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Denise Pelletier

Photograph of Denise Pelletier


Denise Pelletier

Denise Pelletier was a great lady of the Quebec stage. Her varied career, cut short by her early death in May 1976, won her numerous accolades and left an enduring legacy to Quebec's cultural community.

The daughter of Albert Pelletier and Marie-Reine Vaugeois, Denise Pelletier was born in Saint-Jovite in the Laurentians, in the spring of 1923. She and her brother Gilles, also an actor, grew up in a happy, balanced home with their father — a notary and literary critic — and their independent, cultured mother. This environment, which valued cultural life and critical thinking, left its mark on Denise; she was also influenced by her father's personality and ideas.

In 1929, the family moved to Saint-Hubert Street in Montréal, while still keeping a pied-à-terre in the Laurentians.

Denise was bored in school and hated studying, although she still received good marks. While leafing through a newspaper, she learned that the French M.R.T. (Montreal Repertory Theatre) was offering acting courses. She enrolled and was quickly offered a part. She studied with Sita Riddez and was recruited to perform classical plays as well as stock pieces. She also participated in radio soap operas of the day.

The arrival of television in 1952 allowed a larger audience to discover this lively artist with the proud bearing and sparkling eyes, who expressed the souls of the characters she played as no other actor could.

She performed in a multitude of plays written by authors as diverse as Molière, Racine, Claudel, Shakespeare, Dubé and Tremblay. The roles of Winnie in Beckett's Oh! les beaux jours, Mère Courage in Brecht's Mère Courage et ses enfants and the characters of Athalie and Agrippine were some of the highlights of her stage career. She performed at many theatres, including the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, the Théâtre du Rideau vert and the Nouvelle Compagnie théâtrale.

On the small screen she is best remembered for her roles in the series De 9 à 5, En haut de la pente douce, Mont-Joye, and Les Belles Histoires des pays d'en haut, and especially for her role as Cécile in La Famille Plouffe [The Plouffe Family].

Demanding of others but even more so of herself, Denise Pelletier was very well liked by audiences, critics and colleagues, who could always count on her great generosity. She was crowned Miss Radio Télévision in 1955 and received the Order of Canada in 1970 for her contribution to the arts, and to theatre in particular.

Denise Pelletier was one of those rare actors who could perform in English as well as in French. She was a member of the Stratford Festival Company in 1966 and 1968.

Her last two projects, "Une femme plusieurs personnages" and "Sarah Bernhardt", were very demanding for Denise. During a tour at this time, in early 1976, she began feeling unwell. Her doctors recommended that she get more rest. On May 22, her birthday, she entered hospital where she died two days later during open heart surgery.

She left behind her husband, the photographer Basil Zarov, whom she had married in 1958, and a son, Stéphane.

Shortly before her death, she was awarded the Molson Prize for lifetime achievement by the Canada Council for the Arts. A theatre was named in her honour in 1977. Also in 1977 the Government of Quebec established the Prix Denise-Pelletier, the highest honour awarded in the realm of the performing arts — her brother, Gilles, was the recipient in 1998.

Denise Pelletier, "Divine Denise", was a consummate actor who devoted her whole to her art. Many of her performances number among the highlights of Quebec theatre and television, and have inspired new generations of Quebec artists.


Corrivault, Martine. — "Denise Pelletier m'a dit : 'N'oubliez pas Clémence'". — Le soleil. — 29 mai 1976. — P. H-3

Gruslin, Adrien. — "Les trente ans de notre grande dame de la scène". — Le devoir. — 8 mars 1975. — P. 19

Laframboise, Philippe ; Bélisle, Luc. — 101 années de vedettariat au Québec. — Montréal : Journal de Montréal, 2000. — 160 p.

Lafrance, Micheline. — Denise Pelletier ou la folie du théâtre. — Montréal : Éditions Scriptomedia, c1979. — 229 p.

"Pelletier, Denise". — Encyclopedia of Canadian theatre [online]. — Athabasca University. — [Cited August 5, 2003]. — Access :

"Pelletier, Denise". — L'encyclopédie canadienne [online]. — Fondation Historica du Canada. — 2003. — [Cited August 5, 2003]. — Access :

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