Born in Montréal on August 25, 1903, Rose-Alma Ouellette started a vaudeville career in 1919 that lasted more than 70 years. She had left school upon reaching adolescence and was working in a shoe factory. Lured by the stage, she won several amateur competitions in theatres in Montréal. After having played a number of serious roles at the Ouimetoscope and the Lune rousse, Rose Ouellette was hired by the singer and actor Paul Hébert to play increasingly prominent vaudeville roles at the King Edward Palace. Calling herself "Casserole" at first, Rose Ouellette then took the stage name of "La Poune" at the suggestion of her partner Olivier Guimond (Sr.). This duo enjoyed great success in La Grande Revue, whether in Montréal, Québec City or Ottawa.
In 1928, Rose Ouellette became manager of the Théâtre Cartier in Saint-Henri and formed a vaudeville company that included in its ranks Juliette Pétrie, who would be her assistant for decades. In 1930, La Poune recorded a series of sketches and humorous songs, including several with Paul Hébert, Aurèle Dumont and Théo Brulotte. After eight years at the Théâtre Cartier, Rose Ouellette became the manager of the Théâtre National in 1936, a theatre that she had managed for a summer two years earlier. Here she enjoyed enormous success, becoming a Quebec celebrity. For more than a decade, crowds jammed the doors of the National every evening to hear La Poune strike up her theme song "C'est d'la faute à poupa" and present new stars in comedy numbers and songs, including Alys Robi who had her start there.
Faced with the competition of television, Rose Ouellette left her position in 1953 to join Jean Grimaldi's company, with which she toured throughout Quebec for a few seasons. Then, around 1958, Ouellette launched a career in cabaret that lasted more than 20 years; between 1971 and 1980, she played opposite Juliette Pétrie, Gerry Morelle, Simone Mercier, Gaston Boileau and Louis Armel.
Long snubbed by television, she finally made her debut here in "Les Deux Valses," a play by André Laurendeau presented by the SRC in 1960. The next year, she appeared in the comedy series "Télé-surprise" (CFTM). Later, she played occasional roles in the TV soap operas "Rue des pignons" (SRC, 1966-1977), "Chère Isabelle" (TVA, 1976-1977), "Les Brillant" (TVA, 1979-1982) and "Les Moineau et les Pinson" (TVA, 1982-1985).
In the theatre, Rose Ouellette appeared in 1974 in Un jour, ce sera ton tour by Serge Sirois, staged at the Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde, and in 1981 in Boeing Boeing with Réjean Lefrançois at the Théâtre d'été de l'île Charron. In the cinema, she played parts in Cœur de maman (1953) by René Delacroix, L'Apparition (1972) by Roger Cardinal, and Les Aventures d'une jeune veuve (1974) by Roger Fournier. Ouellette toured the province of Quebec in 1991 with the singer Roger Sylvain and recorded some advertisements during the same period. Rose Ouellette never really retired until the age of 90. She died in Montréal on September 14, 1996.
The journalist Philippe Laframboise collected some biographical remarks in La Poune (Éditions Héritage, 1978. 139 pages). Madame Ouellette published Vous faire rire, c'est ma vie (1983). She also wrote Comment atteindre le bel âge en grande forme (1985). In 1985, Rose Ouellette was awarded the Rose d'or, a prize given by popular vote, and in 1990, the Ordre national du Québec. In March 1998, the SRC presented the documentary "Le Siècle de Rose Ouellette." Some of her songs recorded with Starr in the late 1940s were reissued on audio digital disks.
For more information on Rose Ouellette's recordings, please consult the Virtual Gramophone database.
Robert Thérien, music researcher, Montréal