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16 January 2013

Corinne Luchaire

French film actress Corinne Luchaire (1921 – 1950) was a star of French cinema on the eve of World War II. Because of her association with the German occupation she was sentenced to ‘national degradation’ after the war. After writing an autobiography, she died from tuberculosis aged only 28.

Corinne Luchaire
French postcard by Editions O.P., Paris, no. 313. Photo: Studio Piaz.

Corinne Luchaire
French postcard by SERP, Paris, no. 9. Photo: Studio Harcourt.

The New Garbo
Corinne Luchaire was born Rosita Christiane Yvette Luchaire in Paris in 1921. She was the daughter of journalist and politician Jean Luchaire and Françoise Besnard, daughter of the painter Robert Besnard. Her paternal grandfather Julien Luchaire was a playwright and her maternal grandfather Armand Besnard was also a painter. Her sister Florence was also an actress. Her mother became Gustav Stresemann's mistress, and they moved to Germany with Corinne. Corinne charmed Stresemann's friend Baron Kurt Freiherr von Schröder, who let her live in his mansion. Schroeder was an important member of the Freundeskreis der Wirtschaft which had provided Adolf Hitler and his party with enough financial support to survive through the early 1930's. He also had hosted a critical meeting on 4 January 1933 between Papen and Hitler — a meeting that eventually led to Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany. Corinne grew up around the Nazis who frequented the banker Schröder at his home. Corinne left school to join the drama class of Raymond Rouleau. Under the name Rose Davel, she made her stage debut in Altitude 3200, a play written by her grandfather and directed by Rouleau. Her film debut was a small part in Les Beaux jours/The Beautiful Days (1935, Marc Allégret) with Jean-Pierre Aumont. In 1937 she chose to adopt the name Corinne Luchaire. Only 17, she starred in Prison sans barreaux/Prison Without Bars (1938, Léonide Moguy). It made her a star in France and a well-known, piquant European actress internationally. She spoke English fluently, and in London, she also played the lead role in the English version, Prison Without Bars (1938, Brian Desmond Hurst), produced by Alexander Korda. Mary Pickford called her ‘the new Garbo.’ Next she starred in Conflit/Conflict (1938, Léonide Moguy) with Annie Ducaux, and in Le Dernier Tournant/The Last Turning (1939, Pierre Chenal). In this first film version of the novel The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain, she played the femme fatale with Fernand Gravey as her lover and Michel Simon as her husband.

Corinne Luchaire
French postcard by Viny, no. 79.

Corinne Luchaire
French postcard by Erpé, no. 653. Photo: London Film.

Corinne Luchaire
French postcard by Erpé, no. 653. Photo: London Film. Collection: Didier Hanson.

National Degradation
Until 1939 Corinne Luchaire was the mistress of German ambassador Otto Abetz. In 1940 she appeared in Cavalcade d'amour/Love Cavalcade (1940, Raymond Bernard) written by Jean Anouilh and starring Claude Dauphin. Then she went to Italy to film the drama Abbandono (1940, Mario Mattoli) with George Rigaud and Maria Denis. During the Occupation her father became the editor of the pro-Nazi newspapers Le Matin, Les Temps Nouveaux, and Toute la vie. She benefitted from his political and social position but was frequently ill, and stopped acting in 1940. She accompanied her father to Vichy Paris in August 1940. She was briefly married to a French aristocrat, Guy de Voisins-Lavernière, who served as a Luftwaffe captain. They had one daughter, Brigitte, but divorced. She reportedly also had a brief relationship with singer Charles Trenet. After World War II, Corinne attempted suicide and then tried to escape to Sigmaringen, Germany and Merano, Italy. She and her father were arrested in Merano in May 1945 and imprisoned at Fresnes. She spent several months in jail in Nice. In June 1946 she was sentenced to ten years of dégradation nationale (National Degradation - Deprived of her civil rights as a French citizen) and received a ban that forbade her to work for several years. Her father, condemned to death for treason, was shot by a firing squad. In 1949, Luchaire published her autobiography, entitled Ma drôle de vie (My funny life), about her stardom under the German occupation. The book was criticised as naive and failing to analyse her role in the Nazi occupation. Corinne Luchaire died of tuberculosis in 1950 at the Clinique Médicale Edouard Rist in Paris. She is buried at the Cimetière de Bagneux in les Hauts-de-Seine.

Corinne Luchaire
French postcard by EPC, no. 186.

Corinne Luchaire
Italian postcard by Rizzoli E C, Milano, no. 18, 1939. Photo: Grandi Film S.A. (SANGRAF). Publicity still for Abbandono (1940, Mario Mattoli).

Sources: Christian Grenier (CinéArtistes) (French), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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