Suave French star of Octopussy, Gigi, dies at 93

Suave French star of Octopussy, Gigi, dies at 93

Born in Marseille, he was educated not only in France but in Turkey and the UK as well, and he received his training as an actor at the Ecole Dramatique.

By (Reuters)

Published: Tue 17 Feb 2015, 8:55 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:27 PM

Louis Jourdan

Louis Jourdan, who crafted a Hollywood acting career in the footsteps of fellow dapper Frenchmen Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer and is best remembered for the musical Gigi and as the villain in James Bond pic Octopussy, has died at 93. According to his friend and biographer Olivier Minne, he died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills.

Jourdan offered a certain effortless charm that worked equally well in light heroic roles and more sinister ones. In Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical confection Gigi, Jourdan starred with Leslie Caron and Chevalier in an effort from the creatives of My Fair Lady and highly resembling a Frenchified version of it. The New York Times said, “Louis Jourdan is suave as the hero who holds out against (Gigi’s) blossoming charms.” The film won nine Oscars; while Jourdan was not among those honoured, he did receive a Golden Globe nomination in the comedy/musical actor category.

Raising his profile in the 1980s were bigscreen appearances in Wes Craven’s campy monster movie Swamp Thing and James Bond film Octopussy. The actor had made his English-language debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1947 thriller The Paradine Case, playing a valet with mysterious motives, and then appeared with Joan Fontaine in the Max Ophuls masterpiece Letter From an Unknown Woman, in which he portrayed a playboy who barely notices the woman who ultimately commits suicide over him. In Minnelli’s somewhat bowdlerised version of Madame Bovary starring Jennifer Jones, Jourdan played one of the men with whom Bovary becomes scandalously entangled. He appeared in a pair of adventure pics in 1951, Bird of Paradise with Debra Paget and Jacques Tourneur’s Anne of the Indies, about a female pirate played by Jean Peters. The next year he starred with Boyer in a very different sort of movie: the cozy, near-classic The Happy Time, about a boy coming of age in a French-Canadian family. Jourdan reunited with Fontaine for Decameron Nights and returned to France to star in Jacques Becker’s 1953 film Rue de l’Estrapade.

Back in the US he appeared opposite Grace Kelly in The Swan, in which Kelly played a princess who loves her brothers’ tutor, played by Jourdan, but dutifully marries a dour prince (Alec Guinness). The actor explored darker territory as the insanely jealous husband of Doris Day in the Oscar-nominated but mediocre 1956 thriller Julie. The same year he played opposite Brigitte Bardot in the French romantic comedy Her Bridal Night.

Jourdan made a couple of forays onto the Broadway stage in the 1950s, starring in The Immoralist with Geraldine Page and James Dean and in Tonight in Samarkand.

The actor had begun doing small screen work since 1953, appearing on episodic anthology shows such as Studio One in Hollywood and The Ford Television Theatre but most interestingly starring in the brief ABC rarity Paris Precinct, a series about French police detectives actually shot in Paris but intended for American TV. It ran for two seasons from 1953-55. In the 1960s and 1970s Jourdan did his big screen work in mostly low-profile pictures, many made in Europe.

He starred as the hero in a visually enticing 1961 French version of Dumas classic The Story of the Count of Monte Cristo; later he played the villain in a 1975 telepic adaptation of the tale that starred Richard Chamberlain. Jourdan remained on the radar with work in a few prominent films: He played an unctuous ladies’ man trying to woo Elizabeth Taylor away from Richard Burton in the 1963 all-star pic The V.I.P.s; he was the narrator for Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce; he appeared with Rex Harrison and Rosemary Harris in a 1968 adaptation of Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear.

The actor returned for a Swamp Thing sequel in 1989 and retired to the South of France in 1992.

Born in Marseille, he was educated not only in France but in Turkey and the UK as well, and he received his training as an actor at the Ecole Dramatique. Jourdan’s film debut came in 1939’s Le Corsaire.

In 2010 the actor was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in Los Angeles. Friends including Sidney Poitier and Kirk Douglas were there to congratulate him. 

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