Maurice Chevalier

Last updated

Maurice Chevalier
Maurice Chevalier-publicity.jpg
Chevalier, early 1930s
Born
Maurice Auguste Chevalier

(1888-09-12)September 12, 1888
DiedJanuary 1, 1972(1972-01-01) (aged 83)
Paris
Occupation
  • Cabaret singer
  • actor
  • dancer
Years active1901–1970
Spouse(s)
Musical career
Genres
InstrumentsVocals
Labels

Maurice Auguste Chevalier (French:  [moʁis ʃəvalje] ; September 12, 1888 – January 1, 1972) was a French actor, cabaret singer and entertainer. [1] He is perhaps best known for his signature songs, including "Livin' In The Sunlight", "Valentine", "Louise", "Mimi", and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and for his films, including The Love Parade , The Big Pond , The Smiling Lieutenant , One Hour with You and Love Me Tonight . His trademark attire was a boater hat and tuxedo.

Contents

Chevalier was born in Paris. He made his name as a star of musical comedy, appearing in public as a singer and dancer at an early age before working in menial jobs as a teenager. In 1909, he became the partner of the biggest female star in France at the time, Fréhel. Although their relationship was brief, she secured him his first major engagement, as a mimic and a singer in l'Alcazar in Marseille, for which he received critical acclaim by French theatre critics. In 1917, he discovered jazz and ragtime and went to London, where he found new success at the Palace Theatre.

After this, he toured the United States, where he met the American composers George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and brought the operetta Dédé to Broadway in 1922. He developed an interest in acting and had success in Dédé. When talkies arrived, he went to Hollywood in 1928, where he played his first American role in Innocents of Paris . In 1930, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his roles in The Love Parade (1929) and The Big Pond (1930), which secured his first big American hits, "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" and "Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight".

In 1957, he appeared in Love in the Afternoon , which was his first Hollywood film in more than 20 years. In 1958, he starred with Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan in Gigi . In the early 1960s, he made eight films, including Can-Can in 1960 and Fanny the following year. In 1970, he made his final contribution to the film industry where he sang the title song of the Disney film The Aristocats . He died in Paris, on January 1, 1972, aged 83.

Early life

Chevalier was born on September 12, 1888 in Paris. His father was a French house painter. His mother, Joséphine van den Bosch, was French of Belgian descent. [2]

He worked a number of jobs: a carpenter's apprentice, electrician, printer, and even as a doll painter. He started in show business in 1901. He was singing, unpaid, at a café when a member of the theatre saw him and suggested he try for a local musical. He got the part. Chevalier made a name as a mimic and a singer. His act in l'Alcazar in Marseille was so successful, he made a triumphant rearrival in Paris.

In 1909, he became the partner of the biggest female star in France, Fréhel. However, due to her alcoholism and drug addiction, their liaison ended in 1911. Chevalier then started a relationship with 36-year-old Mistinguett at the Folies Bergère, [1] where he was her 23-year-old dance partner; they eventually played out a public romance.

World War I

When World War I broke out, Chevalier was in the middle of his national service, already in the front line, where he was wounded by shrapnel in the back in the first weeks of combat and was taken as a prisoner of war in Germany for two years. [1] While imprisoned he learned English, but with a Leeds accent from his fellow British prisoners. [1] In 1916, he was released through the secret intervention of Mistinguett's admirer, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the only king of a neutral country who was related to both the British and German royal families.

In 1917, Chevalier became a star in le Casino de Paris and played before British soldiers and Americans. [1] He discovered jazz and ragtime and started thinking about touring the United States. In the prison camp, he had studied English and had an advantage over other French artists. He went to London, where he found new success at the Palace Theatre, even though he still sang in French.

Paris and Hollywood

Chevalier in 1920 Maurice chevalier001.JPG
Chevalier in 1920

After the war, Chevalier went back to Paris and created several songs still known today, such as "Valentine" (1924). He played in a few pictures, including Chaplin's A Woman of Paris [1] (a rare drama for Chaplin, in which his character of The Tramp does not appear) and made an impression in the operetta Dédé . He met the American composers George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and brought Dédé to Broadway in 1922. The same year he met Yvonne Vallée, a young dancer, who became his wife in 1927.

