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Gérard Philip was born on December 4, 1922 in Cannes. It was only later, already as an actor, that he added an "e" to his name; it is said because he was superstitious and loved the number 13... His father, Marc Philip, was a lawyer, and later a hotel manager; his mother, Minou, a beautiful brunette of Slavic origin, who was to have a deep impact on Gerard's whole personal and professional life.

Gérard grew up in the midst of gardens with large trees and long alleys, surrounded by love from Minou and his brother, Jean, his elder by only a few months. No wonder that while spending most of his time with the two people he loved most, he was hardly aware of the world outside. In this happy childhood of his he first wanted to become a locomotive driver, and later on a physician. Minou was telling him wonderful stories and this is where he must have taken inspiration from to become an actor and try to impersonate the exceptional characters from her stories. According to his mother's recollections, Gégé was a wise and beautiful child. Superficial observers could easily have mistaken his reticence (he only started talking when he was 18 months old) for laziness and apathy, but under watchful eyes he became attentive and smiling. She also tells about possibly Gégé's first trial steps into acting: he feigned being dead and tossed by the waves, and when Minou went closer he started laughing, joyous that he managed to fool her.

During his stay at the Stanislas college with his brother he was already living an intense internal life, which together with his love for different characters would be crucial to his career later on. During and after college his interests turned to jazz music, swimming, volley-ball and tennis, with literature not being a subject to attract his attention. It was at a Red Cross gala organized by one of Minou's colleagues that he was persuaded to recite a poem, Franc-Nohain's Le Poisson Rouge. The people who heard him instantly recognized his talent. He first declined to take acting lessons, but later on, despite his father's wish in 1940 for him to become a lawyer, he opted for acting.