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17 January 2012

Georges Guétary

Suave singing star Georges Guétary (1915 - 1997) performed on the London and Broadway stages, but the light tenor achieved his greatest renown in France, where he had a musical career of nearly 60 years. To international cinema audiences he is best known as Gene Kelly's rival for the affections of Leslie Caron in An American in Paris.

Georges Guétary
French postcard by IPB. Photo: Disques Pathé.

Georges Guétary
French postcard by Imp. De Marchi Frères, Marseille.

Phosphorescently Brilliant Smile and Velvety Voice
Georges Guétary was born Lambros Worloou, to Greek parents in 1915 in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was a figure in the textile industry, and intended his son to follow in his footsteps. His uncle however was the classical pianist Tasso Janopoulo, who was an accompanist to such violinists as Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, and Yehudi Menuhin. Through his influence Lambros went to Paris in 1934, where his father hoped that he would further his knowledge of commercial procedures. Instead Lambros studied music and voice. Humming a song in the office of a concert organizer while on an errand for his teacher, he was asked to audition, he recounted in his memoirs, and left with a one-night singing contract. He became the singer in the orchestra of Jo Bouillon. Not long after making this first stage appearance in 1937, his career took off when he was discovered by Henri Varna, director of the Casino de Paris and became there the singing partner of the music hall queen Mistinguett. James Kirkup at The Independent offers a different version: "he was 'discovered' one night by the eagle- eyed Mistinguett, who fell for his dimpled smile's almost phosphorescent brilliance, and for his velvety voice. He started appearing as her cavalier at the Casino de Paris in 1938, and was an immediate popular succcess." That year he also made his first film appearance in the musical Quand le cœur chante/When the Heart Sings (1938, Bernard Roland). In 1942 he changed his Greek name into Georges Guétary because German occupiers in wartime France were sending enemy nationals to concentration camps. When he worked in Toulouse as a Maitre d’Hotel he met the accordeonist Fredo Gardoni who engaged him as a singer and let him make his first record. Another important meeting was the one with Basque composer Francis Lopez in 1943. Lopez created the chansons Caballero and Robin des Bois for him, which became huge successes. During the liberation everybody was singing his song, A Honolulu (1945), also written by Lopez. That same year Georges Guétary also appeared in the film Le Cavalier noir/The Black Cavalier (1945, Gilles Grangier) in which he again interpreted many songs by Francis Lopez: Cavalier, Avec l'amour, La plus belle, and especially Chic à Chiquito, another enormous success. His next film, Les Aventures de Casanova/Loves of Casanova (1946, Jean Boyer), was also a smash hit.

Georges Guétary
French postcard by Editions P.I., Paris, no. 19. Photo: Studio Carlet Ainé.

Georges Guétary
French postcard by Editions du Globe (E.D.U.G.), Paris, no. 19. Photo: Carlet Ainé.

Georges Guétary
French postcard by Editions E. C., Paris, no. 115. Photo: Carlet Ainé.

From the West End to Broadway
In 1947 Georges Guétary achieved acclaim on the London stage, when he was imported from Paris by impresario C. B. Cochran to star with Lizbeth Webb in the operetta Bless the Bride at the Adelphi Theater. He played the role of a handsome French actor who elopes with a young English girl on the day she is to marry someone else. The bride is parted from her husband by the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and believes him killed, but the lovers are reunited in time for the final curtain. Praise for his performance led to offers from Broadway. In 1950, he made his debut at the 46th Street Theater, starring with Nanette Fabray in Arms and the Girl, a musical set in the days of the American Revolution. Critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times: “The part of her foreign-born suitor is played by Georges Guetary, who can act a character and sing a song with gusto, and make stage love in the Continental style, which has obvious advantages.” This success paved the road to Hollywood, where he appeared in his best known film, An American in Paris (1951, Vincente Minnelli), built around the music of George Gershwin. He played Gene Kelly's rival for the affections of Leslie Caron. Guétary was the focus of attention in a spectacular scene in which he strutted up and down a majestic staircase singing I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise while flanked by willowy and scantily (but flamboyantly) clad showgirls; and he shared the spotlight with Gene Kelly in a rousing rendition of ‘S Wonderful.

Georges Guétary
French postcard.

Georges Guétary
French postcard by Edition P.I., Paris, no. 29 K. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Georges Guétary
French postcard. Photo: Teddy Piaz.

Georges Guétary
French postcard, no. 157.

Latin lover with a voice of Creme Chantilly
In 1950 Georges Guétary returned to France and became a French citizen. In 1955, he married Jeanine Guyon, then the only female producer in French television. He starred in two enormously successful operettas by Francis Lopez, Pour Don Carlos (420 performances at the Théâtre du Châtelet, the temple of operetta) and La Route fleurie/The Flowery Path (four years at the ABC theatre) with comedian Bourvil and Annie Cordy. Guétary starred in several more stage operettas, including Pacifico (1958), La Polka des lampions (1962), and Monsieur Carnaval (1965), with music by Charles Aznavour. In 1981, Francis Lopez again asked Georges Guétary for a new operetta, Aventure à Monte-Carlo, which had a honourable succes. After this the two created more operettas like L'Amour à Tahiti (1983), Carnaval aux Caraïbes (1985) and Le Roi du Pacifique (1986), but they couldn’t repeat their successes of the 1950’s. Among Guétary’s most popular recordings were Bambino, Papa Aime Maman and La Samba Bresilienne. He appeared in French, Spanish and German films, including Pluma al viento/Plume au vent/Feather in the Wind (1952, Louis Cuny, Ramon Torrado), Le Baron Tzigane/The Gypsy Baron (1954, Arthur Maria Rabenalt) - an adaptation of the Johann Strauss operetta Der Zigeunerbaron, and Le chemin du paradis/The Road To Paradise (1955, Hans Wolff, Willi Forst) with Christine Carrère. The latter was an alternate language version of Die Drei von der Tankstelle/The Three of the gas Station (1955, Hans Wolff), a remake of the 1930 hit musical starring Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch. Guétary also sang and danced on television. 'The Eternal Young Man' continued to give some 40 gala performances a year until his retirement on the Riviera in 1995. Georges Guétary died of a heart attack in 1997 in Mougins at the French Riviera. He was 82, and was survived by his wife and two children, director Hélène Guétary and actor François Guétary. In his obituary in The Independent, James Kirkup comes far while trying to capture Guétary's enduring appeal: "Part of Guetary's exotic charm, and much of his stage persona as a 'Latin lover' with a voice of Creme Chantilly resided in his mischievous innocence combined with an erotic mystery inherent in his ancestry. (...) The warm good-natured Guetary's teasing was always tender, and la Miss (Mistinguett) adored him, as did many of the ladies (and some of the gentlemen) who fell under his irresistible spell."


Georges Guétary and Martine Carol in Trente et quarante/Thirty and forty (1946, Gilles Grangier). Source: Stephenjoeagi (YouTube).


Theatrical trailer An American In Paris (1951). Source: Astor Theatre (YouTube).


Georges Guétary sings Les enfants du Pirée. Source: Avec Joie (YouTube).

Sources: Lawrence van Gelder (The New York Times), James Kirkup (The Independent), Jean-Claude Fournier (perso.orange.fr) (French), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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