When Douglas Fairbanks was on honeymoon in Paris in 1920, he offered him star billing with his new wife Mary Pickford, but Chevalier doubted his own talent for silent movies (his previous ones had largely failed). [3] When sound arrived, he made his Hollywood debut in 1928. He signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and played his first American role in Innocents of Paris . [1] In 1930, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his roles in The Love Parade (1929) [1] and The Big Pond (1930). The Big Pond gave Chevalier his first big American hit songs: "Livin' in the Sunlight, Lovin' in the Moonlight" with words and music by Al Lewis and Al Sherman, plus "A New Kind of Love" (or "The Nightingales"). [4] He collaborated with film director Ernst Lubitsch. He appeared in Paramount's all-star revue film Paramount on Parade (1930).

While Chevalier was under contract with Paramount, his name was so recognized that his passport was featured in the Marx Brothers film Monkey Business (1931). In this sequence, each brother uses Chevalier's passport, and tries to sneak off the ocean liner where they were stowaways by claiming to be the singer—with unique renditions of "You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me" with its line "If the nightingales could sing like you". In 1931, Chevalier starred in a musical called The Smiling Lieutenant with Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins. [1] Despite the disdain audiences held for musicals in 1931, [5] it proved a successful film. [6]

In 1932, he starred with Jeanette MacDonald in Paramount's film musical One Hour With You , [1] which became a success and one of the films instrumental in making musicals popular again. Due to its popularity, Paramount starred Maurice Chevalier in another musical called Love Me Tonight (also 1932), and again co-starring Jeanette MacDonald. [1] It is about a tailor who falls in love with a princess when he goes to a castle to collect a debt and is mistaken for a baron. Featuring songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, it was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, [1] who, with the help of the songwriters, was able to put into the score his ideas of the integrated musical (a musical which blends songs and dialogue so the songs advance the plot). [1] It is considered one of the greatest film musicals of all time. [5]

In The Merry Widow (1934) Maurice Chevalier 1934.JPG
In The Merry Widow (1934)

In 1934, he starred in the first sound film of the Franz Lehár operetta The Merry Widow , one of his best-known films, [1] though he felt his role was too narrow and repetitive. He then signed with MGM for The Man from the Folies Bergère , his own favourite of his films. After a disagreement over his star-billing, he returned to France in 1935 to resume his music-hall career.

Even when he was the highest-paid star in Hollywood, Chevalier had a reputation as a penny-pincher. When filming at Paramount, he balked at parking his car in the Paramount lot at ten cents a day. After bargaining, he managed to get five cents per day. Another story is told of Chevalier (a smoker) having a conversation with someone who offered him a cigarette. He took it, said "Thank you", put it in his pocket, and continued with the conversation. But in Hollywood he seemed to be a divided character. When not playing around with young chorus-girls, he actually felt quite lonely, and sought the company of Adolphe Menjou and Charles Boyer, also French, but both much better educated than Chevalier. Boyer in particular introduced him to art galleries and good literature, and Chevalier would try to copy him as the man of taste. But at other times, he would 'revert to type' as the bitter and impoverished street-kid he basically was. When performing in English, he always put on a heavy French accent, although his normal spoken English was quite fluent and sounded more American.[ citation needed ]

In 1937, Chevalier married the dancer Nita Raya. He had several successes, such as his revue Paris en Joie in the Casino de Paris. A year later, he performed in Amours de Paris. His songs remained big hits, such as "Prosper" (1935), "Ma Pomme" (1936) and "Ça fait d'excellents français" (1939).

World War II

During World War II, Chevalier kept performing on the stage in France. In 1941, he appeared in a successful revue in the Casino de Paris, Bonjour Paris, which was Nazi propaganda, reassuring the public that nothing had basically changed under the occupation. Songs like "Ça sent si bon la France" and "La Chanson du maçon" became hits. The Nazis knew that he was harbouring a Jewish family in the south of France, and put pressure on him to perform in Berlin and sing for the collaborating radio station Radio Paris. He refused, but did perform for prisoners of war in Germany at the same camp where he had been held captive in World War I, and succeeded in getting ten French soldiers freed in exchange. [7]

