Over a performing career that spanned seven decades, singer and actor Maurice Chevalier (1888–1972) became one of the most familiar figures in the entertainment world. With his trademark straw hat and a cheerful romantic image, he was as popular in the United States as in his native France.
Born in Paris on September 12, 1888, Chevalier grew up in poverty. His alcoholic father, Victor, deserted the family when Maurice was eight, and his mother scraped together a living for herself and her three children as a lacemaker. When she got sick and was unable to work for a short period, Chevalier was placed in a government-run group foster home. Chevalier and his two older brothers were very close to their mother and gave her the nickname of La Louque—a word that had no meaning beyond its use as a term of endearment. Her real name was Josephine.
Fall Ended Acrobatic Career
Chevalier was determined to escape this hard life, and he saw the performing arts as a way out. At first he auditioned at a circus as an acrobat, but after he was injured in a fall his mother tried to steer him toward safer work. He became an engraver's apprentice, he tried carpentry, and he worked in a tack factory. He was fired from each of these jobs. He was fixed, however, in his desire to become a performer, even after he was laughed off the stage when he performed at an amateur-night event at a Paris café. Josephine Chevalier changed her tune and began to tell her son she was sure he would become a star.
So Chevalier kept at it and soon did well enough, at least, to earn free coffee when he sang in a café. Chevalier's theatrical instincts began to show when he began singing comic songs and added to his café performances some comedy routines that poked fun at his own youth. Café owners picked up on the joke and began to bill him as "the Baby Jesus." For the rest of his life, even with all his success as an actor and as a recording artist, the medium that brought out Chevalier's best was the one-man nightclub show, mixing music, humor, and skits with hand gestures and pantomime.
By the time he was 17, Chevalier was a well-known figure among those who frequented Paris nightspots, and he had performed as far afield as Marseilles in southeastern France. "Records and radio and movies did not exist at that time," Chevalier was quoted as saying by Alden Whitman of the New York Times. "It took years of traveling and playing to a few hundred people a night to build a reputation."
Found Love During Rug Routine
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Chevalier had begun paying his dues in early adolescence, and he was ready when a big break came his way in 1909: while performing at the Folies-Bergère music hall in Paris, he was assigned to partner Mistinguett, the leading female musichall performer of the day. Their routine began with the pair rolled up together in a rug; as it unrolled, it deposited them on stage, and they began to sing and dance. The routine made Chevalier's name with the Paris public, and the rug encounter touched off the first of his well-publicized romances; after Chevalier won a street fight with Mistinguett's aggrieved ex-boyfriend, the two were romantically involved for several years and even moved in together, although they never married.
The romance lasted through Chevalier's brutal experiences in World War I; he was drafted, suffered a punctured lung after being hit with a piece of shrapnel that passed through his backpack, and spent more than two years as a German prisoner of war. The only positive aspect of this ordeal was that he talked a fellow prisoner into teaching him English. After he was released, Chevalier was awarded the Croix de Guerre, a military honor roughly equivalent to the U.S. Purple Heart. Chevalier launched a solo career after the war and the relationship with Mistinguett cooled, although the two continued to perform together occasionally. He adopted his trademark straw hat after seeing a man on a London street wearing a tuxedo and straw hat that he liked.
Chevalier had appeared in films as early as 1914, and his acting career picked up during the golden age of silent film even though the art form could not accommodate his singing as yet. In 1922 and 1923 he had starring roles in the French films Gonzague, Le mauvais garcçon (The Bad Boy), and Par habitude (By Habit). Later in the 1920s, Chevalier suffered from what would now be called major depression. Twice he attempted to commit suicide, and he completely lost confidence in his performing ability. A year in a Swiss rehab facility did him no good, but finally a doctor forced him to perform for a small group of Swiss villagers and things began to turn around. In 1927, for the first and only time in his life, Chevalier married; his relationship with dancer Yvonne Vallée was stormy, and they divorced in 1935. Gradually, Chevalier rebuilt his rapport with crowds, although he froze up completely during his first American film audition.
