Louis Jourdan Website 1950s Biography
Undesirable Parts Abound
In demand, but for pictures and parts he rejected for their cliché characters, Louis Jourdan had spent most of 1949, and then nine months of 1950 off the sound stages. Loaned out for three of his first four pictures, at the beginning of the decade, he saw his contract with David O. Selznick dwindling away while colleagues were making several films a year. It looked like the breakthrough might be “On the Riviera” with Danny Kaye, but this was not to be.
Louis Jourdan later explained his rebellion against playing Latin lovers, describing such parts as "oo-la-la, conventional, embarrassing characters." Proclaiming his pride in being a Frenchman, he resented “the image people have of the stupid, continental charmer,” adding. “against that type of role, I fight pitilessly."
In May 1950, with great confidence in the young actor, Darryl Zanuck paid a substantial sum to buy Louis Jourdan's contract from Selznick, and a new start beckoned. Eventually, a decision was made that he had come to the US to perform, and might as well end the revolt, and accept parts he didn't particularly want to do until something better came along.
The first of these compromises took him to Hawaii in Fall 1950 to make “Bird of Paradise,” in (the role of a very uncomplicated Frenchman in Polynesia which he later performed on Lux Radio Theater in December 1951). This was followed by the pirate movie “Anne of the Indies,” which offered a somewhat more developed part. Both were released in 1951.
Debra Paget had co-starred in each of these movies, and two more pictures were proposed for the pair, the first of which was just another adventure piece, “Drums Along the Amazon,” but the second could have proved something special. Unfortunately for both actors, the feature in question, “Les Miserables” had to wait nearly four decades to be filmed.
While the action pictures might not have been professionally satisfying, a little more fun was reprising the playful role of a dazzling eccentric in the radio adaptation of “No Minor Vices” by Screen Director's Playhouse in 1951. (Another interesting foray into radio was the part of Arronnax in the Hallmark Playhouse adaptation of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in November of the same year - the month after a very special occasion in the Jourdans' life.)
Away from the Screen
Indeed, on the personal side, all was much brighter. Happily ensconced in the little bit of France they'd made of their Beverly Hills home, the Jourdans greeted a son, Louis Jr., into the world in October 1951 as his father was quickly becoming the lion of Darryl Zanuck's and Sam Goldwyn's croquet lawns, the most celebrated and dynamic of all the Hollywood players.
Also that year, over a decade after they almost appeared together in “Le Corsaire,” Louis Jourdan infused joie de vivre into “The Happy Time” as Charles Boyer's brother, following which he exited Hollywood to brave the heat of a Spanish summer in period costume to play Boccacio in the lush “Decameron Nights” when a role in Jean Negulesco's “Titanic” didn't pan out.
There was also a unique venture into television at this time, one of the earliest color productions made for TV . Pilot for an anthology series, the Christmas story gave Louis Jourdan a chance to step away from Latin Lover roles to play a bereaved young man trying to find his way back to some balance in his life, clinging to the “String of Blue Beads” of the title.
After a decade away from French sound stages, he returned to Paris during 1952 to make the charming “Rue de l'Estrapade,” a film which no fan should miss for his sparkling performance as a philandering race driver whose wife turns the tables on him.
(His original mission to Paris was to play something quite opposite, a character part in good friend Anatol Litvak's movie “Act of Love,” but the role of a French concentration camp victim was scaled down, and another heavy assignment evaporated, as did the unique opportunity to work with pal Kirk Douglas.)
The Prince Dino Syndrome
Continuing to spend much time in Europe, in 1953 Louis Jourdan filmed another quintessentially stereotype role as the prince in “Three Coins in the Fountain,” but managed to avoid an even more souped-up lover in “The Affairs of Antoine” which fortunately was never made). Regrettable, however, was the scrapping of Katherine Hepburn's plan to make a movie version of “The Millionairess” with him after her run in the Shaw play on Broadway. The pairing could have produced a landmark film.
In the autumn he made a Robert Montgomery Presents adaptation of “Wages of Fear,” a tense drama about truck drivers caught up in a volatile situation, something as against the stereotype as one could get.
As the “Hollywood System” was in its death throes, Louis Jourdan managed an early release from the remainder of his second seven-year studio contract which finally enabled the actor to choose the directions his career would take. His first target was the stage.
That October he was signed by Billy Rose for what may well be the crowning achievement of his career - on Broadway in “The Immoralist.” Playing a gay archaeologist who tries marriage to combat his homosexuality, only to be sought after by the house boy (briefly played by James Dean before his first Hollywood film), the compelling performance was lauded on all sides for its depth and subtlety.
At last Louis Jourdan was playing in a truly demanding dramatic role of great complexity, and received the Donaldson Award (predecessor to the Tonis)for Best Actor of the Year in a Broadway Debut Performance.
Unfortunately, “The Immoralist” was something his multitude of fans would never have the chance to see, despite it's credible 1954 run in New York.
