7 French Actors Who Made It Big In Hollywood's Golden Age #2
With France on our minds, let us celebrate some wonderful French actors, actresses, singers, and dancers who came to Hollywood during the Golden Age (1934 - 1960) and shared their talent, beauty, style, and charisma with adoring audiences. (NOTE: to be included in this list, the actor/actress must have had English speaking roles in a Hollywood studio film BEFORE 1960. Many famous French actors made films during the French 'New Wave' and then came to Hollywood after success in France.)
1. Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert ( 13 Sep 1903 - 30 Jul 1996) was born Emilie Chauchoin in Saint-Mandé, France. In 1928, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, which was looking for stage actors who could handle dialogue in the new "talkies" medium. Colbert's skill as a speaker was one of her best assets but at first she didn't like film acting. She established herself as a femme fatale in two of Cecil B. DeMille's films: 'The Sign of the Cross' (9132) and 'Cleopatra' (1934). From 1927 to 1961 she made over four dozen films. Colbert was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress three times and won it in 1935 for 'It Happened One Night'. In 1999, the American Film Institute voted Colbert the 12th Greatest Female star of classic Hollywood cinema. She died aged 92 in Speightstown, Barbados.
2. Charles Boyer
Charles Boyer (28 Aug 1899 - 26 Aug 1978) was born in Figeac, Lot, Midi-Pyrénées, France. Between 1920 and 1976 he appeared in more than 80 films. Onscreen he made audiences swoon as he romanced Katharine Hepburn in 'Break of Hearts' (1935), Marlene Dietrich in his first Technicolor film, 'The Garden of Allah' (1936), Jean Arthur in 'History Is Made at Night' (1937), Greta Garbo in 'Conquest' (1937), and Irene Dunne in 'Love Affair' (1939). On 26 August 1978, two days after his wife's death from cancer, and two days before his own 79th birthday, Boyer committed suicide.
3. Danielle Darrieux
Danielle Darrieux (1 May 1917) was born in Bordeaux, France. Her career spans eight decades and more than 110 films since 1931. At 19 she starred opposite Charles Boyer in the French film 'Mayerling' (1936), and shortly after signed with Universal Studios to star in 'The Rage of Paris' (1938) opposite Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Darrieux's films in the 1940s were made in France. In 1951, she appeared in the MGM musical 'Rich, Young and Pretty', and the next year, she starred in '5 Fingers' opposite James Mason. In her last American film to-date, Darrieux had a supporting role in United Artists' epic 'Alexander the Great' (1956) starring Richard Burton and Claire Bloom. In 1985, Danielle Darrieux was given an Honorary César Award. She is 98.
4. Jean Pierre Aumont
Actor Jean Pierre Aumont (5 Jan 1911 - 30 Jan 2001) was born Jean-Pierre Philippe Salomons in Paris. He made dozens of films, including 'The Cross of Lorraine,' a 1943 MGM film about French prisoners of war escaping a German prison camp, and joining the French Resistance. In fact, this was very true to life for Jean Pierre, who left Hollywood after finishing that film and joined the Free French Forces. For his service, he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur and the Croix de Guerre for his World War II military service. Jean-Pierre Aumont died in 2001 of a heart attack in Gassin, France, aged 90.
5. Roland Petit
Roland Petit (13 Jan 1924 - 10 Jul 2011) was born in Villemomble, France and was a ballet dancer, choreographer and actor. In Hollywood, he was known for choreographing and/or dancing in 'Alice in Wonderland' (1949), 'Hans Christian Andersen' (1952), 'The Glass Slipper' (1955), and 'Anything Goes' (1956) starring Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor, and his wife Zizi Jeanmaire. Roland Petit died in Geneva, Switzerland of leukemia, aged 87.
6. Zizi Jeanmarie
Zizi Jeanmarie (29 Feb 1924) was born Renée Marcelle Jeanmaire in Paris, France. She was also an accomplished dancer like her husband Roland Petit. The talented couple regularly performed together in both on stage and in film. For Hollywood movies, she performed as a dancer or dancer/actor in 'Hans Christian Andersen' (1952) and 'Anything Goes' (1956). She and Petit had one daughter, Valentine Petit, a dancer and actress. Zizi Jeanmarie is 91.
Annabella (14 Jul 1907 - 18 Sep 1996) was born Suzanne Georgette Charpentier in La Varenne Saint Hilaire, France. She appeared in 46 films between 1927 and 1952, including some Hollywood films during the late 1930s and 1940s, such as 'Suez' (1938) with Loretta Young and Tyrone Power, whom she married in 1938. In 1939, Annabella and Power flew to Europe to bring her mother back to live with them, while her father and brother remained behind. Her brother was ultimately shot and killed by the Nazis. Annabella made another trip to get her daughter, Anne. After the war, she starred in '13 Rue Madeleine' (1947) opposite James Cagney. Annabella died from a heart attack at Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, aged 89.
8. PLUS! Betsy Drake
Betsy Drake (11 Sep 1923 - 27 Oct 2015) was born in Paris to American ex-pats. She had a love/hate relationship with Hollywood and only made eleven films, including 'Every Girl Should Be Married' (1948), 'Pretty Baby' (1950), and 'Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?' (1957). She was married to Cary Grant between 1949–62; they remained friends after their divorce. In July 1956, Drake survived the sinking of the Italian ocean liner SS Andrea Doria. At the time, she had been visiting Grant in Spain and was returning to the US. Betsy Drake died at 92.