Parodied by Marx Brothers
His next attempt went much better, and 1929's The Love Parade, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-starring Jeannette MacDonald, kicked off a series of American film hits for Chevalier, whose ability to combine singing, romantic interest, and comedy was tailor-made for the new "talkies." Chevalier garnered a pair of Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in 1930, one for The Love Parade and the other for Innocents of Paris. He sang his hit song "Paris" in both films. Other mostly French-themed movies followed, with the debonair Chevalier as romantic lead: The Big Pond (1930), The Playboy of Paris(1930), and Love Me Tonight (1932) all helped make Chevalier an American screen idol. He co-starred with Claudette Colbert in The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) and with Norma Shearer in The Merry Widow (1934). Chevalier was well known enough that the Marx Brothers could parody his singing of "If a Nightingale Could Sing Like You" in their 1934 farce "Monkey Business," confident that their nationwide audience would get the joke.
Never a top-notch singer, Chevalier succeeded on the strength of his ability to read and play to an audience. Among the performers he admired was vocalist Al Jolson, who was noted for powerful personal charisma in his live shows. Chevalier had some of the same ability to forge a bond with audiences, and, unlike Jolson for the most part, he was able to carry that ability over to the big screen. According to Alden Whitman in The New York Times, he attributed his success partly to his modest vocal skills. "Thank God, it was my good luck not to have any voice," he said. "If I had, I would have tried to be a singer who sings ballads in a voice like a velvet fog, but since I am barely able to half-talk and half-sing a song, it made me look for something to make me different from a hundred other crooners who are neither good nor bad."
Chevalier cut his own American film career short after a dispute with producer Irving Thalberg in 1936 over whether he or MacDonald should receive top billing in their next film. His popularity at home as a stage performer continued unabated, although he made no more films in France until that late 1940s and in the U.S. until the 1950s. Hitting his peak years as a cabaret performer, Chevalier found his life and career disrupted by World War II.
His situation was a dangerous one, for he was living with a Jewish woman, a young actress named Nita Raya. Chevalier kept a low profile after German troops overran France in the early stages of the war, and the two hid out at a house in the Free French zone, under Nazi government. At one point, Chevalier agreed to perform for a group of French prisoners held by the Germans. He was attacked as a Nazi collaborator, and the Washington Post editorialized that "evidently he was one of those artists who are at all times prepared to sing for their supper without bothering too much about the respectability of the host." Chevalier contended that he had performed in order to facilitate a prisoner exchange, and the controversy simmered down when General Dwight D. Eisenhower backed Chevalier's version of events. Chevalier later told Eisenhower's wife Mamie that the future president had saved his life—French resistance fighters were known to have gunned down suspected Nazi sympathizers.
Signed Anti-Nuclear Letter
Appearing with sympathetic friends such as songwriter Noel Coward, Chevalier worked his way back into public favor. He appeared in the French film Le silence est d'or (Silence Is Golden, released in the U.S. as Man About Town) in 1947 and gave a one-man show in New York that year. In 1951 he was set to return to Hollywood to resume his American film career, but the country was in the grip of anti-Communist hysteria, and Chevalier was denied entry because he had signed the Stockholm Appeal, a letter urging governments to renounce the use of nuclear weapons. He was finally allowed to enter the U.S. in 1954 and made several more concert tours.
Chevalier returned to American films in 1957 with a role in the Gary Cooper-Audrey Hepburn romantic farce Love in the Afternoon, for which he received a Golden Globe award nomination. The culmination of Chevalier's second career was the lavish film musical Gigi (1958), set in Paris and starring the young Leslie Caron but featuring Chevalier as an aging playboy. He was once again nominated for the Golden Globe best actor award, and he received a special Academy Award that year for career accomplishments.
Though he had spoken English for many years, Chevalier still had an imperfect command of the language. Some said that he carefully maintained the imperfections in his English diction, and indeed they became part of his image, heightening the charm of the witticisms that often dropped from his lips. When he turned 78 and was asked how it felt to have reached that age, his often-quoted reply was that he felt wonderful, considering the alternative.