Though the intensity of the play was a source of great professional satisfaction, he stated at the time that he found the theatre becoming too realistic, too serious, too deep and forceful. "There is little magic, wonder and illusion," he indicated, proposing, "what we need today is the escape of the old-time theatre, which took us out of ourselves into fantasy, excitement and pleasure."
While a great achievement, “The Immoralist” also had negative repercussions in the form of hate mail that never seemed to end. Social mores of 1950s America were a far cry from the 21st century, and merely to play a homosexual on stage could stigmatize an actor in the worst way.
But his Broadway success was more than an acting triumph. A turning point in Louis Jourdan's career, it proved the inspiration and impetus to take new directions, first to go beyond Hollywood, and pursue his career abroad. With the more diverse acting challenges it offered (and his determination not to accept roles that had him stereotyped), television became the focus of the following two years, and a wide variety of projects in the medium proceeded his next feature.
Unique TV Detective Series
As with the draining "Decameron Nights," the grueling Broadway play took a lot of kilos with it, and when the run was finished, Louis Jourdan returned to France. His object was the television series “Paris Precinct,” 26 episodes filmed from May through October 1958 on location across the City of Light - in English for an American audience, a most unusual venture, with Claude Dauphin as co-star (and co-owner), the two playing Paris detectives.
What they quickly discovered was that it was the guest stars who got all the best parts, the detectives basically repeating the same dreary lines week after week. Already drained from the Broadway play, the seemingly wasted time in Paris proved totally exhausting. However after completing the assignment, Louis Jourdan also managed to make “Warm Clay” for The Elgin Hour, which was screened at the end of the year.
1955 was another demanding one, beginning with a return to Broadway in “Tonight in Samarkand,” following which, on April 3 he appeared with Claude Dauphin on the live drama show “Appointment With Adventure” in “Minus Three Thousand, the same night their detective series ”Paris Precinct debuted.
In addition to appearances on panel and variety shows like “What's My Line” and “Martha Raye” as well as an incursion into advertising for Old Spice, Louis Jourdan played in strong anthology series Studio One in “Passage at Arms,” and took the title role in “The Escape of Mendez-France” on Climax, commenting that, had the story been made as a feature, it would have starred Marlon Brando.
In the summer he began filming a romantic, but utterly different role opposite Grace Kelly in “The Swan." The self-confident Man About Town of films like “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” “Madame Bovary” and “Three Coins in the Fountain” was transformed into a shy, bookish professor whose human qualities of dignity and kindness proved even more appealing.
The same year he squeezed in two TV dramas, “Secret of the Bells” on Celebrity Playhouse and “Journey by Moonlight,” both of which aired in January 1956.
His first opportunity to play a real movie villain came that Spring in “Julie,” (a part which Louis Jourdan believed gave him enriched acting scope portraying the psychotic husband). After the filming on location in Carmel, California, it was back to France to make the frothy but much admired “La Mariée est Trop Belle” (AKA "The Bride is Much Too Beautiful" / "Her Bridal Night").
His fencing skills, a mini highlight of "The Swan," were put to the test again in his next assignment in a TV drama called “The Man Who Beat Lupo,” after which he returned to France for shooting of the crime drama “Escapade” (released in 1957).
To complete the 1956 output, in addition to playing himself in the live Playhouse 90 production of “Eloise” on Thanksgiving Day, Louis Jourdan also made a recording of poems by his beloved Baudelaire.
Acknowledged on all sides to be one of the greatest Hollywood musicals, it took lyricist Alan Jay Lerner what seemed to be an eternity to convince his friend that he should play a singing role in "Gigi." Louis Jourdan, countering that his voice was more suited to humming around the house had met a man who wouldn't say no, but Lerner's instincts were proven to be perfect. The performance of Gaston exactly realized Vincinte Minelli's conception that the picture was really about the metamorphosis of the young playboy from a jaded individual to one for whom life became spectacular.
Anyone who can hear him in their head at will - singing, “oh no, overnight there's been a breathless change in you,” would join Lerner's army cheering Louis Jourdan on to sing.
(Certainly the supper clubs of the US were listening, and decided he'd make a terrific headliner. The deluge of offers was bemusing to the star who found it impossible to conceive of himself doing a Las Vegas act, turning them all down flat.)
No Enchanted Evening
Another project he rejected has to leave all Louis Jourdan's fans disappointed. It was the lead in the film version of “South Pacific.” The part seemed made for him, and it's easy to imagine how beautifully he would have executed that last delicate phrasing of “never let her go.” Not to mention that it would have been nice to see a Frenchman - instead of Italians - playing the planter from France.
However, the "Gigi" success did encourage him to do more appearances singing and dancing on television in 1958 and 1959. Without question, the classic film represented an enormous personal success that brought the kind of mega star status that lasts a lifetime.
