Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Late Great Louis Jourdan

Louis Jourdan, the legendary French actor who starred in such films as Madame Bovary (1949), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), and Gigi (1958), died on February 14 2015 at the age of 93.

Louis Jourdan was born Louis Henri Gendre in Marseilles on June 19 1921. His parents were Yvonne (née Jourdan) and Henry Gendre, a rich hotelier. His education was truly international, as his father's work took the family to Turkey and the United Kingdom. He took an interest in acting while very young and studied at the École Dramatique in Paris. It was while he was at the École Dramatique that he began acting on stage. This brought him to the attention of director Marc Allégret, who hired him as an assistant cameraman on the film Entrée des artistes (1938). Mr. Allégret cast him in the film Le corsaire (1939), which would have been Louis Jourdan's film debut had it not been interrupted by the onset of World War II.

During the Occupation, Louis Jourdan would appear in several films, most of them directed by Marc Allégret. They included Parade en 7 nuits (1941), La belle aventure (1942), L'arlésienne (1942), Félicie Nanteuil (1944), and Les petites du quai aux fleurs (1944). He also appeared in the films Ecco la felicità (1940), Premier rendez-vous (1941), and La vie de bohème (1945). Following the war Mr. Jourdan immigrated to the United States. Producer David O. Selznick cast him in The Paradine Case (1947), against the wishes of director Alfred Hitchcock. The legendary director appears to have been right, as Mr. Jourdan was cast against type as a rather earthy valet. Regardless, Hitchcock and Louis Jourdan liked each other (Mr. Jourdan even attended the director's funeral in 1980).

Fortunately Hollywood would find more suitable roles for Mr. Jourdan in the late Forties: Stefan Brand in  Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Octavio Quaglini in No Minor Vices (1948), and Rodolphe Boulanger in Madame Bovary (1949). The Fifties would see Louis Jourdan at the height of his career. He starred in such high profile films as Decameron Nights (1953), Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Escapade (1957), and Gigi (1959).  He also appeared in such films as Bird of Paradise (1951), Rue de l'Estrapade (1953), The Swan (1956), Dangerous Exile (1957), The Beat of Everything (1959), and Can-Can (1960). Mr. Jourdan made his television debut in an adaptation of Fulton Oursler's A String of Blue Beads in 1953. He starred in the TV show Paris Precinct, and guest starred on such shows as The Elgin Hour, Studio One, Climax, General Electric Theatre, and ITV Play of the Week. He made his debut on Broadway in 1954 in The Immoralist and appeared again on Broadway in Tonight in Samarkand.

The Sixties would see Louis Jourdan's career go into a slight decline as the urbane, European types he had played fell out of favour with Hollywood. He appeared in such films as Le vergini di Roma (1961), Le comte de Monte Cristo (1961), Il disordine (1962), Leviathan (1962), Mathias Sandorf (1963), The V.I.P.s (1963), Made in Paris (1966). Les Sultans (1966), Peau d'espion (1967), Cervantes (1967), and A Flea in Her Ear (1968). He appeared on television in such shows as The Greatest Show on Earth, Kraft Suspense Theatre, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Name of the Game, and The F.B.I.

In the Seventies Louis Jourdan guest starred on the shows Columbo and Charlie's Angels, as well as the mini-series The French-Atlantic Affair. He appeared in the television movies The Count of Monte-Cristo, The Man in the Iron Mask, and Count Dracula. He appeared in the films Piange... il telefono (1975), Plus ça va, moins ça va (1977), and Silver Bears (1978). He appeared on Broadway in 13 Rue de l'Amour.

From the Eighties into the Nineties Louis Jourdan's most notable roles were often villains. He played Arcane in Swamp Thing (1982) and The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), as well as Kamal in the James Bond movie Octopussy (1983). He appeared in such films as Double Deal (1983), Grand Larceny (1987), Escuadrón (1988), and Year of the Comet (1992). He guest starred on such shows as Aloha Paradise, Vega$, Hotel, and Cover Up. He appeared in the television movies The First Olympics: Athens 1896.

Hollywood cast Louis Jourdan as a series of Continental sophisticates, something with which he was not always happy. He once said that he was Hollywood's "French cliche". Regardless, he was very good in such roles. Remarkably handsome, gifted with an incredible voice, and even more remarkably charming, he could easily play charismatic, urbane Frenchmen. Still, Louis Jourdan had such talent that he could play many other sorts of roles with ease. In a television adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo Mr. Jourdan was excellent as the  State Attorney Villefort (here it must be pointed out that he earlier played Edmond Dantès himself in Le comte de Monte Cristo). He was also very adept at comedy, as his role as a neurotic artist in No Minor Vices stands as proof.

Of course, many younger people might remember him best for his roles as villains in his later films. And there can be no doubt that Mr. Jourdan was very good at playing villains, whether it was the smooth Arcane in the "Swamp Thing" movies or the treacherous Kamal in Octopussy. One of his best roles as a villain was in the Columbo episode "Murder Under Glass" in which he played Paul Gerard, a food critic who has found a new source of income by extorting money from restaurants in trade for positive reviews.

In real life Louis Jourdan was nothing like the villains he played. By all accounts he was always friendly and polite, and I have never heard anyone say anything negative about Mr. Jourdan as a person. He remained married to the same woman, his wife Berthe, for 68 years (she preceded him in death last year). By all accounts he was the perfect gentleman, not only charming, but friendly and kind as well. Louis Jourdan was then more than a talented actor, but a truly good human being as well.

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