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01 August 2011

Maurice Chevalier

The trademark of French actor, singer and entertainer Maurice Chevalier (1988 - 1972) was his casual straw hat, which he always wore on stage, plus a cane and a tuxedo. His heavy French accent, melodic voice and Gallic charm made him the prototype of the gallant French monsieur in the Hollywood cinema of the 1930's.

Maurice Chevalier
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 531. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier
Vintage postcard. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard, ca. 1932. Photo: Paramount.

Folies-Bergère
Maurice Auguste Chevalier was born in Paris, France, in 1888. His father was a house painter and his mother was of Belgian descent. 'Mo' made his name as a star of musical comedy, appearing in public as a singer and dancer at an early age. In 1908 he debuted as a comical actor in short films like Trop crédules (1908, Jean Durand) and he even worked a few times with the celebrated comedian Max Linder in Par habitude (1911, Max Linder) and Une mariée qui se fait attendre (1911, Louis J. Gasnier). 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; they eventually played out a public romance. He also appeared with her in the short comedies Une bougie récalcitrante (1912, Georges Monca) and La valse renversante (1914, Georges Monca).

Jack Oakie, Clara Bow, Maurice Chevalier
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5749/1, 1930-1931. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Paramount on Parade (1930, Dorothy Arzner a.o.).

Maurice Chevalier & Miriam Hopkins in The Smiling Lieutenant
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 5976/1, 1930 - 1931. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for The Smiling Lieutenant (1931, Ernst Lubitsch).

Maurice Chevalier
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 6709/1, 1931-1932. Photo: Paramount.

Chevalier sings Mama Inez
French postcard. Photo: Apers, Paris.

Maurice Chevalier
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4676/1, 1929 - 1930. Photo: Paramount.

German Prisoner Camp
During World War I, Maurice Chevalier fought in the French army. He was wounded by shrapnel in the back in the first weeks of combat and was taken as a prisoner of war. During his two years in a German camp, he learned English from an English prisoner. According to Wikipedia, he was released in 1916 through the secret intervention of Mistinguett's admirer, King Alfonso XIII of Spain, the only king of a neutral country who 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. He discovered jazz and ragtime and started thinking about touring the United States. He went to London, where he found new success, even though he still sang in French.

Maurice Chevalier
French postcard by Edition Ross, no. 5545/2. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier & Jeanette MacDonald
Dutch postcard, no. 96. Photo: Paramount. Still from The Love Parade (1929) - Chevalier's first film with Jeanette MacDonald.

Frances Dee and Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for The Playboy of Paris (1930, Ludwig Berger) with Frances Dee.

Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald
Dutch postcard, no. 402. Photo: Paramount.

Bad Boy
After the war, Maurice Chevalier went back to Paris and created several songs still known today, such as Valentine (1924). Chevalier began appearing in films like Le Mauvais garçon/Bad Boy (1922, Henri Diamant Berger), Gonzague (1922, Henri Diamant Berger) and Jim Bougne, boxeur (1923, Henri Diamant Berger) in addition to his work on the stage. There he made a huge 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. Douglas Fairbanks offered him star billing with Mary Pickford, but Chevalier doubted his own talent for silent films (the films he had made in Paris had failed).

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch Postcard, no. 74. Photo: publicity still for Le petit café (1931), a Paramount production directed by the great director Ludwig Berger.

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for Le petit café (1931, Ludwig Berger).

Maurice Chevalier
British postcard in the Colourgraph series, London, no. C 64.

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard, no. 196. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier in The Love Parade
Belgian postcard by Delacre, Charleroi. Photo: Paramount. Publicity still for The Love Parade. Postcard for the Trianon Cinema, Passage de la Bourse, Charleroi, Belgium, where the film was shown from Friday 19 September 1930 on.

Sophistication
When the sound arrived in 1928, Maurice Chevalier tried his luck in Hollywood. In 1929 he starred for Paramount Pictures in his first American film musical, Innocents of Paris (1929, Richard Wallace). In this film he introduced his theme song, Louise (music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Leo Robin). The next seven years, he became recognized as 'the epitome of French charm and sophistication'. He was nominated for Academy Awards for The Love Parade (1929, Ernst Lubitsch) and The Big Pond (1930, Hobart Henley). The Big Pond gave Chevalier his first big American hit songs, Livin' In the Sunlight - Lovin' In the Moonlight , plus A New Kind of Love. Besides The Love Parade Chevalier and director Ernst Lubitsch made four more hilarious pictures together, the all-star revue film Paramount on Parade (1930), The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) with Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins, the Oscar nominated One Hour With You (1932) - again with Jeanette MacDonald, and The Merry Widow (1934), the first sound film of the famous Franz Lehár operetta.

