Thursday, September 12, 2013

September 12: Today is Maurice Chevalier's birthday

Known as "The French Al Jolson," he was born in 1888 and died on January 1, 1972 when he was 84.

When I was in college in Ohio, after a few too many beers, I would do an impersonation of Maurice singing "Louise." ("Every little breeze seems to whisper Louise...") I don't know how accurate my impersonation was , but my friends would burst into laughter without fail afterwards.

Back to the REAL Maurice: Without question, Chevalier was one of the most debonair, charming and charismatic figures in the history of film. Chevalier's signature songs included "Louise", "Mimi", "Valentine" and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls." His trademark was a boater hat, which he always wore on stage with a dinner jacket.

Born in Paris, France, Maurice Auguste Chevalier, one of 9 children in his family,  dropped out of school at age 11 to become an apprentice engraver and factory worker.  

When Chevalier was 21, in 1909, he became the partner of the biggest female star in France, Fréhel. However, due to her alcoholism and drug addiction, their liaison ended in 1911. Chevalier then started a relationship with 36-year-old Mistinguett at the Folies Bergère where he was her 18 year old dance partner; they eventually played out a public romance.

During World War I, Chevalier was in the front lines where he was wounded by shrapnel in the back in the first weeks of combat and was taken as a prisoner of war in Germany for two years. He was released in 1916.

In 1917, Chevalier became a star in le Casino de Paris and performed in front of British and American soldiers, He discovered jazz and ragtime and started thinking about touring the United States. In the prison camp, he studied English and had an advantage over other French artists. He went to London, where he found new success at the Palace Theatre, even though he still sang in French.

After the war, Chevalier went back to Paris and created several songs still known today, including "Valentine" in 1924. He made a few "motion" pictures and made a favorable impression in the operetta Dédé. He then met the American composers George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and brought Dédé to Broadway in 1922. The same year he met Yvonne Vallée, a young dancer, who became his wife in 1927.

Douglas Fairbanks offered him star billing with Mary Pickford, but Chevalier declined, doubting his own talent for silent movies. In 1927, after movies with sound appeared, he returned to Hollywood and signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. He played his first American role in Innocents of Paris. In 1930 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his roles in The Love Parade (1929) and The Big Pond (1930), which gave Chevalier his first big American hit songs, "Livin' In the Sunlight - Lovin' In the Moonlight."

In 1932, he starred with Jeanette MacDonald in Paramount's film musical, One Hour With You which became a success and one of the films instrumental in making musicals popular again. Due to its popularity, Paramount starred Maurice Chevalier in another musical called Love Me Tonight - also in 1932 - and again co-starring Jeanette MacDonald. In 1957, he appeared in Gigi and sang two of the songs he is most remembered for: "Thank Heaven For Little Girls" and "I Remember It Well."

Between 1960 and 1963 he toured the United States and made eight films including the 1960 movie, Can-Can with Frank Sinatra and Fanny in 1961.

In 1970, several years after his retirement, songwriters Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman got him to sing the title song of the Disney film The Aristocats, which ended up being his final performance on film.

He died in Paris, on January 1, 1972, aged 83, and was interred in the cemetery of Marnes-la-Coquette in Hauts-de-Seine, outside Paris, France.

Chevalier has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

(Press an album cover for direct link to the entire Amazon Website):

Mr. Paree, HimselfChevalier ... Maurice & MeMauirce Chevalier 1


No comments:

Post a Comment