Gigi heart-throb Louis Jourdan dies


Published: Monday 16th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Louis Jourdan, the dashingly handsome Frenchman who starred in Gigi, Can-Can, Three Coins In The Fountain and the villain in the James Bond movie Octopussy, has died at 93.

Jourdan’s biographer, Olivier Minne, said the actor died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills. His death was thought to be from natural causes.

“He was the last French actor from the Hollywoood golden era,” said Mr Minne, who is working on a book and documentary about Jourdan. “Louis was very proud of his career in America.”

Succeeding Charles Boyer as Hollywood’s favorite French lover, Jourdan romanced Joan Fontaine, Jennifer Jones, Grace Kelly and Shirley MacLaine in films during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. He also showed that he could play a villain, in Julie (1956), in which he was Doris Day’s husband, a psychopathic killer.

Through most of his 15-year career as a leading man, he was subject to the Hollywood habit of typecasting.

“Any actor who comes here with an accent is automatically put in roles as a lover,” he complained. “I didn’t want to be perpetually cooing in a lady’s ear.”

When Jourdan was brought to Hollywood by David O Selznick in 1947, the producer instructed him to “learn good American English the way it is spoken by John Barrymore and Fredric March”. The actor studied hard, but concluded: “If I had come here as a boy, I could speak unaccented English; at 24, it is impossible.”

Jourdan’s film career reached a peak in 1957 with the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical, Gigi, which won nine Academy Awards, including best picture. At first, Jourdan protested that he could not sing and was not right for the role as the Parisian seeking young Gigi (Leslie Caron) as a mistress.

Lerner and Loewe persisted and they gave him the title song, which required little vocalizing. Jourdan did not consider Gigi his best achievement. He said in 1957: “It was a wonderful story for Leslie and Maurice Chevalier, but I played a colourless leading man. You’ll note that none of the actors was nominated for Academy Awards.”

Born Louis Gendre in 1921, in Marseilles, France, Jourdan changed his name to Pierre Jourdan, when he became an actor, then Louis Jourdan. His father owned a seaside hotel in Cannes, where he met artists, actors and directors who encouraged him to study drama in Paris.

His striking good looks helped get him acting jobs, including his first movie, Le Corsaire, with Charles Boyer in 1938. During the German occupation of France, he was forced into a labour gang, cutting wood and digging ditches. Assigned to make propaganda films for the Nazis, he escaped and joined the French underground.

After the war Jourdan resumed his movie career in France, and a talent agent recommended him to Selznick. His first Hollywood movie was The Paradine Case, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Gregory Peck. He never made another film for Selznick, who profited from lending the French actor to other studios.

His roles included an artist in No Minor Vices, a pleasant wastrel in The Happy Time, Jennifer Jones’ lover in Madame Bovary, a romantic prince in Three Coins In The Fountain, Grace Kelly’s suitor in The Swan, and a staid judge in Can-Can.

Between Hollywood movies, Jourdan kept busy in other pursuits. He earned good reviews on Broadway in a 1954 production of Andre Gide’s The Immoralist. He and Claude Dauphin costarred as detectives in a 1955 television series, Paris Precinct, which was seen in France and the US. He also made feature films in Paris and London.

His later films included The VIP’s, A Flea In Her Ear, The Count Of Monte Cristo, Swamp Thing, Octopussy, The Return Of Swamp Thing and The Year Of The Comet. He also appeared in TV series and mini-series. In 1985 he toured in a stage version of Gigi, playing the Chevalier role.

Jourdan remained unsentimental about his movies, claiming in 1985 that he never watched them. “When they’re on television, I click them away. Hollywood created an image, and I long ago reconciled myself to it. I was the French cliche,” he said.

He is survived by a nephew and a niece. His son, Louis Henry Jourdan, died in 1981 at 30 of a drug overdose. His wife of more than 60 years, Berthe, died last year.

Published: Monday 16th February 2015 by The News Editor

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