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Claudette Colbert Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5) | Mini Bio (3) | Spouse (2) | Trivia (27) | Personal Quotes (14) | Salary (7)

Overview (5)

Date of Birth 13 September 1903Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, France
Date of Death 30 July 1996Speightstown, Barbados  (after a series of strokes)
Birth NameEmilie Claudette Chauchoin
Nickname Lily
Height 5' 4½" (1.64 m)

Mini Bio (3)

One of the brightest film stars to grace the screen was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin on September 13, 1903, in Saint Mandé, France where her father owned a bakery at 57, Avenue Général de Gaulle. The family moved to the United States when she was three. As Claudette grew up, she wanted nothing more than to play to Broadway audiences (in those days, any actress or actor worth their salt went for Broadway, not Hollywood). After her formal education ended, she enrolled in the Art Students League, where she paid for her dramatic training by working in a dress shop. She made her Broadway debut in 1923 in the stage production of "The Wild Wescotts". It was during this event that she adopted the name Claudette Colbert.

When the Great Depression shut down most of the theaters, Claudette decided to make a go of it in films. Her first film was called For the Love of Mike (1927). Unfortunately, it was a box-office disaster. She wasn't real keen on the film industry, but with an extreme scarcity in theatrical roles, she had no choice but to remain. In 1929 she starred as Joyce Roamer in The Lady Lies (1929). The film was a success and later that year she had another hit entitled The Hole in the Wall (1929). In 1930 she starred opposite Fredric March in Manslaughter (1930), which was a remake of the silent version of eight years earlier. A year after that Claudette was again paired in a film with March, Honor Among Lovers (1931). It fared well at the box-office, probably only because it was the kind of film that catered to women who enjoyed magazine fiction romantic stories. In 1932 Claudette played the evil Poppeia in Cecil B. DeMille's last great work, The Sign of the Cross (1932), and once again was cast with March. Later the same year she was paired with Jimmy Durante in The Phantom President (1932). By now Claudette's name symbolized good movies and she, along with March, pulled crowds into the theaters with the acclaimed Tonight Is Ours (1933).

The next year started a little on the slow side with the release of Four Frightened People (1934), where Claudette and her co-stars were at odds with the dreaded bubonic plague on board a ship. However, the next two films were real gems for this young actress. First up, Claudette was charming and radiant in Cecil B. DeMille's spectacular Cleopatra (1934). It wasn't one of DeMille's finest by any means, but it was a financial success and showcased Claudette as never before. However, it was as Ellie Andrews, in the now famous It Happened One Night (1934), that ensured she would be forever immortalized. Paired with Clark Gable, the madcap comedy was a mega-hit all across the country. It also resulted in Claudette being nominated for and winning the Oscar that year for Best Actress. IN 1935 she was nominated again for Private Worlds (1935), where she played Dr. Jane Everest, on the staff at a mental institution. The performance was exquisite. Films such as The Gilded Lily (1935), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) and No Time for Love (1943) kept fans coming to the theaters and the movie moguls happy. Claudette was a sure drawing card for virtually any film she was in. In 1944 she starred as Anne Hilton in Since You Went Away (1944). Again, although she didn't win, Claudette picked up her third nomination for Best Actress.

By the late 1940s and early 1950s she was not only seen on the screen but the infant medium of television, where she appeared in a number of programs. However, her drawing power was fading somewhat as new stars replaced the older ones. In 1955 she filmed the western Texas Lady (1955) and wasn't seen on the screen again until Parrish (1961). It was her final silver screen performance. Her final appearance before the cameras was in a TV movie, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987). She did, however, remain on the stage where she had returned in 1956, her first love. After a series of strokes, Claudette divided her time between New York and Barbados. On July 30, 1996, Claudette died in Speightstown, Barbados. She was 92.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Denny Jackson

Screenwriter Allan Scott was one of Claudette Colbert's biggest fans after working with her on Skylark (1941) and So Proudly We Hail! (1943). When she had trouble with one of his scenes she never said, "I can't play this scene"; her attitude was, "I think I'm missing something here", he recalled decades later when writing about Colbert's deep understanding as a friend. In their first film together, he was especially impressed with her improvisation of a tightly blocked comedy scene where she prepared a meal aboard a yacht during a storm. She did it in one take. Her "New York Times" obituary gave more insight into her professionalism: "She could appear worldly and sophisticated yet down to earth, and this quality, combined with acute attention to camera angles, lighting and other professional details, helped her to sustain a remarkably durable career that encompassed more than 60 films and many stage appearances". In 1981, in her seventh decade in show business, "New York Times" critic Frank Rich, praising her performance in the Broadway flop "A Talent for Murder", called her 'a lady of piquant, irrepressible, ever-so-amusing common sense", with "her big Betty Boop eyes, curly light hair" and "her low, one-of-the-boys voice, effortlessly hurling asides like pool balls into every pocket of the house."