After making the Oscar-winning musical in Paris and California during the summer and autumn of 1957, Louis Jourdan legally adopted the surname that he and his brother had been using throughout their careers, which was their mother's maiden name.
When a heavy dramatic role on the Paris stage didn't pan out, he flew to Britain where he starred in “Dangerous Exile,” a historical drama, and took a part in General Electric Theater's “The Falling Angel” with another dip into TV variety on “The Dinah Shore Show,” like the immortal musical, all these coming before the public in 1958.
Perhaps more encouraged with what Hollywood had to offer that year, especially since he was now an independent actor, no longer under contract, the globe-trotting Jourdans, who'd kept homes on both US coasts, decided to give up their New York apartment, and keep only the Beverly Hills house in America, a spot the actor called “a little paradise on earth.”
Nevertheless, Louis Jourdan found himself nearing a turning point, more determined than ever to escape the kind of roles he was continually offered. And plentiful they were that summer, including one to be shot in Britain.
When proposed parts opposite Debbie Reynolds in the never-made film “Snob Hill” (and How Good Girls Get Married that turned into “Ask Any Girl”) didn't materialize, in the late spring and summer of 1958, having bi-passed another offer to star in a lighter multiple romance, “A Time for Paris” (an unrealized film to star Shirley MacLaine), Louis Jourdan made an alternative high-gloss movie, another Jean Negulesco film on the single-girls-in-the city theme of "Three Coins in the Fountain," this one an embittered New York take, “The Best of Everything.”
Enjoying the artistic freedom working with Negulesco offered, he made the most of an interesting part, playing a stage director with a callous attitude toward women which not only provided a welcome change of pace from more typical roles, but also a chance to make creative contributions to the screenplay and approach of the film.
As the year concluded, David O. Selznick was trying to lure Louis Jourdan back to working with him again with a tempting vehicle, Tender is the Night, but the picture wasn't made for over a year, and other commitments precluded his taking part.
While Kirk Douglas was urging Louis Jourdan to do a western, the projects of 1959 were more of a variety nature, including major productions like his hosting of the musical revues “Accent on Love” and “The Louis Jourdan Special,” as well as being special guest of Shirley MacLaine in a Japan Spectacular edition of The Dinah Shore Show. He also appeared again with Dinah herself and did a Perry Como Show that year. And in addition to being a presenter at the Academy Awards, he was involved in a multi-media advertising campaign for Halo Shampoo.
Their detective series a success on ABC TV, and then in syndication, early in the year, Louis Jourdan teamed up with Claude Dauphin in “Caprice,” a comedy bound for Broadway which included their friend Jean Pierre Aumont who'd put the play together.
(Dauphin liked to tell an anecdote about the three sharing a Paris apartment together as struggling actors .... only he had already made some 30 pictures when Louis Jourdan arrived in the city as a teenage student.)
19th Century France Meets 20th Century USSR
A peak year, Louis Jourdan filmed another musical in the fall of 1959, this one with chum Frank Sinatra in “Can-Can.” The production garnered special attention when its set was scheduled on the itinerary of visiting Soviet Premier Khrushchev. A special performance - in which Louis Jourdan sang - was staged for the celebrated visitor, but Khrushchev was not all smiles, finding the can-can dance which had shocked 19th century France equally outrageous to him in the 20th. For his own part, Louis Jourdan found the remarks disappointing, believing that Khrushchev should not have insulted the hospitality of his hosts.
The visit was a large footnote to the story of "Can-Can," but with its abundance of Cole Porter music, able performances by the stars, and one last chance to hear Louis Jourdan sing in a film, this is a movie to remember.
The success of "The Sound of Music" on KhrushchevBroadway made it a certainty that the show would be made into a film, with Louis Jourdan being first choice for the male lead - but this was another singing part he decided against.
However, when it came to turning down roles, it wasn't only on his own behalf. In 1959 the Jourdans' highly photogenic son was offered a leading part as a diplomat's child with vital evidence in the October edition of the prestigious “DuPont Show of the Month” for its adaptation of the 1948 movie “The Fallen Idol,” but his father could see the harm in growing up as an actor, and rejected the producer's proposal.
It was definitely a progressive decade - if not one totally filled with tense dramatic roles - in which audiences were treated to many sides of Louis Jourdan's talent.
And immediately beckoning were a part in a John Ford picture, Ben Hecht's Brotherhood of Evil with Dina Merrill, a Broadway musical, another Continental Lover part with Ava Gardner (Free For the Season), a film about boxer Georges Carpentier, and one in Britain, “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Though playing the latter part had been a life's ambition, none of these projects happened for him, but another did - his own production company!
family November 1951
with Geraldine Page in "The Immoralist"
Made up to play Pierre Mendez-France (not necessarily to look like the French statesman, but not to look like himself)
with Grace Kelly in "The Swan"
With Nikita Khrushchev, Shirley MacLaine and Nina Khrushchev