French ballet dancer Leslie Caron was discovered by the legendary MGM star Gene Kelly during his search for a co-star in one of the finest musicals ever filmed, the Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951), which was inspired by and based on the music of George Gershwin. Leslie's gamine looks and pixie-like appeal would be ideal for Cinderella-type rags-to-riches stories, and Hollywood made fine use of it. Combined with her fluid dancing skills, she became one of the top foreign musical artists of the 1950s, while her triple-threat talents as a singer, dancer and actress sustained her long after musical film's "Golden Age" had passed.
Leslie Claire Margaret Caron was born in France on July 1, 1931. Her father, Claude Caron, was a French chemist, and her American-born mother, Margaret Petit, had been a ballet dancer back in the States during the 1920s. Leslie herself began taking dance lessons at age 11. She was on holidays at her grandparents' estate near Grasse when the Allies landed on the 15th of August 1944. After the German rendition, she and her family went to Paris to live. There she attended the Convent of the Assumption and started ballet training. While studying at the National Conservatory of Dance, she appeared at age 14 in "The Pearl Diver," a show for children where she danced and played a little boy. At age 16, she was hired by the renowned Roland Petit to join the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, where she was immediately given solo parts.
Leslie's talent and reputation as a dancer had already been recognized when on opening night of Petit's 1948 ballet "La Rencontre," which was based on the theme of Orpheus and featured the widely-acclaimed dancer 'Jean Babilee', she was seen by then-married Hollywood couple Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair. Leslie did not meet the famed pair at the end of the show that night as the 17-year-old went home dutifully right after her performance, but one year later Kelly remembered Leslie's performance when he returned to Paris in search for a partner for his upcoming movie musical An American in Paris (1951). The rest is history.
Kelly and newcomer Caron's touching performances and elegant and exuberant footwork (especially in the "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "Embraceable You" numbers, as well as the dazzling 17-minute ballet to the title song) had critics and audiences simply enthralled. The film, directed by Vincente Minnelli, won a total of six Oscar awards, including "Best Picture," plus a Golden Globe for "Best Picture in a Musical or Comedy". Leslie was put under a seven-year MGM contract where her luminous skills would also be featured in non-musical showcases.
While Leslie's dramatic mettle was tested as a New Orleans nightclub entertainer opposite Ralph Meeker's boxer in Glory Alley (1952) and as a French governess in The Story of Three Loves (1953), it was as the child-like urchin who falls for a cruel carnival puppeteer (Mel Ferrer) in Lili (1953) that finally lifted Leslie to Academy Award attention. The film, which went on to inspire the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Carnival," earned Leslie not only an Oscar nomination, but the British Film Award for "Best Actress" as well. At her waif-like best once again in the musical Daddy Long Legs (1955), Leslie was paired this time with the "other" MGM male dancing legend Fred Astaire. The story, which unfolded in an appealing Henry Higgins/Eliza Dolittle style, was partly choreographed by Roland Petit, who founded the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, Leslie's former dance company.
While the actress gave poignant life to the ugly-duckling-turned-swan tale, The Glass Slipper (1955), choreographed by Petit and co-starring Britisher Michael Wilding as Prince Charming, Leslie also played a ballerina in love with WWII soldier John Kerr in Gaby (1956), a lukewarm remake of the superior Waterloo Bridge (1940). It took another plush musical classic, Gigi (1958), to remind audiences once again of Leslie's unique, international appeal. Audrey Hepburn, who had played the title part on Broadway, was keen on doing the film, but producer Arthur Freed wrote the part expressly for Leslie. It was also Freed who called up Fred Astaire to suggest her as his leading lady in Gigi (1958). Leslie tried the role out on the London stage prior to doing the film version. The musical wound up receiving nine Academy Awards, including "Best Picture," and Leslie herself was nominated for a Golden Globe as "Best Musical/Comedy Actress".
A few more forgettable film roles came and went until she returned triumphantly in a non-musical adaptation of a highly successful 1954 Broadway musical. The film version of Fanny (1961) was more adult in nature for Leslie and was blessed with gorgeous cinematography, a touching script and the continental flavor of veterans, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Boyer, and Horst Buchholz. At the movie's centerpiece is a child-like Leslie (at age 30!) who is mesmerizing as a young girl with child who is deserted by her sailor/boyfriend. Even more adult in scope was the shattering British drama The L-Shaped Room (1962) wherein the actress plays a pregnant French refugee who is abandoned yet again. She earned her a second British Academy Award and a second Oscar nomination for this superb performance.