In 1942, Chevalier was named on a list of French collaborators with Germany to be killed during the war, or tried after it. [8] That year he returned to La Bocca, near Cannes, but returned to the capital city in September. In 1944 when Allied forces freed France, Chevalier was accused of collaboration. [1] The August 28, 1944, issue of Stars and Stripes , the daily newspaper of U.S. armed forces in the European Theater of Operations, reported in error that "Maurice Chevalier Slain By Maquis, Patriots Say". Even though he was acquitted by a French convened court, the English-speaking press remained hostile and he was refused a visa for several years. [9] In a review of the 1969 Oscar-nominated documentary film about French collaboration Le chagrin et la pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity), Simon Heffer draws attention to “a clip of Maurice Chevalier explaining, entirely dishonestly, to an anglophone audience how he had not collaborated.” [10]

After World War II

Drinks after golf in 1948 in Montreal News. Chevalier BAnQ P48S1P16790.jpg
Drinks after golf in 1948 in Montreal
Desi Arnaz, Richard Keith, and Maurice Chevalier in "Lucy Goes to Mexico", an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1958) Desi Arnaz Richard Keith Maurice Chevalier Lucy Goes To Mexico 1958.jpg
Desi Arnaz, Richard Keith, and Maurice Chevalier in "Lucy Goes to Mexico", an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1958)
Chevalier in 1959 Maurice Chevalier 1959.JPG
Chevalier in 1959

In his own country, however, he was still popular. In 1946, he split from Nita Ray and started writing his memoirs, which took many years to complete.

Playing golf (in plaid) in 1948 in Montreal News. Chevalier BAnQ P48S1P16787.jpg
Playing golf (in plaid) in 1948 in Montreal

He started to collect and paint art, and acted in Le silence est d'or (Man About Town) (1946) by René Clair. [1] He still toured throughout the United States and other parts of the world, then returned to France in 1948.

In 1944, he had already participated in a Communist demonstration in Paris. He was therefore even less popular in the U.S. during the McCarthyism period; in 1951, he was refused re-entry into the U.S. because he had signed the Stockholm Appeal.

In 1949, he performed in Stockholm in a Communist benefit against nuclear arms. Also in 1949, Chevalier was the subject of the first official roast at the New York Friars' Club, although celebrities had been informally "roasted" at banquets since 1910. [11]

In 1952, he bought a large property in Marnes-la-Coquette, near Paris, and named it La Louque, [12] as a homage to his mother's nickname. He started a relationship in 1952 with Janie Michels, a young divorcee with three children. In 1954, after the McCarthy era abated Chevalier was welcomed back in the United States. His first full American tour was in 1955, with Vic Schoen as arranger and musical director. The Billy Wilder film Love in the Afternoon (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper, [1] was his first Hollywood film in more than 20 years. [13]

In 1957, Chevalier was awarded The George Eastman Award, given by George Eastman House for distinguished contribution to the art of film.

Chevalier appeared in the movie musical Gigi (1958) with Leslie Caron and Hermione Gingold, with whom he shared the song "I Remember It Well", and several Walt Disney films. [1] The success of Gigi prompted Hollywood to give him an Academy Honorary Award that year for achievements in entertainment. [1] In 1957, he appeared as himself in an episode of The Jack Benny Program titled "Jack in Paris". He also appeared as himself in an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour , titled "Lucy Goes to Mexico".

Final years

Maurice Chevalier, 1968 Maurice Chevalier 1968.jpg
Maurice Chevalier, 1968

In the early 1960s, he toured the United States and between 1960 and 1963 made eight films, including Can-Can (1960) with Frank Sinatra. [1] In 1961, he starred in the drama Fanny with Leslie Caron and Charles Boyer, an updated version of Marcel Pagnol's "Marseilles Trilogy." [1] In 1962, he filmed Panic Button (not released until 1964), playing opposite blonde bombshell/sex symbol Jayne Mansfield. In 1965, at 77, he made another world tour. [1] In 1967 he toured in Latin America, again, the US, Europe and Canada, where he appeared as a special guest at Expo 67. [14] The following year, on October 1, 1968, he announced his farewell tour.

Historical newsreel footage of Chevalier appeared in the Marcel Ophüls documentary The Sorrow and the Pity . In a wartime short film near the end of the film's second part, he explained his disappearance during World War II (see the "World War II" section in this entry), as rumors of his death lingered at that time, and emphatically denied any collaboration with the Nazis. His theme song, "Sweepin' the Clouds Away," from the film Paramount on Parade (1930), was one of its theme songs and was played in the end credits of the film's second part.

