The Romanian who “drove Paris crazy” with her talent and rare beauty: Ruxandra conquered French cinema as Jany Holt

Jany Holt, born Ruxandra Ecaterina Vlădescu Olt on 13 May 1909 in Bucharest, was a Romanian-born actress who worked mainly in French cinema.

She married French actor Marcel Dalio in 1936, divorcing in 1939. In 1940, Holt married author Jacques Porel, son of actress Gabrielle Réjane and director Paul Porel. Holt and Porel remained in France during the Nazi occupation. During that period, Holt continued to act in films while also working with the French Resistance, later receiving the Croix de Guerre from General de Gaulle.

Catherine Ruxandra went to Paris at just 15 to study comet, at the wish of her parents. But the young girl was attracted by the world of theatre and abandoned her economics studies in favour of drama at Charles Dullin’s school. She made her debut in the world of theatre with small roles, but became a big star in France.

Holt appeared between 1931 and 1995 in more than 40 films and television productions, and conquered French cinema during the interwar period as one of France’s most popular actresses. In 1936, she was cast in Ferdinand Bruckner’s La créature. Although three established French actresses appeared in the same show, she stood out thanks to her special talent and physical appearance. Since then, she has appeared in major productions alongside established names of the time.

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Jany Holt actress
Jany Holt, born Ruxandra Ecaterina Vlădescu Olt

Jany Holt was cast by many directors because she was talented, but also of rare beauty

Jany Holt was lucky to have started her acting career in the 1930s, one of the richest periods in French cinema. But in 1943 Holt had her biggest film role, in Robert Bresson’s remarkable directorial debut, Les Anges du Péché (Angels of Sin). Holt plays Thérèse, a former prisoner who has taken refuge in a convent after killing the man responsible for her wrongful imprisonment.

Jany Holt, in Les Anges du Péché

Her career also included acting and later she made her debut as a television film producer. With her rather sharp profile, slim figure and red hair, Holt was never going to get the roles of a sober woman. Instead, she found her forte playing sad, slightly neurotic characters. However, in Abel Gance’s Un Grand Amour de Beethoven (1937), she portrayed the composer’s “immortal lover” who ignores him, preferring to marry a count. Beethoven was played by the powerful actor Harry Baur, the mad Emperor Rudolf II in Julien Duvivier’s Le Golem (1936), in which Holt played the rabbi’s daughter with whom the monster falls in love.

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Jany Holt, with actress Margo Lion – Photo: Roger Corbeau

Marcel Dalio, who starred in both films, was seduced by Holt’s “beautiful slightly sunken eyes and hollow cheeks”. They prepared to marry, but her parents demanded that the Jewish Dalio convert to Catholicism. He refused: ‘My only God is the theatre,’ he said. Soon they were married in a civil ceremony.

Dalio’s marriage lasted three years until she fell in love with Jacques Porel, son of Gabrielle Réjane, one of the most famous performers on the French stage in the early 20th century. Porel described her thus: “Her hair is like a triumphant fire. Every day, she gives an unusual performance combined with perfect simplicity. She has a brilliant personality”.

During World War II, the Romanian-born actress became involved in the Resistance Movement. In June 1945, she was awarded the Croix de Guerre by General de Gaulle for her merits. The actress resumed her work after the war and continued to make appearances on the big screen.

She was a long-lived performer, her career ending when she was 94. Jany Holt died of natural causes in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, in 2005, aged 96.

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