More than simply one of avant-garde's most successful and influential filmmakers, Jean Cocteau ranked among the century's most diversely talented artists, also enjoying success as an accomplished poet, novelist, and illustrator. Cocteau was born July 5, 1889, in Maisons-Lafitte, France, and was raised primarily in Paris. Educated at the Lycee Condorcet, he became infatuated with another boy, Pierre Dargelos; their relationship was never consummated, and Pierre's ghost often haunted Cocteau's later adult work, his image embodying recurring themes of longing and solitude. Throughout his life, Cocteau craved acceptance and recognition, and seemed to be constantly striving to remain at the forefront of Parisian culture. He made his first splash while still a teen, reading his poetry at the Theatre Femina as a protégé of the actor Edouard de Max and becoming a darling of the intellectual set. By the middle of World War I, he was composing for the Ballets Russes, for Parade -- which featured decor by no less a figure than Pablo Picasso, and music from Erik Satie -- premiering in 1917. His subsequent wartime experiences later became the subject of a 1923 novel, Thomas l'imposteur.
Upon returning from battle, Cocteau rose to greater renown as a writer with the 1919 publication of Le Potomak, a collection of prose, verse, and humorous drawings. A year later, his pantomime-ballet Le Boeuf Sur le Toit was staged, and another volume of poetry, Les Maries de la Tour Eiffel, appeared in 1921. Cocteau also delivered modernistic adaptations, Antigone (1922) and Romeo and Juliet (1924), mounted an original one-act play, Orphee (1926), and published a collection of critical essays. Anyone doubting his standing as a renaissance man could also peruse his many paintings, drawings, tapestries, and program notes for avant-garde composers.