconds by a Samaritan; flattened by a steamroller; disemboweled by a slaughter man who steals her intestines; shot by firing squad, quartered, burned alive, devoured by a puma, crucified, shot with a pistol, stabbed, raped and still she stays happy and smiling.” Antona-Traversi, a prolific playwright, literary critic, and man of the theatre of the time, estimated that she yelled “Help!” 983 times on stage, “They are killing me!” 1,263 times and “Rape!” 1, 804 and a half times!




Pierron reports that Paula Maxa, because of her love for the genre and the theatre, in one of the numerous interviews about her famous figure, said that all of her sufferings that she endured on the stage of the Grand-Guignol, the complicated and terrible Chinese tortures in a way came out from her secret vocation through which she developed a morbid fascination since her tender childhood. As an artist, a creator of a special genre, she said that it seemed to her that she could not embody any other character than the one of a bloody victim in all the dramas of human passion. She was obviously sincere when talking about her fears and the representation of them in the Grand-Guignol theatre: “Before I go to bed, I look under my bed with fear. I fear the dark, the storms, the sea, the unknown and my own darkness.”

Apart from solving her own fears through her acting and bringing them on stage, her performance was of an impeccable nature. During her performances, especially in the most violent plays, she never giggled or made grimaces, apart from those required, as she knew that every second matters. That very second when all can turn to ashes, and make people laugh at the moment of ultimate terror, that was the moment which had to be presented to the audience in a most skillful and professional manner.”Her face reveals feelings which….to us, are the emotions that tortured her, but it is the inner intensity that determines the change of traits. One could never see or feel an exaggerated pantomime, and to say it like this, an external one.”




Therefore, the acts represented on the stage of the Grand-Guignol, the skills of the genuine artistic performance of these two prominent actors can be viewed as a form of violent entertainment, which is, in Goldstein’s opinion, rooted in every imagery presented to us in a different form of media: “The willing suspension of disbelief, the leap into imaginary worlds, whether through literature, film, television, play, or sport, appeals on many levels. This potential inheres in all entertainment, of course, but it helps explain the tolerance for, if not the attraction of, violent imagery”, more of which can be read in my article on Grand-Guignol as a form of violent entertainment:

The conclusions I made regarding this topic form the basis for the further development of Grand-Guignol as a form of violent entertainment, the possible and visible connection to Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, and the psychology behind the genre, especially in terms of writing in Grand-Guignol as a writer’s theatre.




Works cited:


Pierron, Agnes. Le Grand Guignol, Le Theatre des peurs de la Belle Eopque. Paris: Edition Robert Laffont, 1995.


Hand, Richard, and Wilson Michael. Grand-Guignol, the French Theatre of Horror. UK: University of Exeter Press, 2002.


Goldstein, Jeffrey. The Attractions of Violent Entertainment. Media Psychology, 1, 271-282, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1999.



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