Nationality: French. Born: Leslie Claire Margaret Caron in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris, 1 July 1931. Education: Attended the Convent of the Assumption, Paris; studied dance at the Conservatoire de Paris, 1944–46. Family: Married 1) George Hormel, 1951 (divorced 1954); 2) the director Peter Hall, 1956 (divorced 1965), one son, one daughter; 3) the producer Michael Laughlin, 1969 (marriage dissolved). Career: 1946–47—dancer with Ballet des Champs-Elysées;
1949—head ballerina for Ballet des Champs-Elysées; 1951—discovered by Gene Kelly and chosen for role in An American in Paris, beginning her film career in MGM musicals; 1954–55—toured with Ballet de Paris; 1955—stage debut in Jean Renoir's Orvet; 1955-on—continued to appear on stage in London, Paris, and on Broadway between films; 1972—began acting mostly in European films; 1974—in TV mini-series QB VII; 1980—in French TV series Docteur Erica Werner; 1984—in TV mini-series Master of the Game, and The Man Who Lived at the Ritz, 1988. Awards: Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for Lili, 1953; Best British Actress, British Academy, for The L-Shaped Room, 1962.
Films as Actress:
An American in Paris (Minnelli) (as Lise Bouvier); The Man with a Cloak (Markle) (as Madeline Minot)
Glory Alley (Walsh) (as Angela)
"Mademoiselle" ep. of The Story of Three Loves (Minnelli) (as Mademoiselle); Lili (Walters) (title role)
The Glass Slipper (Walters) (as Ella); Daddy Long Legs (Negulesco) (as Julie Andre)
Gaby (Bernhardt) (title role)
Gigi (Minnelli) (title role); The Doctor's Dilemma (Asquith) (as Mrs. Dubedat)
The Man Who Understood Women (Johnson) (as Ann Garantier); Austerlitz (The Battle of Austerlitz) (Gance) (as Mlle. de Vaudey)
The Subterraneans (MacDougal) (as Mardou Fox); Fanny (Logan) (title role)
"Les Deux Pigeons" ("Two Pigeons") ep. of Les Quatres Vérités (Three Fables of Love) (Clair); Guns of Darkness (Asquith) (as Claire Jordan); The L-Shaped Room (Forbes) (as Jane Fosset)
Father Goose (Nelson) (as Catherine Freneau)
A Very Special Favor (Gordon) (as Lauren Boullard)
Promise Her Anything (Hiller) (as Michele O'Brien); Paris brûle-t-il? (Is Paris Burning?) (Clément) (as Françoise Labe)
Il padre di famiglia (The Head of the Family; Jeux D'adultes) (Loy) (as Paola)
Madron (Jerry Hopper) (as Sister Mary)
Chandler (Magwood) (as Katherine)
Nicole (Ventilla); Purple Night (film not listed in most sources)
James Dean, the First American Teenager (Connolly—doc) (as herself); Carola (Lloyd—for TV)
Sérail (de Gregorio)
L'Homme qui aimait les femmes (The Man Who Loved Women) (Truffaut) (as Vera); Valentino (Ken Russell) (as Alla Nazimova)
The Contract (Hui)
Goldengirl (Sargent) (as Dr. Sammy Lee); Tous vedettes (Michel Lang)
Kontrakt (The Contract) (Zanussi) (as Penelope); Chanel solitaire (Kaczender)
Imperative (Zanussi) (as Mother); Die unerreichbare (The Unapproachable) (Zanussi)
La Diagonale du fou (Dangerous Moves) (Dembo) (as Henia Liebskind)
The Sealed Train (for TV)
Guerriers et captives (Warriors and Prisoners) (Cozarinsky); Courage Mountain (Leitch) (as Jane Hillary)
Blue Notte (Serafini)
Damage (Fatale) (Malle) (as Elizabeth Prideaux)
The Genius (Joe Gibbons); Jean Renoir (David Thompson—doc)
That's Entertainment! III (Friedgen and Sheridan—compilation)
Funny Bones (Chelsom) (as Katie Parker); Let It Be Me (Bergstein)
The Ring (Armand Mastroianni—for TV) (as madame de Saint Marne); The Great War (Byker—for TV) (Czarina Aleksandra Romanov)
The Reef (Ackerman) (as Regine De Chantelle)
From Russia to Hollywood: The 100-Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff (Keeve) (as Herself); Passion's Way (as Regine)
Chocolat (Hallström) (as Madame Audel)
By CARON: articles—
Interview with J. Fieschi and B. Villien, in Cinématographe (Paris), October 1980.