Chevalier remained active into old age, staying in shape by doing calisthenics and playing golf, and he enjoyed adulation during several rounds of farewell tours. He appeared in films through the 1960s, including Fanny (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), I'd Rather Be Rich (1964), and Monkeys, Go Home! (1966), and he had a role in the animated feature The Aristocats in 1970. Shortly before his death he recorded the theme song for the French version of that film. Chevalier died in Paris on New Year's Day of 1972, at age 83.
Chevalier, Maurice, I Remember It Well, Macmillan, 1970.
――――――, The Man in the Straw Hat, Crowell, 1949.
――――――, With Love, Little, Brown, 1960.
New York Times, January 2, 1972.
Washington Post, January 2, 1972.
"Maurice Chevalier," All Movie Guide, http://www.allmovie.com (November 5, 2005).
"Chevalier, Maurice." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chevalier-maurice
"Chevalier, Maurice." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chevalier-maurice
Singer, actor, comedian
Even two decades after his death, Maurice Chevalier reigns as the most popular entertainer France has produced in the twentieth century. Through films, television, and especially live revues, the jaunty Chevalier charmed audiences for 70 years. He managed to age gracefully and slide without effort from romantic leading man roles to the part of a charming, witty grandfather—all with a voice one New York Times reporter deemed “no great shakes.”
Arthur Cooper described Chevalier in a Newsweek obituary: “As effervescent as vintage champagne, as durable as the Eiffel Tower (which he predated by one year), he was a sophisticated Gallic charmer who easily lived up to his billing as The Most Popular Frenchman in the World. In movies, on television and, above all, on stage, his elegantly relaxed style conjured up memories of a simpler time, of liveried attendants and horse-drawn carriages parked along the Champs-Elysees.”
That burnished and elegant persona, however, was quite at odds with Chevalier’s upbringing. The ninth child of an itinerant house painter, he was born in 1888 in the Menilmontant section of Paris. His father was a heavy drinker who abused the family before deserting entirely when Maurice was eight. The singer’s mother—whom he adored—had to support her children as best she could by making lace. Chevalier even spent some time in a government-run almshouse while his mother was too ill to work.
Chevalier left school at the age of ten, determined to be an acrobat. He apprenticed at the metal-engraving company where his brother worked, but all of his spare time was spent practicing and planning routines. He was given an audition at the Cirque d’Hiver, but during a rehearsal he slipped and fell. After that his mother decreed that he would have to find suitable employment in a “safe” trade.
He drifted through a succession of jobs, including that of carpenter and store clerk, but still yearned for the stage. Finally, he decided to be a singer. At the tender age of 12 he persuaded a cafe owner to allow him to sing on Amateur Night; his debut was a disaster—he stood stiffly in front of the crowd and sang off-key—and he was laughed off the stage. With grim determination he mastered his nerves and returned, honing an act that played upon his extreme youth.
Chevalier became a professional performer in December
For the Record…
Born Maurice Auguste Chevalier, September 12, 1888, in Paris, France; died of heart failure January 1, 1972, in Paris; son of Victor Charles (a house painter) and Josephine (a lacemaker) Chevalier; married Yvonne Vallee (an actress and singer), October 10, 1927 (divorced, 1935).
Singer, comedian, and actor, 1901-72. Toured the provinces of France and small theaters in Paris, 1901-09; joined the Folies-Bergere, 1909, and became partner to the revue’s star, Mistinguett, 1910. Made English-speaking debut in London in revue Hullo, America, 1919. Star of numerous musical comedies and revues in France and England, 1919-27. Military service: French Army, 1913-16; received Croix de Guerre, 1917.
Signed with Paramount Pictures, 1928, and appeared in films Innocents of Paris, 1929; The Love Parade, 1929; The Playboy of Paris, 1930; The Smiling Lieutenant, 1931; Love Me Tonight, 1932; and The Way to Love, 1933. Also appeared in films The Merry Widow, MGM, 1934; Folies-Bergere, United Artists, 1935; Love in the Afternoon, 1957; Gigi, 1958; Can-Can, 1960; and Fanny, 1961.
