Oscar Actors: Boyer, Charles–Tribute

French-born actor Charles Boyer (August 28, 1899-August 26, 1978) appeared in over eighty films and was nominated for an Oscar four times during a versatile career that spanned five decades, from 1920 to the late 1970s. A matinee idol in France by 1934 (the LACMA series includes his French hits “Liliom” and “Le Bonheur”) Boyer found stardom in the U.S. in playing opposite glamorous leading ladies like Irene Dunne and Greta Garbo.

Boyer’s most memorable role was in George Cukor’s suspense thriller “Gaslight,” in 1944, opposite Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for the role. After moving to the U.S., he became an American citizen.

Born in Figeac, Lot, Midi-Pyrenees, France, to Maurice and Louise Boyer, he was a shy boy who discovered the magic of movies and theater at the age of 11. Working at a hospital during World War I, Boyer performed comic sketches for the soldiers there. He began studying at the Sorbonne, but hoped to attend the Paris Conservatory.

In the 1920s. Boyer cultivated the image of a suave and sophisticated man in some of his silent films. MGM signed him to a contract, but his first Hollywood stay, 1929-31, was unremarkable. However, with the coming of sound, his deep voice made him a natural romantic star.

His first break was a small role in Jean Harlow’s vehicle “Red-Headed Woman” (1932). He decided to stay in the U.S. after starring in a French production of “Liliom,” directed by Fritz Lang.

Blessed with a beautiful voice and a classic profile, the debonair Boyer moved effortlessly between comedy and drama, equally convincing as a romantic leading man and a charming villain.
Boyer played his first major role in the romantic musical “Caravan” with Loretta Young, and made some impression in the mental asylum drama “Private Worlds” (1935) opposite Claudette Colbert. Boyer continued to make European films, and became an international star after “Mayerling” (1936), opposite Danielle Darrieux.

He appeared with many of Hollywood’s glamour queens: Marlene Dietrich in “The Garden of Allah” (1936), Jean Arthur in “History Is Made at Night” (1937), Greta Garbo in “Conquest” (1937), Irene Dunne in “Love Affair” (1939).

In 1938, he landed his famous role, as Pepe le Moko, a thief on the run, in “Algiers,” an English-language remake of the French film, in which Jean Gabin played his role. Although he never invited Hedy Lamarr to “Come with me to the Casbah,” this line was in the trailer, and would stick with him thanks to impressionists and Looney Tunes. Boyer’s role as Pepe Le Moko was already world famous when animator Chuck Jones based the character of Pepe le Pew, the romantic skunk introduced in 1945’s Odor-able Kitty, on Boyer.

Boyer played in three classics of unrequited love opposite Bette Davis in “All This, and Heaven Too” (1940), Olivia de Havilland in “Hold Back the Dawn” (1941), and Margaret Sullavan’s “Back Street” (1941), the best version of the many screen incranations.

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).

He never won an Oscar for Best Actor, though was nominated four times: in “Conquest” (1937), “lgiers” (1938), “Gaslight” (1944) and “Fanny” (1961).

Boyer is best known for his role in the 1944 “Gaslight” in which he tried to convince Ingrid Bergman’s character that she was going insane. He became well known for declarations of love in films with greatest co-stars. In the 1940s he was the voice of Capt. Daniel Gregg in Lux Radio Theater’s presentation of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”

After World War II, he continued the international career in movies and on television, Broadway and the London stage. In 1948, Charles Boyer was made a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.

When another film with Bergman, “Arch of Triumph” (1948), failed at the box office, he started looking for character parts. Apart from notable part such as Max Ophuls’ “The Earrings of Madame de” (1953), he also moved into TV as one of the producers-stars of Four Star Theatre, with David Niven and Dick Powell as partners.

Shedding his playboy image, Boyer returned to France to appear in Max Ophls “The Earrings of Madame de,” playing the indulgent but principled colonel whose honor as a man and an aristocrat is put to the test by his frivolous wife. It’s one of the most intelligent and iconic performances given by a still-underrated actor.

In the 1950s, Boyer was a guest star on “I Love Lucy.” He was nominated for the Golden Globe as Best Actor in 1952 for “The Happy Time,” and also for the Emmy for his work in Four Star Playhouse (1952-1956).

In 1952, he won Broadway’s 1951 Special Tony Award for “Don Juan in Hell,” directed by Charles Laughton, who co-starred as the Devil, Cedric Hardwicke as the statue of the military commander slain by Don Juan, and Agnes Moorehead as Dona Anna, the commander’s daughter. The production was a critical success, and was later recorded by Columbia Masterworks. Boyer was also nominated for the Tony Award (Drama) in the 1963 Broadway production of “Lord Pengo.”