"Polonaises," in Cinématographe (Paris), April 1982.
"Enfin Star!," in Cinématographe (Paris), November 1983.
"Un Ami: Truffaut," in Cinématographe (Paris), December 1984.
On CARON: books—
Springer, John, All Talking, All Singing, All Dancing, New York, 1966.
Kobal, John, Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance, New York, 1970.
Knox, Donald, The Magic Factory, New York, 1973.
On CARON: article—
Current Biography 1954, New York, 1954.
Ecran (Paris), March 1979.
Film Dope (London), March 1982.
Stars (Mariembourg), Spring 1994.
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Originally a Gallic twinkletoes and all-purpose gamine for MGM, Leslie Caron became the only dancing star of her day to transpose brilliance en pointe to pointedly dramatic performance. While Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers, and Vera-Ellen remain symbols of a glamorous yesterday, Caron (who had never intended to be a thespian, let alone a movie star) has matured into a working actress keenly aware of contemporary trends. Disparaging her early MGM work in the book, The Magic Factory, she has lately softened those ungenerous remarks. Never a happy camper within the studio system, outspoken Caron need not play down her escapist past in order to emphasize her present seriousness.
If An American in Paris now registers as a rather puffed-up sacrifice to the Art of Dance, that musical does have its saving graces including the moonstruck pas de deux that Kelly and Caron dance to "Our Love Is Here to Stay." In all her MGM diversions (although it is least evident in Lili), there is a disdainful chilliness about Caron as if she is hiding her feelings from the camera. (In retrospect, it may be that she simply was not comfortable making these films.) While her reserve melts whenever she moves to music, the Roland Petit choreography is not much of a godsend to her in the second-rate The Glass Slipper and Daddy Long Legs. Still, an ebullient delight, Lili characterizes the actress's reticence as diffidence and her cool composure as innocence vanquishing the hard heart of sophistication. Bringing immense conviction to the scenes where she converses with poupées, Caron speaks to the inner child in us all—no mean feat since some of the human actors she contends with such as Mel Ferrer are more wooden than the puppets.
In her nonmusicals, Caron was forced to be a one-woman Gallic goodwill ambassador, and you can feel her resentment at having to typify all things French. Since MGM already limited her range, she was probably wise to nix Les Girls, just one more nail in the coffin of the movie musical. Salvation was at hand when the cinema' premiere continental charmer Audrey Hepburn rejected Gigi, for which Caron was ideally suited. Enchanting as the child raised to be a courtesan, she was bewitching as the adult who scandalizes her instructors by preferring l'amour to family traditions of impropriety. At the other end of the soignée scale came the box-office smash Fanny which scuttled the gorgeous Harold Rome score except for the rapturous title theme, failed to come within hailing distance of the Pagnol original, and straitjacketed Caron into embodying the soul of France for one final occasion. Since then, her forays into art films have been as unrewarding as sporadic returns to Hollywood, where her strenuous comedy technique went down for the count with A Very Special Favor and Promise Her Anything. The one bright note of the post-MGM period came with the kitchen-sink soap opera, The L-Shaped Room, for which she earned an Oscar bid for conveying the anguish of an unwed mother. This film, which could be dubbed, "The Death of Innocence" benefited greatly from a supporting cast of consummate British players and from Caron's insight into the plight of an abandoned foreigner.
One wishes late-career highlights such as Il padre di famiglia and Dangerous Moves had offset pretentious misfires and commercial duds. Fortunately, in 1995, Caron graced a little-seen masterwork Funny Bones. It is exactly the kind of personal, offbeat film that she had always championed. Protecting her psychologically damaged son from the unkindness of strangers or vanquishing a crooked cop who mistakes her womanliness for softness, Caron contributed significantly to the film's impact. Looking more lovely than ever, Caron can confidently expect further adventures in cinematic artistry, foreshadowed by her variegated and supremely confident work in Funny Bones.