Appeared in television specials and on talk and comedy-variety shows, including The Maurice Chevalier Show, 1955, and The World of Maurice Chevalier, 1963, both on NBC.
Awards: Member of Legion d’Honneur (France), 1938; member of Order of Leopold (Belgium), 1943; Ordre Merite National (France), 1964; special “Oscar” from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 1959.
of 1901, when he played a week’s engagement at the Casino de Tourelles, billed as “Little Chevalier, miniature comic.” The routine included clownish makeup and some obscene gestures and language; it was a hit with the music-hall clientele, but more fashionable audiences found it revolting. Gradually, as he grew into a slender and handsome young man, Chevalier refined his style. As Cooper put it, “he transformed himself from a titi —boulevard smart aleck—into a suave seducteur.”
At 21 Chevalier was hired by France’s premier revue, the Folies-Bergere. He signed a three-year contract and by his second year was earning top billing as partner to the famous and beautiful Mistinguett. The two performers sang romantic love ballads onstage and were linked romantically offstage as well; Chevalier’s career was launched.
In 1913 Chevalier was drafted and the next year found himself on the front lines when Germany invaded France at the start of World War I. He suffered a serious shrapnel wound to the lung at Cutry and was captured and sent to Alten Grabow, a prisoner-of-war camp. He spent 26 months in the camp, during which time he learned English from a fellow prisoner. Released in 1916, he returned to the stage, and eventually to the Folies-Bergere.
Chevalier decided to become a solo performer in 1919, after years spent in the shadow of Mistinguett. During a short engagement in London he noticed a dapper Englishman in formal dress with a straw hat on his head. The singer told the New York Times: “He looked so smart that I thought, ‘I do not need to look farther. There is my hat. It’s a man’s hat. It’s a gay hat. It’s the hat to go with a tuxedo.’ From that moment I was never without a straw boater if I could help it, even when those hats went out of fashion.”
With his trademark straw hat and his half-singing, half-talking vocal delivery, Chevalier took France, and then America, by storm. He told the New York Times: “Thank God, it was my good luck not to have any voice. If I had, I would have tried to be a singer who sings ballads in a voice like a velvet fog, but since I am barely able to half-talk and half-sing a song, it made me look for something to make me different from a hundred other crooners who are neither good nor bad. If I had any voice, I would have been content to rest on my voice and learn nothing else. Since I had no voice, I had to find something that would hold the interest of the public.”
Chevalier was exaggerating, of course, but he did develop a delightful, affably seductive persona that proved popular through a string of Paramount movies in the early 1930s. His leading ladies in Hollywood included Jeanette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight, Norma Shearer in The Merry Widow, and Claudette Colbert in The Smiling Lieutenant. At the height of the Great Depression Chevalier was earning $20,000 a week as a contract player with Paramount. He moved to MGM in 1935, but no amount of money or success could persuade him to remain in Hollywood after a dispute with MGM production chief Irving Thalberg. Chevalier returned to Paris—to the live stage—and did not make another movie in America for more than a dozen years.
During World War II Chevalier kept a low profile, principally because his companion, Nita Raya, was Jewish. Accusations of collaboration with the Nazi occupation, leveled at him during the war, were quickly withdrawn afterwards and his popularity continued undiminished. When he returned to American films in the 1950s, Chevalier projected a new image—that of the gracefully aging bon vivant, a man of the world who could offer sage advice to distraught young lovers. With his 1958 rendition of “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” in MGM’s Gigi, Chevalier effectively stole that big-budget musical from its stars. He was awarded an honorary Academy Award the following year.
Although he starred in several television specials and appeared on numerous other shows, Chevalier always felt most comfortable in front of a live audience. In his later years he traveled extensively, bringing his one-man show to audiences on every continent. “Maurice knew the secret of aging gracefully,” Cooper wrote. “He seemed really to mean it when he sang ‘I’m Glad I’m Not Young Any More.’ He had a voice like a broken promise; indeed, the tireless troubadour freely admitted that ‘I walk tightrope on the mere thread of a voice.’”