On stage in London with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Leslie earned applause in another Audrey Hepburn Broadway vehicle, "Ondine," in 1961. While the mid-1960s and 1970s saw her film career take a Hollywood detour into breezy comedy with a number of lightweight fare opposite the likes of Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and Warren Beatty, she managed to shine with a complex working class mother role in the remarkable Italian film Il padre di famiglia (1967) starring Nino Manfredi and Ugo Tognazzi, and was spotted in the popular crossover film Valentino (1977) starring iconic Russian ballet star Rudolf Nureyev.
In the 1980s, Leslie appeared in stage productions of "Can-Can", "On Your Toes" and "One for the Tango". She also was invited and accepted to appear on American TV. At the age of 75, the actress won her first Emmy Award with her very moving portrayal of an elderly woman and closeted rape victim in a 2006 episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (1999). More recent filming have included Damage (1992) by Louis Malle, Chocolat (2000) by Lasse Hallström, and the Merchant Ivory romantic comedy/drama Le divorce (2003).
Leslie's private life has been more turbulent than expected. She is divorced from the late meat packing heir and musician Geordie Hormel; from avant-garde Royal Shakespeare director Peter Hall, by whom she has two children, Christopher and Jennifer (both of whom have careers in the entertainment field); and from her Chandler (1971) movie producer Michael Laughlin.
One of the few MGM post-musical stars to enjoy a long, lasting and formidable dramatic career, Leslie Caron is still continuing today though on a more limited basis. She has received a number of Life Achievement Awards for her contributions to both film and dance. In 2008, the actress published her memoirs, "Thank Heaven," later translated to French as "Une Francaise à Hollywood". In 2010, she again triumphed on the Chatelet Theater stage in Paris with her portrayal of Madame Armfeldt in Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music".
|Michael Laughlin||(1 January 1969 - 1980) (divorced)|
|Peter Hall||(6 August 1956 - 5 February 1965) (divorced) 2 children|
|Geordie Hormel||(23 September 1951 - March 1954) (divorced)|
Was president of the jury at the 'Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin' in 1989.
Born of a French father and an American mother
For Peter Hall's 30th birthday her present was - simply - a Rolls Royce.
When she told Fred Astaire that she wanted to create her own costumes for Daddy Long Legs (1955), he responded: "OK, but no feathers, please". Astaire recalled the exasperation he had with one of Ginger Rogers' elaborate gowns in a dance scene in Top Hat (1935). Some ostrich feathers broke loose from Ginger Rogers' gown and mischievously floated in mid air around Astaire's face. The shedding dress episode was recreated to hilarious effect in a scene from Easter Parade (1948) in which Fred Astaire danced with a clumsy, comical dancer played by Judy Garland.
Her talent as a dancer had been already noticed in 1948 by Gene Kelly and his wife Betsy Blair in a Roland Petit's ballet on the theme of Oedipus, but they could not meet her at the end of the show, because she went home like a good girl.
Member of jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1980
Once romantically linked (1995-1996) to handsome "Laredo" actor Robert Wolders who married older actress Merle Oberon and was the companion of older actress Audrey Hepburn until her death in 1993. Leslie is five years older than Wolders.
Her first marriage to musician, composer and meat-packing planet heir (Hormel Foods) Geordie Hormel ended after 3 years. Her second marriage to famed stage director Peter Hall also ended in divorce, with his naming Warren Beatty, her co-star in Promise Her Anything (1965), as co-respondent. The London court ordered Beatty to pay court costs.
She was nominated for a 1975 Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Guest Artist for her performance in the play, "13 Rue De L'Amour," at the Arlington Park Theatre in Chicago, Illinois.
One of the few actresses to have danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in the movies, other actresses that have also done this includes Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, Debbie Reynolds, and Rita Hayworth.
Received the 2,394th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame [December 2009].
Is one of 12 French actresses to have received an Academy Award nomination. The others in chronological order are: Claudette Colbert, Colette Marchand, Simone Signoret, Anouk Aimée, Isabelle Adjani, Marie-Christine Barrault, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Marion Cotillard, Bérénice Bejo and Emmanuelle Riva.
Unfortunately, Hollywood considers musical dancers as hoofers. Regrettable expression.
Even now I feel furious with myself because whenever there's a camera pointed towards me my MGM training makes me smile. I don't like it. You can see it on all the people who came from that era because there was no question of them not smiling for the camera. Even Katharine Hepburn -- and God knows she was a dramatic actress -- if the camera is on her she smiles.
(1997) Owned and operated an inn located at "Villeneuve-sur-Yonne", about 100km South of Paris. The name of the inn is La "Lucarne aux Chouettes", which loosely translates to 'The Owl's Nest'. The hotel was sold in 2010.
(September 2011) Between Paris, London and New York
(December 2010) New York City - appeared for "An Evening of Leslie Caron" sponsored by the Film Forum Theater as part of her effort to promote her recent paperback, "Thank Heaven: A Memoir"
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