Yesterday we said farewell to Louis Jourdan, the debonair French actor who reigned as one of Hollywood’s leading men. Famous for his role in “Gigi” and several other notable films, Louis Jourdan will be remembered as the French Cliché who took Hollywood by storm.
Louis Robert Gendre was born on June 19th, 1921 in Marseille in France. He was one of the three sons of Yvonne Jourdan and Henry Gendre, who at the time of his sons birth was a hotel owner. While Louis was growing up the family travelled quite frequently which meant that he wouldn’t be able to endure his years of schooling in the one country, so he was educated at an array of different places including France, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
During his school years, Louis inherited a passion for acting and the theatre. He studied acting at the Ecole Dramatique in France. The school provided extensive training, and he began to shine. Shortly after he started performing on the professional stage, where he was recognized by director Marc Allegret. Marc witnessed Louis talent and employed him to work as an assistant camera operator. In 1939, he scored a role in “Le Corsaire” directed by Marc Allegret. This would have been his debut into movies, but as France was on the brink of World War II, the film never came to fruition.
With the war about to break out, he applied for army service, but was considered too young. A while later he and his brother Pierre were hired by Julien Duvivier to appear in an uncredited role in “Untel Pere Et Fils” which was to be filmed in Rome. He then returned to France and made several more films that were directed by Allegret. Around the same time he was called to Germany to make some German Propaganda films, but Louis refused, and decided to flee to unoccupied France to be with his family. During the next two years he appeared in ten French films, some of which he sometimes worked as an assistant director. After the completion of his tenth film, his father was arrested by the Gestapo, and Louis joined the French Resistance, where he was given tasks such as working on illegal leaflets and printing and distributing them. When the Liberation Of France ended in 1945, Louis returned to Paris with his childhood sweetheart, Berthe Frederique.
On his arrival back in France, Louis landed a part in another French production. The film progressed well with audiences, and Louis commendable performance attracted the attention of one of David O. Selznick’s talent scouts, who immediately signed Louis to a contract. In 1947, he made his debut on the Hollywood screen in “The Paradine Case”, an Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Gregory Peck and Ethel Barrymore. Jourdan played André Latour, Paradine’s valet. Jourdan hoped that the film would give him the status in the United States that he had received in his home country, but upon it’s release the film received mixed reviews, and while Jourdan derived a few complimentary remarks, his performance mostly went unrecognized.
On March 11th, 1946, Louis Jourdan married his childhood sweetheart, Berthe Frederique. The couple produced their only child together, a boy who they named Louis Henry Jourdan, born on October 6th, 1951. For many years their son suffered from serious drug addiction and died on May 12th, 1981. He and Berthe remained married until her death in 2014.
In 1948, he secured the role as concert pianist, Stefan Brand in Max Ophüls production of “Letter From An Unknown Woman” starring Joan Fontaine. Louis Jourdan boasted major encomium for his laudable portrayal of Stefan Brand, some people including David Thomson consider this to be his signature performance. That same year he appeared in “No Minor Vices”, a rather obscure comedy that flopped immediately at the box office. He then took on a supporting role in “Madame Bovary” ( 1949 ), a Vincente Minnelli directed film which received an Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Art Direction-Set Decoration’, but other than that the picture resulted in a loss of $910,000.
Louis Jourdan commenced the 1950’s by starring in several films that were panned by critics. His next auspicious movie came in 1954, when he played Prince Dino di Cessi in “Three Coins In The Fountain”. The film was efficacious from the start, and it was praised for it’s color and Cinema Scope wide-screen cinematography of Italian filming locations. Now that he was sensational on the big screen, he decided to transfer his acting talents over to the stage. With the favorable outcome for “Three Coins In The Fountain”, he made his Broadway debut shortly after when he obtained the lead role in the Billy Rose stage adaptation of Andre Gide’s novel, “The Immoralist”. His Broadway performance led to Louis trying the television medium in 1955 when he played Inspector Beaumont in the television series “Paris Precinct”. He returned to the big screen in 1955 when he attained the role of Dr. Nicholas Agi in “The Swan”, a film which teamed him with Grace Kelly and Sir. Alec Guinness.
As the 1950’s progressed, Jourdan was cast in several films including “Julie”, and his most eminent movie, the Vincente Minnelli directed masterpiece “Gigi”, in which he co-starred alongside Leslie Caron. Upon it’s release the film garnered a multitude of accolades, and won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture. Jourdan acquired a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Gaston Lachaille. After the triumph of “Gigi”, he was cast in another musical, “Can-Can” starring Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine”.
During the 1960’s, he appeared in an array of different productions, the most hellacious being “The V.I.P.S” in 1963. In the 1970’s, he went on to appear in bodacious television series such as “Count Dracula” and the “Columbo” episode of “Murder Under Glass”. In the concluding chapter of the 1970’s, he recorded a series of spoken word albums for the “Babar The Elephant” books. In 1983, Jourdan portrayed the role of the villainous Kamal Khan in the James Bond epic “Octupussy”. He continued making movies until 1992 when he retired from film acting.
When Louis Jourdan retired he lived part time in the Greater Los Angeles area. In 2010, he was crowned a Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur, which he was awarded in the presence of his two close friends Sidney Poitier and Kirk Douglas.
Louis Jourdan died at his home in Beverly Hills on February 14th, 2015. Known for his good looks and Gallic charm, and with a career spanning almost fifty years, Louis Jourdan will always be cemented as one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen.
Rest In Peace Louis Jourdan. June 19th, 1921 – February 14th, 2015.
Written by Crystal Kalyana.