Chevalier died of heart failure on the first day of 1972. Throughout his life he had battled depression, finding strength in the adoration he earned from audiences. “I believe in the rosy side of life,” he once told the New York Times. “I know that life has many, many dark sides for everybody. It has been for me at many moments of my life. But I believe in bringing to the people the encouragement of living, and I think I am lasting so long in the interest of the people through something that comes out of my personality and my work, which is to be sort of a sunshine person, see.”
The Man in the Straw Hat (autobiography), 1949.
With Love (autobiography), 1960.
I Remember It Well (memoirs), 1970.
Newsweek, January 10, 1972.
New York Times, January 2, 1972.
—Anne Janette Johnson
"Chevalier, Maurice." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/chevalier-maurice
"Chevalier, Maurice." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/chevalier-maurice
Nationality: French. Born: Maurice Auguste Chevalier in Ménilmontant, Paris, 12 September 1888. Education: Attended the École des Frères, Paris. Military Service: Began military service, 1913, wounded and taken prisoner, 1914, spent two years in German prisoner-of-war camp at Alten Grabow. Family: Married the dancer Yvonne Vallée, 1926 (divorced 1935). Career: 1901—began performing in Paris cafés as "Le Petit Chevalier"; three-season contract with Folies Bergères; in second season chosen by star Mistinguett as partner in act, and began ten-year association with her; 1910—beginning of film career, though appeared in bit part in 1908; 1919—in London with Elsie Janis in revue Hullo, America; 1920—suffered breakdown, recuperated at Saujon; 1923–26—at Empire Theatre, Paris; 1928—contract with Paramount; 1929—after release of The Love Parade, salary tripled; 1933—contract with MGM; 1936–39—made films in France and Britain; 1940–45—in seclusion, performing rarely; performance in Germany for French prisoners gave rise to rumors of collaboration; exonerated after war; 1947—resumed touring in one-man recitals; 1951—refused entry into U.S. for having signed Stockholm Appeal for banning of nuclear weapons; from mid-1950s—numerous TV appearances; 1968—last performance, at Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris. Awards: Croix de Guerre, 1917; Légion d'honneur, 1938; Order of Leopold, Belgium, 1943; Special Academy Award, "for his contributions to the world of entertainment for more than half a century," 1958; Ordre merite national, France, 1964. Died: 1 January 1972.
Films as Actor:
Trop crédules (Durand)
Un Marie qui se fait attendre (Gasnier)
La Mariée recalcitrante (Gasnier)
Par habitude (Linder); La Valse renversante (Monca)
Une Soirée mondaine (Diamant-Berger)
Le Match Criqui-Ledoux (Diamant-Berger); Le Mauvais Garçon (Diamant-Berger)
Gonzague (Diamant-Berger); L'Affaire de la Rue de Lourcine (Diamant-Berger); Par habitude (Diamant-Berger); Jim Bougne, boxeur (Diamant-Berger)
Bonjour New York! (Florey)
Innocents of Paris (Wallace) (as Maurice Marny); The Love Parade (Lubitsch) (as Count Alfred Renard)
Paramount on Parade (Lubitsch) (as guest star); The Big Pond (Henley) (as Pierre Mirande); La Grande Mare (Henley and Bataille-Henri—French version of The Big Pond); Playboy of Paris (Berger) (as Albert Loriflan); Le Petit Café (Diamant-Berger—French version of Playboy of Paris)
