- Category : Actor
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 3/6 - Martyr / Role Model
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Rulership 3
Maurice Chevalier (September 12, 1888 – January 1, 1972) was a Belgian-French actor, singer, and popular entertainer. Chevalier's signature songs included "Louise", "Mimi", and "Valentine." His trademark was a casual straw hat, which he always wore on stage with his tuxedo.
He was born Maurice Auguste Chevalier in Paris in 1888. His father was a house painter. His mother was of Belgian descent. Maurice made his name as a star of musical comedy, appearing in public as a singer and dancer at an early age.
It was in 1901 that he first began in show business at the age of 13. He was singing, unpaid, at a café when a well-known member of the theatre saw him and suggested that he try out for a local musical. He did so, and got the part. Chevalier got a name as imitator and singer. His act in l' Alcazar in Marseille was so successful he made a triumphant rearrival in Paris.
In 1909, he became the partner of the biggest female star in France at the time, Fréhel. However, due to her alcohol and drug addiction their liaison ended in 1911. Chevalier then started a relationship with the 36 year old Mistinguett at the Folies Bergère; they would eventually play out a very public romance.
World War I
When in 1914 World War I broke out, Chevalier was in the middle of his national service, so was already in the front line, where he got shrapnel in the back in the first weeks of combat and taken as a prisoner of war in Germany for two years. In 1916, he was released through the top-secret intervention of Mistinguett's admirer King Alfonso of Spain, the only king of a neutral country who was a cousin of both the British and German royal families.
In 1917, he became a star in le Casino de Paris and played before a public of British soldiers and Americans. He discovered jazz and ragtime and started thinking about touring in the United States. In prison camp, he studied English and therefore had a certain advantage over other French artists. He went to London where he found new success, though still singing his repertoire in French.
After the war, Chevalier went back to Paris and created several famous songs that are still known today, such as ‘Valentine’ (1924). He played in a few pictures and made a huge impression in the operetta, Dédé. He met the American composers George Gershwin and Irving Berlin and brought Dédé to Broadway in 1922. It was not a success and Chevalier returned to France where he tried to commit suicide in 1924 because of this failure. The same year he met Yvonne Vallée, a young dancer, who became his wife in 1927.
Meanwhile his film potential had been spotted by Douglas Fairbanks, who offered him star billing opposite Mary Pickford. But Chevalier doubted his own talent for silent movies (in Paris, he'd made a couple that failed). When sound made its entrée in the film world, however, he returned to Hollywood in 1928 and this time he became very successful. He signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and played his first American role in Innocents of Paris. In 1930 he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor, for two roles, The Love Parade (1929) and The Big Pond (1930). The Big Pond garnered Chevalier his first big American hit song, "Livin' In the Sunlight - Lovin' In the Moonlight" with words and music by Al Lewis and Al Sherman, as well as 'A New Kind of Love' (or 'The Nightingales'). He collaborated with film director Ernst Lubitsch. While under contract with Paramount, Chevalier's name was so universally recognized that his passport was featured in the Marx Brothers film Monkey Business (1931), with each brother attempting to sneak off the ocean liner where they were stowaways by claiming to be the singer. In 1931, Chevalier starred in a musical called The Smiling Lieutenant along with Claudette Colbert. Despite the disdain audiences held for musicals in 1931, it proved to be a very successful film.
In 1932, he starred with Jeanette MacDonald in Paramount's classic film musical, One Hour With You which became a huge box-office success and became one of the films instrumental in making musicals popular with the public once again. Due to its popularity, Paramount quickly starred Maurice Chevalier in another musical called Love Me Tonight, which was also released in 1932 and also co-starred Jeanette MacDonald. It is about a tailor who falls in love with a princess when he goes to a castle to collect a debt and is mistaken for a baron. Featuring songs by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, it was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, who, with the help of the songwriters, was able to put his ideas of the "integrated musical" (a musical which blends songs and dialogue seamlessly so that the songs seem to advance the plot). It has since come to be considered one of the greatest film musicals of all time.
