Charles Boyer in 1942
|Born||28 August 1899|
|Died||26 August 1978 (aged 78)|
Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.
|Cause of death||Severe secobarbital overdose|
|Burial place||Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, U.S.|
|Pat Paterson (1934-1978; her death)|
|Children||Michael Charles Boyer (1943-1965)|
|Awards||Academy Honorary Award (1943)|
Charles Boyer (French: [bwaje]; 28 August 1899 - 26 August 1978) was a French-American actor who appeared in more than 80 films between 1920 and 1976. After receiving an education in drama, Boyer started on the stage, but he found his success in American films during the 1930s. His memorable performances were among the era's most highly praised, in romantic dramas such as The Garden of Allah (1936), Algiers (1938), and Love Affair (1939), as well as the mystery-thriller Gaslight (1944). He received four Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
Boyer was born in Figeac, Lot, France, the son of Augustine Louise Durand and Maurice Boyer, a merchant. Boyer (which means "cowherd" in the Occitan language) was a shy, small town boy who discovered the movies and theatre at the age of eleven.
Boyer performed comic sketches for soldiers while working as a hospital orderly during World War I. He began studies briefly at the Sorbonne, and was waiting for a chance to study acting at the Paris Conservatory.
He went to the capital city to finish his education, but spent most of his time pursuing a theatrical career. In 1920, his quick memory won him a chance to replace the leading man in a stage production, Aux jardins de Murcie. He was successful. Then he appeared in a play La Bataille and Boyer became a theatre star overnight.
In the 1920s, he not only played a suave and sophisticated ladies' man on the stage but also appeared in several silent films.
At first, he performed film roles only for the money and found that supporting roles were unsatisfying. However, with the coming of sound, his deep voice made him a romantic star.
Then he did the English-language The Man from Yesterday (1932) with Claudette Colbert at Paramount again directed by Viertel. He had a choice small role in Jean Harlow's Red-Headed Woman (1932) at MGM.
Boyer went back to France where he starred in F.P.1 Doesn't Answer (1932), Moi et l'impératrice (1933), Les Amoureux (1933) (The Sparrowhawk), and La bataille (1933) with Anabella. The latter was also filmed in an English language version called The Battle with Merle Oberon replacing Anabella and Boyer reprising his role.
Back in Hollywood he was teamed with Marlene Dietrich in The Garden of Allah (1936) for David O. Selznick. He and Dietrich were reunited on I Loved a Soldier (1936) for director Henry Hathaway at Paramount but the film was abandoned.
Boyer paired with Jean Arthur in History Is Made at Night (1937) for Wanger, and Greta Garbo in Conquest (1937) at MGM (where he played Napoleon Bonaparte). Boyer's fee for the latter was $150,000 but with all the re-takes he wound up earning $450,000.
In 1938, he landed his famous role as Pepe le Moko, the thief on the run in Algiers, an English-language remake of the classic French film Pepe le Moko with Jean Gabin, produced by Wanger. Although in the movie Boyer never said to costar Hedy Lamarr "Come with me to the Casbah," this line was in the movie trailer. The line would stick with him, thanks to generations of impressionists and Looney Tunes parodies. Boyer's role as Pepe Le Moko was already world-famous when animator Chuck Jones based the character of Pepé Le Pew, the romantic skunk introduced in 1945's Odor-able Kitty, on Boyer and his most well-known performance. Boyer's vocal style was also parodied on the Tom and Jerry cartoons, most notably when Tom was trying to woo a female cat. (See The Zoot Cat).
He went back to France to make Le corsaire (1939) for Marc Allegret. He was making the movie in Nice when France declared war on Germany in September 1939. Production ceased on the declaration of war. Boyer joined the French army. The film was never completed, although some footage of it was later released.
By November Boyer was discharged from the army and back in Hollywood as the French government thought he would be of more service making films.
Boyer played in three classic film love stories: All This, and Heaven Too (1940) with Bette Davis, directed by Litvak at Warners; as the ruthless cad in Back Street (1941) with Margaret Sullavan, at Universal; and Hold Back the Dawn (1941) with Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard, at Paramount.
In contrast to his glamorous image, Boyer began losing his hair early, had a pronounced paunch, and was noticeably shorter than leading ladies like Ingrid Bergman. When Bette Davis first saw him on the set of All This, and Heaven Too, she did not recognize him and tried to have him removed.
In January 1942 Boyer signed a three-year contract with Universal to act and produce. The contract would cover nine films.
Boyer was reunited with Sullivan in Appointment for Love (1942) at Universal and was one of many stars in Tales of Manhattan (1942), directed by Julien Duvivier and Immortal France (1942). He became a US citizen in 1942.
In 1943, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar Certificate for "progressive cultural achievement" in establishing the French Research Foundation in Los Angeles as a source of reference (certificate).
Boyer had one of his biggest hits with Gaslight (1944) with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten. He followed it with Together Again (1944) with Dunne; Congo (1944), a short; and Confidential Agent (1945) with Lauren Bacall, at Warners.
In 1947, he was the voice of Capt. Daniel Gregg in the Lux Radio Theater's presentation of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, played in the film by Rex Harrison. In 1948, he was made a chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur. That year he did a thriller A Woman's Vengeance (1948).
Another film he did with Bergman, Arch of Triumph (1948), failed at the box office and Boyer was no longer the box office star he had been. "If you are in a big flop, nobody wants you," he said later.