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Dale O'Connor <daleoc@worldnet.att.net>

Claudette Colbert was born in Paris and brought to the United States as a child three years later. Born Lily Claudette Chauchoin, she went to high school in New York. She was studying at the Art Students League when, in 1923, she took the name Claudette Colbert for her first Broadway role in "The Wild Westcotts". Her most noteworthy stage vehicle was the "The Barker" in 1927. Her first film was a silent For the Love of Mike (1927), directed by Frank Capra. Made on a shoestring, the movie was a flop, and she vowed that it would be her last film role: "I only left Broadway when the crash came. The Depression killed the theater, and the pictures were manna from heaven". She had her first film success the next year, however, in The Lady Lies (1929). Her early notable films were all box-office hits and included Cleopatra (1934), in which she played the title role enticingly. She had her greatest triumph playing a runaway heiress, with enormous charm, opposite Clark Gable in Capra's comedy It Happened One Night (1934), for which she won the Academy Award as Best Actress. By 1938 her keen ability in business made her the highest paid star in Hollywood. By 1950, though, her star had begun to wane. She returned to the stage in 1956 when she replaced Margaret Sullavan during the spring and summer in the comedy "Janus". Appearances in other Broadway productions followed, including "The Marriage-Go-Round". Besides the stage, she did TV specials and had a supporting role in a notable TV movie, The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987), for which she received a Golden Globe award. In 1989 she was presented with a Life Achievement award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She married actor Norman Foster in 1928, although they never lived together and were divorced after seven years. She married surgeon Dr. Joel Pressman soon after and remained married until his death in 1968. In recent years she divided her time between an apartment in New York and a 200-year-old plantation house in Speightstown, Barbados, where she entertained such guests as Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan. She remained on Barbados after her stroke three years ago.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Spouse (2)

Dr. Joel Pressman (24 December 1935 - 26 February 1968) (his death)
Norman Foster (13 March 1928 - 1935) (divorced)

Trivia (27)

