Maurice Chevalier – Quintessentially French?

Day 128 of Colourisation Project – September 12

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

There was a joke in the film industry that the quintessential Frenchman, Maurice Chevalier used to return to France to polish up on his accent. Part of Chevalier’s continental charm was of course his thick French accent which shone through gloriously in his acting, however it was just a gimmick. Yes, it was a fake accent. Chevalier’s English was quite fluent and spoken with more of an American accent.

Publicity Still – Maurice Chevalier Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, September 12, 1888, in Paris, Maurice Auguste Chevalier was an actor, singer, entertainer and one of France’s greatest ambassadors of French culture. Chevalier delighted audiences worldwide in a career spanning five-decades that encompassed vaudeville, light opera, motion pictures and one-man concerts.

He is perhaps best known outside of France for his signature songs, Louise and Thank Heaven for Little Girls and for the films, The Love Parade and The Big Pond. Perennially outfitted in his trademark tuxedo tails and straw boater, Chevalier seduced his audiences with his effervescent Parisian charm.

Earlier on in his life, a serious accident ended what could have been a career as an acrobat and so it was that he turned his talents to singing and acting. A brief affair in 1909 with the biggest female star in France at the time, Fréhel, 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. He was making his name as a star of musical comedy when he heard the call to go to war. He enlisted in the French army and was wounded in the first weeks of battle. Captured by the Germans and interned in a POW camp for two years, Chevalier managed to learn English from fellow prisoners. He was released in 1916 with the secret intervention of King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who was an admirer of Chevalier’s girlfriend at the time.

By 1917, he had discovered jazz and ragtime and made his way to London’s, Palace Theatre where he enjoyed considerable success. However with the advent of ‘talkies’, Hollywood beckoned. Chevalier made his debut in Innocents of Paris (1928). 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).  He also appeared in Paramount’s all-star revue film Paramount on Parade (1930) followed by a string of musical hits, including Love Me Tonight (1932)

In 1935 he returned to Europe to make several films in France and England, when war interrupted his career yet again.  Chevalier was living with his second wife, Nita in Nazi occupied France. When called on to entertain the German troops in Berlin, he refused and only agreed to perform at the prison camp where he was held during the First World War on the condition that ten French prisoners would be released. The Allied news media got their wires crossed in relaying the story.  He was accused of collaboration with the Nazi occupiers.

After the liberation of Paris in 1944, Chevalier was arrested and put on trial by French authorities. He was acquitted and later vindicated, but feelings ran high against him for several years before he was granted a visa to leave France.

It was only through the efforts of French general Charles de Gaulle and fellow entertainer, Marlene Dietrich, that Chevalier was entirely cleared of the charges. In 1951, however the U.S. State Department declared Chevalier ‘potentially dangerous’ to the security of the United States because he had signed a petition against nuclear weapons called the Stockholm Appeal.

After the war, Chevalier toured the world with a one-man show. By the mid 1950s, with the McCarthy era abating all was forgiven and he returned to Hollywood, where he appeared in a string of films including Love in the Afternoon (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper followed by Vincente Minelli’s Gigi (1958) which earned him a special Oscar for his contributions to the world of entertainment and relaunched his sagging career. Chevalier now in his seventies made eight films between 1960 and 1963;  Count Your Blessings,(1959) Can-Can (1960), Pepe (1960), A Breath of Scandal (1960), Fanny (1961) Jessica (1962), In Search of the Castaways (1962) and A New Kind of Love (1963).

Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, he also found work in TV and made a number of memorable TV appearances in programs such as The Jack Benny Program and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. For a laugh, check out the 1958 episode, Lucy Goes to Mexico, where Chevalier makes a guest appearance. It’s very dated of course but still you can’t help laughing at Lucy’s antics.

Chevalier retired in 1968 and made his last contribution to the film industry singing the title song in Walt Disney’s, The AristoCats (1970). Two years later he died in Paris, on January 1, 1972, aged 83.

His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 1651 Vine Street.

On his death the Times of London wrote: “Paris has lost another piece of its history and of its legend”.

________________________________________________________

“The French are true romantics. They feel the only difference between a man of forty and one of seventy is thirty years of experience.”  –  Maurice Chevalier

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