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.