The Smiling Lieutenant (Lubitsch) (as Niki); El cliente seductor (Rey and Blumenthal—short)
One Hour with You (Lubitsch and Cukor) (as Dr. André Bertier); Make Me a Star (Beaudine) (guest appearance); The Stolen Jools (The Slippery Pearls) (McGann and others—short); Love Me Tonight (Marez-moi ce soir) (Mamoulian) (as Maurice Courtelin); Stopping the Show (Fleischer) (as voice)
A Bedtime Story (Monsieur Bébé) (Taurog) (as René); The Way to Love (Taurog) (as François)
The Merry Widow (The Lady Dances) (Lubitsch) (as Prince Danilo)
Folies Bergère (The Man from the Folies Bergère) (Del Ruth) (as Eugene Charlier/Fernard, the Baron Cassini)
The Beloved Vagabond (Bernhardt) (as Paragot); L'Homme du jour (The Man of the Hour) (Duvivier) (as himself/Alfred Boulard); Avec le sourire (With a Smile) (Maurice Tourneur) (as Victor Larnois)
Break the News (Clair) (as François Verrier)
Pièges (Personal Column) (Siodmak) (as Robert Fleury)
Le Silence est d'or (Man about Town; Silence Is Golden) (Clair) (as Emile)
Le Roi (A Royal Affair; The King) (Sauvajon) (as the King)
Ma Pomme (Just Me; My Apple) (Sauvajon) (title role)
Jouons le jeu . . . L'Avarice (Gillois) (as interviewee)
"Amore 1954" ep. of Cento anni d'amore (De Felice); Schlagerparade (Ode); Chevalier de Ménilmontant (Baratier)
Caf' Conc 1954 (Barthomieu—short); Sur toute la gamme (Régamey—short); Visite à Maurice Chevalier (Lucot and Folgoas—for TV)
J'avais sept filles (My Seven Little Sins; I Have Seven Daughters) (Boyer) (as Count Andre)
The Happy Road (Kelly) (title song)
Rendez-vous avec Maurice Chevalier (Régamey—6 shorts); Love in the Afternoon (Wilder) (as Claude Chavasse); The Heart of Show Business (Staub) (as guest)
Gigi (Minnelli) (as Honoré Lachaille)
Count Your Blessings (Negulesco) (as Duc de St. Cloud)
Can-Can (Walter Lang) (as Paul Barriere); Un, deux, trois, quatre? (Les Collants noirs; Black Tights) (Terence Young) (as narrator); A Breath of Scandal (Curtiz) (as Prince Philip); Pepe (Sidney) (as himself)
Fanny (Logan) (as Panisse)
Jessica (La Sage-femme, le curé, et le bon Dieu) (Negulesco) (as Father Antonio); In Search of the Castaways (Stevenson) (as Prof. Jacques Paganel)
A New Kind of Love (Shavelson) (as himself)
Panic Button (Sherman) (as Philippe Fontaine); I'd Rather be Rich (Smight) (as Philip Dulaine); linking sequence of La Chance et l'amour (Chabrol) (as interviewee)
Monkeys, Go Home! (McLaglen) (as Father Sylvain)
The Aristocats (Reitherman—animation) (as voice only—singer of title song)
Le Chagrin et la pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity) (Marcel Ophüls) (songs)
By CHEVALIER: books—
Ma route et mes chansons, 8 vols., Paris, 1946–63.
The Man in the Straw Hat, New York, 1949.
C'est l'amour, Paris, 1959; as With Love, Boston, 1960.
Mome à cheveux blancs, Paris, 1969; as I Remember It Well, Boston, 1970.
Les Pensées de Momo, Paris, 1970.
My Paris, New York, 1972.
Bravo Maurice!, London, 1973.
On CHEVALIER: books—
Ringgold, Gene, and DeWitt Bodeen, Chevalier: The Films and Career of Maurice Chevalier, Secaucus, New Jersey, 1973.
Colin, Gerty, Maurice Chevalier: Une Route semée d'étoiles, Paris, 1981.
Freedland, Michael, Maurice Chevalier, New York, 1981.
Maurice Chevalier 1888–1972, photo album chosen by André Fildier, Paris, 1981.
Sabates, Fabien, Maurice Chevalier, Paris, 1981.
Harding, James, Maurice Chevalier: His Life, 1888–1972, London, 1982.
Berruer, Pierre, Maurice Chevalier, Paris, 1988.