In 1934, he starred in the first sound film version of the Franz Lehar operetta The Merry Widow, one of his best-known films. He became one of the big stars in Hollywood, very rare for French artists in those days. In 1935, he signed with MGM and returned to France later that year.
In 1937, he divorced his wife and married the dancer Nita Ray. He had several successes such as his revue Paris en Joie in the Casino de Paris. A year later, he performed in Amours de Paris. His songs remained big hits, such as Prosper (1935), Ma Pomme (1936) and Ça fait d'excellents français (1939)
World War II
During World War II, Chevalier kept performing for audiences, even German soldiers. He admired Philippe Pétain, who led the collaborating Vichy regime during the war. (It must be stated that many Frenchmen at that time admired Pétain for his victories in World War I.) He moved to Cannes where he and his Jewish girlfriend, Nita Ray, lived and where he gave several performances.
In 1941, he performed a new revue in the Casino de Paris: Bonjour Paris, which was another smash success. Songs like "Ça sent si bon la France" and "La Chanson du maçon" became other new hits. The Nazis asked Chevalier if he wanted to perform in Berlin and sing for the collaborating radio station Radio-Paris. He refused, but did give several performances in front of prisoners of war in Germany where he succeeded in liberating ten people in exchange.
In 1942 he returned to Bocca, near Cannes, but returned to the French capital city in September. In 1944 when the Allied forces freed France, Chevalier was accused of collaborationism. Even though he was formally acquitted of these charges, the English-speaking press remained very hostile and he was refused a visa for several years.
After World War II
In his own country, however, he was still very popular. In 1946, he split-up from Nita Ray and started writing his memoirs, which took him many years to complete.
He started to paint and collect things and acted in Le Silence est d'Or (1946) by René Clair. He still toured throughout the United States and other parts of the world and returned to France in 1948.
In 1949, he performed in Stockholm in a communist benefit against nuclear arms. (In 1944, he had already participated in a communist demonstration in Paris). Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist efforts in the USA made him less popular in that country during the early fifties. In 1951, he was refused re-entry into the U.S. because he had earlier signed an anti-nuclear petition known as the Stockholm Appeal.
In 1952, he bought a large property in Marnes-la-Coquette, near Paris and named it ‘La Louque’, as a homage to his mother's nickname. He started a new relationship in 1952 with Janie Michels, a young divorced mother with three children. Being a painter herself she encouraged Chevalier's artistic hobby.
In 1954 after McCarthy's downfall, Chevalier was welcomed back in the United States. He made a success in the Billy Wilder film Love in the Afternoon (1957) with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper, and rediscovered his popularity with new audiences, appearing in the movie musical, Gigi (1958) with Leslie Caron and Hermione Gingold, with whom he shared the song "I Remember It Well", and several Walt Disney films. The great success of Gigi prompted Hollywood to give him an Honorary Academy Award that same year for his lifetime achievements in the field of entertainment. Also in Gigi, the song "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" became a signature song for him.
Chevalier continued to work up until very old age with energy and enthusiasm. In the early 1960s, he toured the United States and between 1960 and 1963 he made eight films. When he returned to France, he was invited by president Charles de Gaulle for a meal.
In 1965, at the age of 77 he made another world tour and visited the US again and other countries like South Africa. In 1967 he toured in Latin America, again the US, Europe and Canada.
In 1968, on October 1, he announced his official farewell tour. Tired but nonetheless still able to entertain people he stopped twenty days later.
In 1970, he sang the title song of the Disney film The Aristocats. During a tour in the US he decided to stay there. However in December 1971 he fell ill and had to be taken to a hospital.
Maurice Chevalier died on January 1, 1972, aged 83, and was interred in the cemetery of Marnes-la-Coquette in Hauts-de-Seine, outside Paris, France.