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Jean Boullet (1921-1970)

by Gert Hekma in Films & Books , 01 januari 1970

In gay circles Jean Boullet was known mainly for his light-hearted gay porn in a style reminiscent of Jean Cocteau. In France he enjoys a certain reputation, not only because of those drawings, but also as a promoter of horror movies and cartoons. Already way back in the Fifties Boullet sported leather and tattoos. He was a precursor and a side-slip.

His parents were dealing in catskins. Sold not as cheap fur, but as aid against rheumatism. Their home on the Parisian Avenue d`Italie also served as their atelier, where the cat skins were treated with naphthaline. Son Jean lived in the appartment above the firm, where the stenches of cats and chemicals mixed. It fed the dark horror atmosphere he liked to surround himself with. Black and red were his favourite colours, his rooms were sparsely lit, his bed was decked out with chains and torture instruments, above his desk was hanging one of his paintings called Rape. Black cats and Arabian boys roamed his lodgings. Here, after WWII, on sundays he entertained his guests, with many gay men, like Kenneth Anger, amongst them; but also the famous patroness of queers, Marie-Laure de Noailles, was a welcome visitor. As a journalist and organiser Boullet contributed significantly to popularising horror movies like Dracula, King Kong and other lesser known films. He got his knowledge from a large collection of books and clippings as extensive as his memory. Yet this memory wasn`t completely reliable. As a die-hard dandy he favoured a juicy story over one historically correct. On the basis of his own collection in the Sixties he opened the first French antiquarian cartoon-shop.


Exceptional for France and even for the Paris of his time was his openness about his SM and gay preference. Though later he wrote and made drawings for the French gay magazine Arcadie and the Swiss Der Kreis, he did not belong to an organisation or a subculture. In those days the hunting ground for his venue was in private homes rather than in bars or clubs. Boullet`s gay world was his circle of friends and more importantly what he picked up on the streets.
Boullet`s drawings are inspired by Cocteau`s. They depict a similar type in English referred to as trade". Riff-raff, sailors, an odd proud young queer. At the same time Boullet is fascinated by violence. He did a series on slaves" and another one on the guillotine. He drew a butch young man in female garb, with his dick sticking straight out. Another drawing shows a bright young lad going straight for a urinal. The opinions on his skilled drawings differ. Jean Marais, Cocteau`s lover, abhorred them. Compared to the Tom of Finland muscle freaks US queers get off on, I prefer the frailer types and ironic character of Boullet.
Boullet had a ravenous appetite in boyfriends. The types he drew were also the ones he preferred between his sheets. His biographer informs us the longest relation in his life lasted one and a half years. Living with the pig-headed Boullet must have been a chore. There is talk though of an affair of longer duration with an Arabian boyfriend. Boullet was an outspoken anti-racist and an upholder of the independence of Algeria. His biographer even claims he became a muslim. Proof for this would be Boullet`s taking to sleeping on a mat instead of in a bed. Wheter this lover of tattoos also had himself circumcised the book doesn`t tell. I don`t think so, otherwise the painter who undertook little in his life without giving it all out exposure would certainly have turned his circumcision into a major event. With his tattoos and leather garb he believd in épater les bourgeois, frightening the middle-class.

Arabian lads

What Boullet did with his boyfriend isn`t quite clear. Several witnesses speak of hordes of young Arabian guys in his house and two of them say they saw with their own eyes a boy in shackles locked in a closet or in the bathroom. On the other hand you get the impression dandy Boullet was sooner a masochist than a sadist, but that possibly goes for his boyfriends as well. It`s the old drawback with so many biographies of queers who didn`t die that long ago, in that they are vague about their subject`s sex-life. The biographer goes to great pains to turn all the celebrities his protagonist knew inside out with questions, but his sex partners not even get in edgeways. The Arabian shadow in Boullet`s life is named, but gets neither a voice nor a face.
Boullet`s golden age as a draughtsman, a hunk and a host was in the first decade after WWII. In the late Fifties he got rich after his parents died (his father by suicide). He bought an estate near the river Loire and had his face lifted in the early Sixties. According to friends after that things went downhill. His finances were a mess and his boyfriends robbed him. His antiquarian shop was an attempt to turn his knowledge into cash but degenerated quickly into a sordid sell-out of his priceless collection. In the late Sixties Boullet faced imminent ruin. His shop was a disaster with his cats and dogs pissing all over the cartoon books and magazines. A radical break was needed. Boullet moved to Algeria.

A mysterious end

His biographer has little to tell about this last period. The painter earned some money drawing portraits, yet in a poverty stricken country like Algeria this could`t have amounted to much. He came to his end hanging from a tree in Constantine. Biographer Chollet doesn`t know whether this was murder, suicide or a sex game gone too far. He is contend speculating from his safe and far away Paris and nothing indicates he talked with witnesses on the spot or has been searching in police archives. Thus Boullet died a death in line with his tumultuous life as an old-fashioned leather-queen with a soft spot for riff-raff.

Denis Chollet, Jean Boullet. Le précurseur, Parijs: France Europe Editions Livres, 1999, 133 FF



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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