Maurice Chevalier

Definition

Theater

  • (1888 - 1972) French music hall artist and actor whosetalent, sly charm, and deliberately exaggerated French accent wonhim international fame and regular performances in London and NewYork. He gave his 1949 autobiography the title The Man in the StrawHat, a reference to the tilted boater he frequently sported.

    Chevalier was born in the Parisian slum of Ménilmontant,where his mother was a poor Flemish lacemaker. He began singing bawdysongs in disreputable Paris cafes at the age of 13 and then movedinto music hall. In 1907 he toured the halls with the writer Colette,who later described him as an isolated person who sacrificed everythingfor his performance. From 1909 to 1913 he appeared on the stage ofthe Folies-Bergères with the actress and singer Mistinguettwho, though 13 years his senior, became his lover. Other famous ladieswith whom he is said to have had relationships include Marlene Dietrich.

    During World War I Chevalier was wounded, taken prisoner,and awarded the Croix de Guerre. It was during his imprisonment thathe learned English, from a British sergeant. In 1919 he made his Londondebut in the revue Hullo, America!. During the 1920sand 1930s he made frequent trips to Hollywood to make films. AfterWorld War II Life magazine named Chevalier as a Nazi collaborator,although little evidence was provided. It is true that he had sungon the German-controlled radio in Paris, but he also entertained Frenchprisoners.

    Chevalier enjoyed his greatest international success withhis role in Lerner and Loewe's film musical Gigi (1958), releasedwhen he was 70. At 82 he unsuccessfully attempted suicide.

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