In 1951, he appeared on the Broadway stage in one of his most notable roles, that of Don Juan, in a dramatic reading of the third act of George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman. This is the act popularly known as Don Juan in Hell. In 1952, he won Broadway's 1951 Special Tony Award for Don Juan in Hell. It was directed by actor Charles Laughton. Laughton co-starred as the Devil, with Cedric Hardwicke as the statue of the military commander slain by Don Juan, and Agnes Moorehead as Dona Anna, the commander's daughter, one of Juan's former conquests. The production was a critical success, and was subsequently recorded complete by Columbia Masterworks, one of the first complete recordings of a non-musical stage production ever made. As of 2006, however, it has never been released on CD, but in 2009 it became available as an MP3 download.
Boyer did not abandon cinema: he had leading roles in The 13th Letter (1951), The First Legion (1952), and The Happy Time (1952). He had a character role in Thunder in the East (filmed 1951, released 1953) an Alan Ladd film.
Boyer moved into television as one of the pioneering producers and stars of the anthology show Four Star Playhouse (1952-56). It was made by Four Star Productions which would make Boyer and partners David Niven and Dick Powell rich.
He returned to Broadway for Norman Krasna's Kind Sir (1953-54) directed by Joshua Logan which ran for 166 performances. (In the film version, Indiscreet (1958), Boyer's role was taken by Cary Grant.)
Back in Hollywood, Boyer had a support role in MGM's The Cobweb (1955).
On 17 March 1957, Boyer starred in an adaptation for TV of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, There Shall Be No Night, by Robert E. Sherwood. The performance starred Katharine Cornell, and was broadcast on NBC as part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
In France, Boyer was one of several stars in It Happened on the 36 Candles (1957) and he co-starred with Brigitte Bardot in La Parisienne (1957) and Michele Morgan in Maxime (1958), the latter directed by Henri Verneuil.
In Hollywood Boyer had a support role in The Buccaneer (1958).
Boyer co-starred again with Claudette Colbert in the Broadway comedy The Marriage-Go-Round (1958-1960), but said to the producer, "Keep that woman away from me". The production was a hit and ran for 431 performances. Boyer did not reprise his performance in the film version. He kept busy doing work for Four Star.
Onscreen, he continued in older roles: in Fanny (1961) starring Leslie Caron; Demons at Midnight (1961), in France, the lead; MGM's remake of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962); Adorable Julia (1962) with Lili Palmer; several episodes of The Dick Powell Theatre; and Love Is a Ball (1963).
Boyer was reunited with Niven in The Rogues (1964-65).
He had good support roles in A Very Special Favor (1965) with Rock Hudson; How to Steal a Million (1966) with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole; Barefoot in the Park (1967) with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. He had cameos in Is Paris Burning? (1966) and Casino Royale (1967) and was top billed in The Day the Hot Line Got Hot (1968).
His career had lasted longer than that of other romantic actors, winning him the nickname "the last of the cinema's great lovers." He recorded a laid-back album called Where Does Love Go in 1966. The album consisted of famous love songs sung (or rather spoken) with Boyer's distinctive deep voice and French accent. The record was reportedly Elvis Presley's favorite album for the last 11 years of his life, the one he most listened to.
Boyer's son had died in 1965 and Boyer was finding it traumatic to continue living in Los Angeles so in March 1970 he decided to relocate to Europe.
Boyer's final credits included the musical remake of Lost Horizon (1973) and the French film Stavisky (1974), starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, the latter winning him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, and also received the Special Tribute at Cannes Film Festival.
Boyer was the star of Hollywood Playhouse on NBC in the 1930s, but he left in 1939 "for war service in France," returning on the January 3, 1940, broadcast. When he went on vacation in the summer of 1940, an item in a trade publication reported: "It is an open secret that he doesn't like the present policy of a different story and characters each week. Boyer would prefer a program in which he could develop a permanent characterization." Boyer would later star in his own radio show entitled "Presenting Charles Boyer" during 1950 over NBC.
Boyer became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1942.
In addition to French and English, Boyer spoke Italian, German, and Spanish.
Boyer was the husband of British actress Pat Paterson, whom he met at a dinner party in 1934. The two became engaged after two weeks of courtship and were married three months later. Later, they would move from Hollywood to Paradise Valley, Arizona. The marriage lasted 44 years until her death.
Boyer's only child, Michael Charles Boyer (9 December 1943 - 21 September 1965), committed suicide at age 21. He was playing Russian roulette after separating from his girlfriend. On 26 August 1978, two days after his wife's death from cancer, and two days before his own 79th birthday, Boyer committed suicide with an overdose of Seconal while at a friend's home in Scottsdale. He was taken to the hospital in Phoenix, where he died. He was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, alongside his wife and son.
Boyer never won an Oscar, though he was nominated for Best Actor four times in Conquest (1937), Algiers (1938), Gaslight (1944) and Fanny (1961), the latter also winning him a nomination for the Laurel Awards for Top Male Dramatic Performance. He is particularly well known for Gaslight in which he played a thief/murderer who tries to convince his newlywed wife that she is going insane.
He was nominated for the Golden Globe as Best Actor for the 1952 film The Happy Time; and also nominated for the Emmy for Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series for his work in Four Star Playhouse (1952-1956).
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