Kirgener, Claudine, Maurice Chevalier: itinéraire d'un inconne célèbre, Paris, 1988.
Behr, Edward, Thank Heaven for Little Girls: The True Story of Maurice Chevalier's Life and Times, New York, 1993.
On CHEVALIER: articles—
"Maurice Chevalier" issue of Visages (Paris), October 1936.
"The Mature Chevalier," in Newsweek (New York), 3 November 1947.
Current Biography 1969, New York, 1969.
Obituary in New York Times, 2 January 1972.
Morin, J., "Maurice Chevalier: Un Coup de canotier," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1972.
Beylie, Claude, "Le Chevalier de carton," in Ecran (Paris), March 1972.
Monsees, R. A., "Maurice Chevalier 1888–1972," in Films in Review (New York), May 1972.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 8 April 1982.
* * *
After performing in French cafés as he struggled to establish his career, mixing clown capers with coarse song and dance routines, Maurice Chevalier gradually evolved the sophisticated man-about-town character which was to make him famous and loved by stage and screen audiences. His charismatic presence was enhanced by the attire that became his trademark: a formal or semiformal suit, straw hat, and sometimes a cane. His jaw extended, and sporting an engaging smile, he deftly cocked the hat and swung his cane as he strutted through song and dance numbers. While he did appear in 13 silent films, five of them created by his own production company, the full range of his debonair character could not be realized until the arrival of sound movies.
In 1929 the famous Parisian music hall star was fortunate to have Ernst Lubitsch direct his second American film, The Love Parade. Chevalier was teamed with Jeanette MacDonald in one of the most sophisticated movie musicals made in Hollywood. The breezy Gallic charm of the French singer proved so successful that, as the New York film critic Mordaunt Hall noted, the audience clapped for some scenes at the premiere of the film as if they were witnessing a stage performance. Some of the memorable Chevalier numbers were "Louise," "My Ideal," "You Brought a New Love to Me," and "One Hour with You"—songs that became part of the singer's repertoire. The director Rouben Mamoulian also assisted the development of the French actor's international reputation by once more using the Chevalier and MacDonald team in Love Me Tonight. Lubitsch's adaptation of the Franz Lehar operetta, The Merry Widow, is the final entry in the trio of best films from the actor's first Hollywood period.
Disenchanted with what he considered an endless repetition of the same screen character, Chevalier abandoned Hollywood and attempted to continue his career in France. His 1930s and 1940s films, such as L'Homme du jour and Pièges, reveal a wider range of acting ability because of the variety of his roles. In René Clair's Le Silence est d'or he played the type of charming, older character role that would be typical of his final film successes in the United States.
As he turned 70, Chavalier had a second career in Hollywood with late 1950s films such as Billy Wilder's Love in the Afternoon, and the memorable Gigi, a Lerner and Loewe musical. The highlight of Gigi was his beguiling rendition of the song "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." The energy the actor projected in his early musicals was absent, but the warmth of his portrayal of Honoré Lachaille in Gigi revealed an acting talent that had matured. For years Chevalier was a favorite subject of entertainers doing impressions, who imitated his distinctive style as a singer, though they could never capture his charm.
"Chevalier, Maurice." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/chevalier-maurice
"Chevalier, Maurice." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/chevalier-maurice
Maurice Chevalier (shəvăl´yā, Fr. mōrēs´ shəvälyā´), 1888–1972, French singer and film actor. He made his debut in 1900 singing and dancing at the Casino de Tourelles, Paris. As the dancing partner of Mistinguett and as the star of several Paris music halls, he won his public by his charm and inimitable smile; by 1928 his reputation was international. He became famous for his portrayal of the debonair man-about-town, typically sporting a straw hat and a cane. Among his later films are Love in the Afternoon (1956), Gigi (1958), Can-Can (1959), and Fanny (1961).
See his autobiographies With Love (1960) and I Remember It Well (1970); study by G. Ringgold and D. Bodeen(1973).
"Chevalier, Maurice." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chevalier-maurice
"Chevalier, Maurice." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/chevalier-maurice