In 1970, two years after his retirement, songwriters Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman got him to sing the title song of the Disney film The Aristocats , which ended up being his final contribution to the film industry.

He died in Paris of kidney failure, on New Year's Day 1972, aged 83, and was interred in the cemetery of Marnes-la-Coquette in Hauts-de-Seine, outside Paris, France. [15]

Chevalier was a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1651 Vine Street.[ citation needed ]

Famous songs

Selected filmography

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Smiling Lieutenant</i> 1931 film by Ernst Lubitsch

The Smiling Lieutenant is a 1931 American pre-Code musical comedy film directed by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Maurice Chevalier, Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins, and released by Paramount Pictures.

<i>The Love Parade</i> 1929 film by Ernst Lubitsch

The Love Parade is a 1929 American pre-Code musical comedy film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald, involving the marital difficulties of Queen Louise of Sylvania (MacDonald) and her consort, Count Alfred Renard (Chevalier). Despite his love for Louise and his promise to be an obedient husband, Count Alfred finds his role as a figurehead unbearable. The supporting cast features Lupino Lane, Lillian Roth and Eugene Pallette.

<i>Love Me Tonight</i> 1932 film by Rouben Mamoulian

Love Me Tonight is a 1932 American pre-Code musical comedy film produced and directed by Rouben Mamoulian, with music by Rodgers and Hart. It stars Maurice Chevalier as a tailor who poses as a nobleman and Jeanette MacDonald as a princess with whom he falls in love. It also stars Charles Ruggles as a penniless nobleman, along with Charles Butterworth and Myrna Loy as members of his family.

Charles Boyer French-American actor

Charles Boyer was a French-American actor who appeared in more than 80 films between 1920 and 1976. After receiving an education in drama, Boyer started on the stage, but he found his success in American films during the 1930s. His memorable performances were among the era's most highly praised, in romantic dramas such as The Garden of Allah (1936), Algiers (1938), and Love Affair (1939), as well as the mystery-thriller Gaslight (1944). He received four Oscar nominations for Best Actor.

<i>The Big Pond</i> 1930 film by Hobart Henley

The Big Pond is a 1930 American Pre-Code romantic comedy film based on a 1928 play of the same name by George Middleton and A.E. Thomas. The film was written by Garrett Fort, Robert Presnell Sr. and Preston Sturges, who provided the dialogue in his first Hollywood assignment, and was directed by Hobart Henley. The film stars Maurice Chevalier and Claudette Colbert, and features George Barbier, Marion Ballou, and Andrée Corday, and was released by Paramount Pictures.

Robert Florey was a French-American director, screenwriter, film journalist and actor.

Grace Moore American operatic soprano and actress in musical theatre and film

Grace Moore was an American operatic soprano and actress in musical theatre and film. She was nicknamed the "Tennessee Nightingale." Her films helped to popularize opera by bringing it to a larger audience. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in One Night of Love.

Jean Sablon French actor-singer (1906-1994)

Jean Sablon was a French singer, songwriter, composer and actor. He was one of the first French singers to immerse himself in jazz. The man behind several songs by big French and American names, he was the first to use a microphone on a French stage in 1936. Star of vinyl and the radio, he left France in 1937 to take up a contract with NBC in the United States. His radio and later televised shows made him a huge star in America. Henceforth the most international of French singers among his contemporaries, he became an ambassador of French songwriting and dedicated his career to touring internationally, occasionally returning to France to appear on stage. His sixty-one year career came to an end in 1984.

Sam Coslow American songwriter, singer, film producer, publisher, and market analyst

Sam Coslow was an American songwriter, singer, film producer, publisher, and market analyst. Coslow was born in New York City. He began writing songs as a teenager. He contributed songs to Broadway revues, formed the music publishing company Spier and Coslow with Larry Spier and made a number of recordings as a performer.

Mischa Auer Russian-born American actor

Mischa Auer was a Russian-born American actor who moved to Hollywood in the late 1920s. He first appeared in film in 1928. Auer had a long career playing in many of the era's best known films. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1936 for his performance in the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey, which led to further zany comedy roles. He later moved into television and acted in films again in France and Italy well into the 1960s.