Most shots of her in her films were of her left profile. She considered her left side to be her best and only rarely allowed full face or right profile shots; an injury to her nose had created a bump on the right. Once an entire set had to be rebuilt so she wouldn't have to show her right side, resulting in some cameramen calling the right side of her face "the dark side of the moon".
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 111-112. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
Was nominated for Broadway's 1959 Tony Award as Best Actress (Dramatic) for "The Marriage-Go-Round."
Biography in: "American National Biography". Supplement 1, pp. 115-117. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Was named #12 Actress on The American Film Institute's 50 Greatest Screen Legends
Urged good friend Charles Boyer to learn English, in order to further his American movie career.
She was so convinced that she would lose the Oscar competition in 1935 to write-in nominee Bette Davis, that she decided not to attend the awards ceremony. When she, contrary to her belief, won that year for her performance in It Happened One Night (1934) she was summoned from a train station to pick up her Oscar.
In Italy, in her early films, most notably the multi-Oscar winner It Happened One Night (1934), she was dubbed by Nella Maria Bonora. Unlike other prominent Hollywood actresses, Colbert didn't have an 'official Italian voice': She was often dubbed by Giovanna Scotto and Lidia Simoneschi but Marcella Rovena, Andreina Pagnani, Tina Lattanzi and Lia Orlandini lent their voice to her at some point as well.
After filming The Secret Heart (1946) together, she and co-star, June Allyson, became great friends. Colbert became godmother to Allyson's daughter, Pamela Powell.
Was offered the part of Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday (1940), but she turned it down. As a result Rosalind Russell was cast instead.
A 1945 trade publication announced she was being considered for a role as a French aristocrat in Adventures of Don Juan (1948), but by the time this film came out in 1948, the role no longer existed.
Twice appeared with fellow Academy Award winner Rex Harrison late in their careers in Broadway productions; "The Kingfisher" by William Douglas-Home opening at the Biltmore Theatre on December 16, 1978 running for 181 performances and "Aren't We All" by Frederick Lonsdale opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on April 2, 1985 running for 93 performances.
Profiled in the book, "Funny Ladies: 100 Years of Great Comediennes", by Stephen M. Silverman.
After the release of The Secret Fury (1950), RKO offered the actress the option of directing as well as acting, but she turned the offer down.
After the completion of For the Love of Mike (1927), Colbert told one and all, "I shall never make another film".
The shelving of a proposed movie about "Joan of Arc", at Warner Brothers in 1936, to be directed by Anatole Litvak, was considered one of her greatest disappointments in her career.
Godmother of Helen B. Kelly.
Is one of 5 French actors to have won an Academy Award. The others in chronological order are: Simone Signoret for Room at the Top (1959), Juliette Binoche for The English Patient (1996), Marion Cotillard for La Vie en Rose (2007) and Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011).
Is one of 12 French actresses to have received an Academy Award nomination. The others in chronological order are: Colette Marchand, Leslie Caron, Simone Signoret, Anouk Aimée, Isabelle Adjani, Marie-Christine Barrault, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, Bérénice Bejo and Emmanuelle Riva.
She was a staunch Republican and natural conservative.
She was close friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
Was a naturalized citizen of the United States.
She was a graduate of Washington Irving High School in New York City in 1923.
After Colbert secretly married Norman Foster in 1928, they announced that they would maintain separate residences so that "love would never die." Evidently it did as the couple divorced in 1935.
Was considered for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Since a slipped disc left her in traction in 1950, while at home in Barbados, Colbery swam twice in the ocean daily for thirty minutes.
Is one of 14 Best Actress Oscar winners to have not accepted their Academy Award in person, Colbert's being for It Happened One Night (1934). The others are Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, Anna Magnani, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren, Anne Bancroft, Patricia Neal, Elizabeth Taylor, Maggie Smith, Glenda Jackson and Ellen Burstyn.

Personal Quotes (14)

Most of us don't know about happiness until it's over.
I've always believed that acting is instinct to start with; you either have it or you don't.
Audiences always sound like they're glad to see me, and I'm damned glad to see them. If they want you, you want to do it.
I know what's best for me, after all I have been in the Claudette Colbert business longer than anybody.
[after having been asked to write her autobiography] Books written by actresses are for the birds. Besides, what would I write? That somebody was looking for an Italian type to play the ingénue in a film and I might do?
Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have the same enemy - the mother.
[to Bette Davis] You're the luckiest of us all. You started playing older women when you were young. So you never had to bridge the gap.
[on Clark Gable] I was so happy to be within two feet of him.
This I know for sure. Of all the marriages I've seen where the husband has love for his wife after fifteen years, the wife has the ability to make him laugh. She is gay when he comes home. She doesn't bore him with her petty ills.
Some women think if you don't expect too much you won't be let down. I always expect miracles. Sure, I'm let down. But they're near miracles.
[on winning the best actress Oscar for It Happened One Night (1934)] I was surprised when I got the prize. I really had no idea I would get it. In fact, I was ready to leave for New York the night they called to tell me about it. Dressed in a mousy brown suit, I was escorted into the banquet hall full of diamonds and tail coats. It was especially embarrassing because I imagined they thought I was putting on an act, making an entrance.
[In 1982] I try to live sensibly. I sleep well, eat well, and have only one drink a day. I have managed to stay at 108 pounds - which is what I weighed years ago. i eat three meals a day, but if I'm working in a play, I need four meals a day for additional energy.
[During the 60s] I think there was more sex in those old films than in all that thrashing around today. I'm tired of sex scenes.
I always had the feeling on the screen, and I never lost it, that I'd never given my best performance. I never felt I'd had enough rehearsing. When you go on the stage after four weeks of rehearsal, you know what you're doing. And really, there's nothing like that wonderful feeling of facing your audience.

Salary (7)

It Happened One Night (1934) $50,000
She Married Her Boss (1935) $50,000
The Bride Comes Home (1935) $150,000
Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) $150,000
Zaza (1938) $150,000
Midnight (1939) $150,000
Since You Went Away (1944) $265,000

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