Maurice Chevalier
French postcard in the series Nos artistes dans leur loge, no. 201. Photo: Comoedia.

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard, no 112. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier
French postcard by Europe, no. 1064. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier
French postcard by Viny, no 88. Photo: Paramount.

Maurice Chevalier
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 143. Photo: Erpe, Nice.

Serial Killer
In 1935 Maurice returned to Europe, where he also made several films, like Le vagabond bien-aimé/The Beloved Vagabond (1936, Kurt Bernhardt aka Curtis Bernhardt), Avec le sourire/With a Smile (1936, Maurice Tourneur), L'homme du jour/The Man of the Hour (1937, Julien Duvivier) and Pièges/Snares (1939, Robert Siodmak) in which he played a serial killer. In 1937, he married the dancer Nita Ray. He had several stage successes, such as his revue Paris en Joie in the Casino de Paris. A year later, he performed in Amours de Paris. His songs continued to become big hits, such as Prosper (1935), Ma Pomme (1936) and Ça fait d'excellents français (1939). During World War II, Chevalier kept performing for audiences. In 1941, he performed a new revue in the Casino de Paris: Bonjour Paris, which was another success. Songs like Ça sent si bon la France and La Chanson du maçon also became hits. The Nazis asked Chevalier to perform in Berlin and to sing for the collaborating radio station Radio-Paris. He refused, but he did perform in front of war prisoners in Germany at the camp where he was interned in World War I, and succeeded in liberating ten people in exchange. In 1942 he returned to Bocca, near Cannes, but returned to Paris in September. In 1944 when Allied forces freed France, Chevalier was accused of collaborationism. 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.

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard by JosPe, Arnhem, no. 392

Maurice Chevalier
Dutch postcard by JosPé, Arnhem. Photo: Maurice Chevalier in the fishertown of Volendam, The Netherlands. This picture was taken in 1932 when he visited Holland.

Maurice Chevalier in The Hague (1932)
Dutch postcard by JosPé, Arnhem. 'Den Haag 21 September 1932' is written on the backside of the postcard. That night Chevalier performed at the Gebouw voor Kunsten en Wetenschappen (Arts & Sciences building) in Den Haag/The Hague, The Netherlands. The day before Chevalier had visited Volendam and Amsterdam and had performed at the still existing - Amsterdam movie palace Tuschinski Theater.

Gigi
After World War II, Maurice Chevalier was still popular in France. In 1946, he split from Nita Ray and started writing his memoirs, which took many years to complete. He toured the world with his one-man show and acted in films like Le Silence est d'Or/Silence Is Golden (1946, René Clair). In the late 1950's, he returned to Hollywood. The Billy Wilder film Love in the Afternoon (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper was his first Hollywood film in more than 20 years. Chevalier then appeared in the hit musical Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli) with Leslie Caron. Older and gray-headed he sang his signature songs, Thank Heaven for Little Girls, and I Remember it Well. The success of Gigi prompted Hollywood to give him an Honorary Academy Award in 1959 for his achievements in entertainment. In the 1960's, he continued to make a few more films, including the drama Fanny (1961, Joshua Logan), in which he starred with Leslie Caron and Charles Boyer. This film was an updated version of Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy. In 1970, he sang the title song for Walt Disney's, The Aristocats. This marked his last contribution to the film industry. Maurice Chevalier died in Paris, in 1972, aged 83.


The great opening scene of Love Me Tonight (1932, Rouben Mamoulian), with a 'symphony of sound'. Maurice Chevalier sings Song of Paree by Rodgers & Hart. Source: Chevalier du Christ (Daily Motion).


Maurice Chevalier sings Thank Heaven For Little Girls in Gigi (1958, Vincente Minnelli). Source: Cedric (Daily Motion).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.

2 comments:

Christine said...

And I thought I knew a thing or two about Maurice Chevalier...but not all this. A fascinating read. Thank you so much!

Sheila said...

Oh yes, I remember him well. :) Well not all of it, but I do remember his later years.