Boyer appeared in “Fanny” (1961) starring Leslie Caron, “Barefoot in the Park” (1967) with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, and “Stavisky” (1974), for which he won the N.Y. Film Critics Circle Award.

Another TV program, “The Rogues,” starred Boyer with David Niven and Gig Young. The show only lasted through the 1964-65 season but remains fondly remembered for its sophistication and humor.

Boyer’s distinguished career lasted longer than other romantic leading men, earning him the title of “the last of the cinema’s great lovers.”

His last major role was that of the High Lama in the musical version of “Lost Horizon” (1973), although he also had a notable part as a corrupt city official in the film version of The “Madwoman of Chaillot,” starring Katharine Hepburn.

Other screen appearances include: “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “How to Steal a Million” (1966), “Is Paris Burning” (1966). His final film was Vincente Minnelli’s “A Matter of Time” (1976), with Ingrid Bergman and Liza Minnelli.

For his contribution to the film and television industries, Boyer has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Boyer’s only marriage was to British actress Pat Paterson in a union that lasted 44 years. Two days after his wife died from cancer in 1978, he committed suicide with an overdose of Seconal while at a friend’s home in Scottsdale. He was taken to a hospital where he died. His son Michael Charles Boyer had committed suicide by playing Russian roulette with a gun after a breakup with his girlfriend.

The LCAMA series was developed in collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center with the support of the French Ministry of External Affairs and the L.A. Film and TV Office of the Consulate Generale de France.

Love Affair

July 11 | 7:30 pm
This classic tale of a shipboard romance that ends in a tragic reunion at the top of the Empire State Building is beautifully played by both Boyer and Dunne, shrouded in atmosphere by master cinematographer Rudolph Mat, and sensitively directed by McCarey, who years later remade the film as An Affair to Remember.

1939/b&w/87 min. | Scr: Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart; dir: Leo McCarey; w/ Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne

Hold Back the Dawn

July 11 | 9:10 pm
As the down-and-out gigolo stuck in a Mexican border town, Boyer employs his trademark charm in a calculated effort to marry naive school teacher de Havilland and gain entry to the United State s. Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress.

1941/b&w/116 min. | Scr: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder; dir: Mitchell Leisen; w/ Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard

Liliom

July 12 | 7:30 pm
At the age of thirty-five, Boyer confirmed his status as a romantic lead with a dark side by taking on the role of Liliom, a carnival barker who is shot during a robbery and who is allowed to return to earth for one day to make amends to his wife and child. Fritz Langs adaptation of a play by Ferenc Molnr is the German directors only film in French, and features a great early score by Franz Waxman (Rebecca, A Place in the Sun).

New print courtesy Fox Archive
1934/b&w/118 min. | Scr: Robert Liebmann; dir: Fritz Lang; w/ Charles Boyer, Madeleine Ozeray

A Womans Vengeance

July 12 | 9:40 pm
The anguish of unrequited love is the real subject of this taut courtroom drama about a dislikable British squire (Boyer) sentenced to hang for the murder of his sickly wife. A wonderful film with a marvelous cast and a brilliantly written screenplay by LSD guru Aldous Huxley.

1948/b&w/96 min. | Scr: Aldous Huxley; dir: Zoltan Korda; w/ Charles Boyer; Ann Blyth, Jessica Tandy, Cedric Hardwicke

History Is Made at Night

July 18 | 7:30 pm
In this gossamer-light romantic drama, a wealthy American woman (Arthur) falls in love with a charming Parisian headwaiter (Boyer), only to be thwarted by her insanely jealous husband. “A profound expression of Borzage’s commitment to love over probability.Andrew Sarris.

1937/b&w/97 min. | Scr: Gene Towne, Graham Baker; dir: Frank Borzage; w/ Charles Boyer; Jean Arthur

Gaslight

July 18 | 9:20 pm
Cukor called this gothic chiller about a greedy Victorian husband trying to drive his wife insane in a gaslit London mansion a movie in the best movie tradition. The scenario seems to move up and down and around. Among the films seven Oscar nominations were Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress, which Bergman won.

1944/b&w/114 min. | Scr: John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, John L. Balderston; dir: George Cukor; w/ Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten, Angela Lansbury

Le Bonheur

July 19 | 7:30 pm
Boyer is superb as an educated anarchist who attempts to kill a music hall chanteuse (Morlay) whose repertoire includes Le Bonheur, a.k.a. Happiness. For his crime he is given eighteen months jail time and on his release discovers that his story will be turned into a movie. An enigmatic and complex film from one of the prominent figures of the French avant-garde of the 1920s, featuring a comic turn by Michel Simon, as a limp-wristed art director, and an early appearance of Jean Marais.