<i>Gigi</i> (1958 film) 1958 film by Vincente Minnelli

Gigi is a 1958 American musical-romance film directed by Vincente Minnelli and processed using Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's color film process Metrocolor. The screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner is based on the 1944 novella of the same name by Colette. The film features songs with lyrics by Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, arranged and conducted by André Previn.

John Boles (actor) American actor

John Boles was an American singer and actor best known for playing Victor Moritz in the 1931 film Frankenstein.

Albert Willemetz French librettist (1887–1964)

Albert Willemetz was a French librettist.

Claude Dauphin (actor) French actor

Claude Dauphin was a French actor. He appeared in more than 130 films between 1930 and 1978.

<i>Paramount on Parade</i> 1930 film by Dorothy Arzner, Edmund Goulding

Paramount on Parade is a 1930 all-star American pre-Code revue released by Paramount Pictures, directed by several directors including Edmund Goulding, Dorothy Arzner, Ernst Lubitsch, Rowland V. Lee, A. Edward Sutherland, Lothar Mendes, Otto Brower, Edwin H. Knopf, Frank Tuttle, and Victor Schertzinger—all supervised by the production supervisor, singer, actress, and songwriter Elsie Janis.

Dédé is an opérette or musical comedy in three acts with music by Henri Christiné and a French libretto by Albert Willemetz. It marked an important milestone in developing the career of Maurice Chevalier.

Innocents of Paris is a 1929 black and white American musical film. Directed by Richard Wallace and is based on the play Flea Market, the film was the first musical production by Paramount Pictures. Although the screenplay was regarded as mediocre, the critics were impressed with the newly-arrived Chevalier, for whom they predicted much success. At the preview in Los Angeles, established French film-actor Adolphe Menjou congratulated Chevalier in person.

<i>Playboy of Paris</i> 1930 film by Ludwig Berger

Playboy of Paris is a 1930 American pre-Code musical comedy film directed by Ludwig Berger and starring Maurice Chevalier, Frances Dee, and O.P. Heggie. It was based on a 1911 play The Little Cafe by Tristan Bernard which had previously been adapted into a 1919 French silent film. Paramount produced a separate French-language version Le Petit Café, also starring Chevalier, which broke records for an opening-day attendance in Paris.

The Little Cafe is a French comedy play written by Tristan Bernard which was first performed in 1911. An English-language musical version The Little Cafe was successfully staged in the United States in 1913.

Maurice Yvain was a French composer, noted for his operettas of the 1920s and 1930s, some of which were written for Mistinguett, at one time the best-paid female entertainer in the world. In the 1930s and 1940s he became a major success in the United States and several of his pieces appeared in the famous Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. He also composed music for several films of notable directors such as Anatole Litvak, Julien Duvivier and Henri-Georges Clouzot and his music blended with the then "spirit of Paris".

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Colin Larkin, ed. (2002). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Fifties Music (Third ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 69/70. ISBN   1-85227-937-0.
  2. "Artiste". Musique.rfi.fr. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  3. The Romantic Life of Maurice Chevalier, 1937, William Boyer, Chapter 9.
  4. Sherman, Robert B. (1998). Walt's Time: from before to beyond . Santa Clarita: Camphor Tree Publishers.
  5. 1 2 "Film 1930s I: Hip, Hooray & Ballyhoo". Musicals101.com. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  6. Pace, Eric (July 31, 1996). "Claudette Colbert, Unflappable Heroine of Screwball Comedies, is Dead at 92". The New York Times .
  7. With Love, the Autobiography of Maurice Chevalier, (Cassell, 1960), Chapter 22.
  8. deRochemont, Richard (August 24, 1942). "The French Underground". LIFE.
  9. "Music and the Holocaust: Chevalier, Maurice". Holocaustmusic.ort.org. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  10. "This Second World War film is the greatest documentary ever made". Daily Telegraph. November 24, 2019. Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  11. "Friars Club". October 25, 2008. Archived from the original on October 25, 2008. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  12. "Street view, 4 Rue Maurice Chevalier, Marnes-la-Coquette, France". Google Maps.
  13. Introduction by Robert Osborne, Turner Classic Movies, 11 August 2009
  14. Canadian Culture Online Program. "Expo 67 Man and His World Special Guests: Maurice Chevalier". Library and Archives Canada . Retrieved November 23, 2019.
  15. "Maurice Chevalier Dead; Singer and Actor Was 83". The New York Times . February 14, 1972.

Bibliography