Charles Boyer – Last Matinée Idol Standing

Day 113 of Colourisation Project – August 28

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, 28 August 1899, Charles Boyer was a four time Oscar-nominated French-American actor who appeared in more than 80 films between 1920 and 1976.

With his swarthy good looks and super-suave manner, Charles Boyer put Errol Flynn and Clark Gable on notice! Smouldering eyes, a seductive French accent and a beautifully deep resonant voice led to Hollywood casting him in the 1930s as its newest matinée idol with the ‘je ne sais quoi factor.

Charles Boyer

Publicity Still – Charles Boyer – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Epitomising European charm and impeccable sophistication, his performances left female movie-goers swooning throughout the 1930s and 1940s, and men envious as he played opposite some of the most alluring actresses of the time, including Marlene Dietrich in his first Technicolor film, The Garden of Allah (1936), Greta Garbo in Conquest (1937) which earned him his first Oscar nomination, Ingrid Bergman, Bette Davis, Loretta Young, Katharine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullavan, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard and the list just goes on.

Among his most highly praised romantic dramas were Algiers (1938) with Hedy Lamarr, which earned him his second Oscar nomination, Love Affair (1939) with Irene Dunne, and All This, and Heaven Too (1941) with Bette Davis. His most famous role was in the 1944 mystery-thriller Gaslight alongside Ingrid Bergman, which earned him his third Oscar nomination.

He started on the stage in France, and until the early 1930s made mainly French films.  It was the very successful 1936 Mayerling co-starring Danielle Darrieux which launched his international career.

Boyer wasn’t just a pulsating continental heart throb. With a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne he was fluent in several languages; French, Italian, German, and Spanish, but not English. Though MGM’s offer of a Hollywood contract in 1929 was unusual because of the language barrier, they were able to cast him in foreign-language versions of MGM features for the European market while learning English.

He eventually became proficient enough to play seductive leads in Red-Headed Woman (1932) opposite Jean Harlow, and Caravan (1934) with Loretta Young. Fellow French expatriate Claudette Colbert facilitated his big break in Hollywood by requesting Boyer as her leading man in Private Worlds (1935).

In 1942 he became an American citizen. In 1943, he received an Honorary Oscar Certificate for establishing the French Research Foundation in the late 1930s as a research center for Hollywood productions in order to portray French culture in an authentic light on the screen. In 1948, he was made a chevalier of the French Légion d’honneur.

Boyer continued to make appearances in features and on stage throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including Fanny (1961) with Leslie Caron, which earned him a fourth Oscar nomination, How to Steal a Million (1966) with Audrey Hepburn, and Barefoot in the Park (1967) with Jane Fonda.

His on-screen persona was diametrically opposed to his life away from the cameras.  Boyer avoided all the trappings of the Hollywood celebrity lifestyle and instead spent his time with his head in a book (he was an avid reader) and a quiet life with his wife, the English born actress, Pat Paterson whom he met in 1934 at a dinner party.

Like a romantic scene from one of his movies, it was love at first sight.  Within two weeks they were engaged and three months later they were married. Unlike a lot of Hollywood unions, their marriage was to last 44 years up until Paterson’s death from a brain tumour in 1978.  A true romantic to the end, a heartbroken Boyer when he took his own life two days later with an overdose of barbiturates. It was also two days before his seventy-ninth birthday.

They are buried together alongside their only son, Michael Charles Boyer, who tragically   had also committed suicide in 1965 at the age of 21. It is believed he played Russian roulette with a .38-caliber revolver after quarreling with a girlfriend.

Now, as much as it pains me to burst the illusion, you need to know; Boyer was 5’9 and depending on the height of his leading lady he sometimes wore lifts in his shoes to make himself look taller. Sometimes he would need to stand on a box for those close up scenes. If it helps any, he was not the only male screen idol to do that.

And brace yourselves, this debonair Frenchman started going bald in his early twenties. Yes, he wore a toupee while filming. Of course his height and baldness was not an issue for him in Conquest, where he played the part of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. For the role he was able to brush his thinning hair forward and there was no need for lifts as Napoleon in real life was no more than 5’7″ inches tall. (170 cm) However on the set of All This, and Heaven Too, the story goes that when Bette Davis first saw him minus his toupee, she didn’t recognize him and tried to have him removed. He refused to wear one in public though so it was not through vanity that he did this…it was that old Hollywood machinery that needed to extract every last ounce of sex appeal from this exotic Frenchman. And they did.

The good news is, Boyer’s career lasted longer than any other romantic lead actor in Hollywood, earning him the title ‘the last of the cinema’s great lovers‘.

Charles Boyer has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6300 Hollywood Blvd for his contribution to the motion picture and television industries.


“A Frenchwoman, when double-crossed, will kill her rival; the Italian woman would rather kill her deceitful lover; the Englishwoman simply breaks off relations – but they all will console themselves with another man.”  –  Charles Boyer

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1 Response to Charles Boyer – Last Matinée Idol Standing

  1. Pingback: Ingrid Bergman – Sweden’s Illustrious Gift to Hollywood. | Random Phoughts

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