Print courtesy the Bureau du cinema, Paris
1934/b&w/98 min. | Scr: Michel Duran. Marcel L’Herbier; dir: LHerbier; w/ Charles Boyer; Gaby Morlay, Michel Simon

The First Legion

July 19 | 9:20 pm
Boyer gives one of his best performances as the head of a Jesuit seminary and a former lawyer who questions the miracle that occurs when a crippled priest suddenly rises from his bed and walks.

1951/b&w/86 min. | Scr: Emmet Lavery; dir: Douglas Sirk; w/ Charles Boyer, William Demarest, Barbara Rush

Cluny Brown

July 25 | 7:30 pm
The last film with the fabled “Lubitsch touch” is a bubbly satire-romance, set in pre-World War II England, that pairs Czech writer-refugee Boyer with plumber’s daughter Jones, the maid at the genteel country manor where he is staying. Lubitsch takes shots at the insular upper-class British world of gardening, tea parties and gossip, until Jones and Boyer upset the apple cart and bring some spirit into the household.

1945/b&w/100 min. | Scr: Samuel Hoffenstein, Elizabeth Reinhardt; dir: Ernst Lubitsch; w/ Charles Boyer, Jennifer Jones

The Happy Time

July 25 | 9:20 pm
This fine film version of a stage hit portrays a warm, fun-loving, French-Canadian family living in Ottawa and captures the coming of age of the innocent twelve-year-old boy Bibi. In one of his favorite films, Boyer plays the boys father, a kindly man who sees his son through his first romantic crisis. Richard Fleischer directs with elan.

1952/b&w/92 min. | Scr: Earl Felton; dir: Richard Fleischer; w/ Charles Boyer, Louis Jordan, Marsha Hunt

The Earrings of Madame de

July 26 | 7:30 pm
As the earrings of Madame de travel a circuitous route from one owner to the next, an entire world comes to lifethe world of the French aristocracy during the Belle poque, particularly the interior world shared by Madame de…, her proud husband, and her soft, charming lover. Ophls masterpiece, easily one of the greatest films ever made, has all the trappings of romantic cinema, but its fluid camera takes us beyond the film’s glittering surfaces (“only superficially superficial,” as Boyer so aptly puts it) to the raw feelings surging beneathand ultimately into the spiritually redemptive territory of grand passion. Darrieux, Boyer and de Sica did their greatest work in this towering film.

1953/b&w/105 min. | Scr: Marcel Achard, Max Ophls, Annette Wademant; dir: Max Ophls; w/ Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, Vittorio De Sica

Conquest

July 26 | 9:25 pm
Politics trumps love in the on-again, off-again affair between Napoleon Bonaparte and Polish countess Marie Walewska, who bears him a son he never knew. For his uncanny portrayal of Napoleon, Boyer received an Oscar nomination, becoming Garbos first co-star to steal her thunder.

1937/b&w/113 min. | Scr: Samuel Hoffenstein, Salka Viertel, S. N. Behrman; dir: Clarence Brown; w/ Charles Boyer, Greta Garbo

Filmography

Man of the Sea (1920)
Captain Fracasse (1929)
Red-Headed Woman (1932)
Liliom (1934)
Caravan (1934)
Private Worlds (1935)
Break of Hearts (1935)
Mayerling (1936)
The Garden of Allah (1936)
History Is Made at Night (1937)
Conquest (1937)
Orage (1938)
Algiers (1938)
Love Affair (1939)
All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
Back Street (1941)
Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
Tales of Manhattan (1942)
The Constant Nymph (1943)
Flesh and Fantasy (1943)
Gaslight (1944)
Confidential Agent (1945)
Cluny Brown (1946)
A Woman’s Vengeance (1948)
Arch of Triumph (1948)
The 13th Letter (1951)
The First Legion (1951)
The Happy Time (1952)
The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)
The Cobweb (1955)
Nana (1955)
What a Woman! (1956)
Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
La Parisienne (1957)
The Buccaneer (1958)
Fanny (1961)
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962)
Love Is a Ball (1963)
A Very Special Favor (1965)
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Is Paris Burning (1966)
Casino Royale (1967)
Barefoot in the Park (1967)
The Hot Line (1968)
The April Fools (1969)
The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969)
Lost Horizon (1973)
Stavisky (1974)
A Matter of Time (1976)