16 May 2016

Madeleine Lebeau (1923-2016)

On 1 May 2016, French actress Madeleine Lebeau (1923-2016) passed away in Estepona, Costa del Sol, Spain. She was the last surviving cast member of the film classic Casablanca (1942). Lebeau also appeared in French, British, Spanish and Italian films. She was 92.

Madeleine Lebeau (1923-2016)
French postcard by Editions du Globe, no. 194. Photo: Sam Lévin.

Warner Bros

Marie Madeleine Berthe LeBeau was born in Antony, Hauts-de-Seine, France, in 1923 (some sources say 1921).

In her teens, she landed a tiny role in a play with Marcel Dalio, who was about 20 years her senior and struck by her beauty. They soon married. As Madeleine Lebeau she made her screen debut in the drama, Jeunes filles en détresse/Young Girls in Trouble (Georg Wilhelm Pabst, 1939).

In 1940, she fled Nazi-occupied France with Dalio. They left Paris just hours ahead of the invading German army; Dalio’s image had been used in Nazi posters to identify Jewish-looking features. They made their way to Lisbon and, using what turned out to be forged Chilean visas, booked passage on a Portuguese cargo ship, the Quanza, that was taking more than 300 refugees to the west.

The couple ended up in Hollywood. There, Lebeau appeared for Warner Bros. in such films as the romantic drama Hold Back the Dawn (Mitchell Leisen, 1941), starring Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland, and Gentleman Jim (Raoul Walsh, 1942) with Errol Flynn as the boxing champ James J. Corbett.

With Marcel Dalio she appeared then in the classic Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942). Lebeau played Yvonne, Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine's spurned lover. In a famous scene, she tearfully shouts "Vive La France", after the clientele in Rick's Café sing La Marseillaise to drown out singing by German soldiers. Lebeau hoped Casablanca would catapult her to great demand in Hollywood. It did not.

In 1942 the marriage with Dalio ended in a divorce. As a freelancer, she earned supporting roles in the French underground drama Paris After Dark (Léonide Moguy, 1943) with George Sanders and Philip Dorn, and the musical Music for Millions (Henry Koster, 1944), which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1946.

Madeleine Lebeau (1923-2016)
French autograph card.

Madeleine Lebeau (1923-2016)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 1431. Photo: publicity still for La Picara Molinera/The Miller's Saucy Wife (Léon Klimovsky, 1955).


After the war, Madeleine Lebeau returned to Europe and appeared in 20 more films. These included Les Chouans/The Royalists (Henri Calef, 1947), the English drama Cage of Gold (Basil Dearden, 1950) starring Jean Simmons, and the comedy La Parisienne (Michel Boisrond, 1957), featuring Brigitte Bardot.

Lebeau had a rare leading role in Dupont Barbès/Sins of Madeleine (Henri Lepage, 1951), about a prostitute who uses the ruse of pregnancy to end relationships with men, only to find one of her clients is delighted at the prospect of being a father.

Her subsequent work includes the role of a temperamental French actress in Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). During the 1960s, she also appeared in the Spaghetti Western Desafío en Río Bravo/Gunmen of the Rio Grande (Tulio Demicheli, 1964) with Guy Madison and Angélique, marquise des anges/Angélique (Bernard Borderie, 1964), the first of the Angélique cycle.

Her film career ended by the late 1960s, and she remained in Rome. In 1988 she married Italian screenwriter Tullio Pinelli who had co-written 8 1/2. He passed away in 2009 at 100.

Her stepson, documentary filmmaker and mountaineer Carlo Alberto Pinelli broke the news that Lebeau had died after suffering a broken thigh bone.

Scene from Casablanca (1942). Source: myyouyou111 (YouTube).

Another scene from Casablanca (1942). Source: Manek Shergill (YouTube).

Sources: Adam Bernstein (Washington Post), Tom B. (Westerns...All'Italiana!), BBC, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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