Legendary actress, Claudette Colbert, was born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin on Sep 13, 1903 in Saint-Mandé, France. Colbert appeared in over 75 film and TV roles. Her best known films include It Happened One Night, Private Worlds, Since You Went Away, The Sign of the Cross, Imitation of Life, Boom Town, Midnight, The Palm Beach Story, So Proudly We Hail, The Egg and I, Tomorrow is Forever and Drums Along the Mohawk. Colbert died at the age of 92 on Jul 30, 1996 in Speightstown, Barbados and was laid to rest in Parish of St. Peter Cemetery in St. Peter, Barbados.
Claudette Colbert was born Emilie Chauchoin in Saint-Mande, France on September 13th, 1903. Her mother held various working class jobs while her father owned a pastry shop in Paris. After some bad financial investments, Colbert's parents decided they should relocate the United States in the hope of finding better employment. They arrived in New York City in 1906 where Colbert's father found work at the First Nation Bank. Colbert took an interest in the arts, particularly painting. It was while studying at Washington Irving High School that a teacher suggested she try out for a play she had written. In 1919 at the tender age of 15, Colbert made her first stage appearance in The Widow's Veil. She later went to study at the Art Students League of New York with hopes of becoming a fashion designer. To pay for her education and learn about the minutia of the garment industry, Colbert found employment at a dress shop. Once again, however, she was offered a role on the stage, this time by writer Anne Morrison. In 1923 she made her Broadway debut in The Wild Westcott's, in a three-line bit part. After the plays success, Colbert gave up on her dreams of the visual arts and instead threw herself into the performing arts.
From Broadway to The Silver Screen
In 1925 she signed a five-year contract with Broadway Producer Al Woods. She spent the next five years playing primarily ingenues or French maids. In 1927 Colbert received a considerable amount of critical acclaim with her role as the lusty snake charmer Lou in The Bakers. Soon after, she was off to London to reprise the role on the West End. Later that year, she would make her film debut in the early Frank Capra silent film For the Love of Mike. The film, now considered lost, was not a successful and Colbert disliked the process that she opted to return to Broadway but after toiling for two years, unable to match the success of The Bakers, Colbert decided to give the movie business another chance.
With Hollywood desperate for stage actors now that "talkies" were the rage, Colbert was able to sign a contract with Paramount Studios in 1928. She remained at their New York studios until her contract with Al Woods expired in 1930. Of her "New York" films Manslaughter opposite Fredric March and The Big Pond Maurice Chevalier were the most successful. She made the permanent move to Hollywood in 1931, where her success on the silver screens only continued.
After the success of Manslaughter, Paramount once again paired Colbert with Fredric March in Honor Among Thieves, which was a box office success. In 1932 she departed from her ingenue image to play the beautiful and ruthless wife of infamous Roman Emperor Nero, Poppaea, in Cecil C. Demille's historical epic The Sign of the Cross. The film was considered quite decadent and controversial at the time, one of the reasons being the quick glimpse of Colbert's bare-breasts whilst her character bath in a tub of milk. Despite, or because, of the controversy surrounding the film, Colbert's popularity only grew and she renegotiated her contract to appear in film's outside of Paramount. In 1934 she once again played an ancient character known for her lascivious means of obtaining power, the title role in yet another Cecil B. DeMille historical film, Cleopatra. That same year she starred in what would become her signature role: Ellie Andrews
As the legend goes, no actress in Hollywood seemed to actually want the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night. Every major comedic actress in town had turned the film down the role before Colbert finally accepted the offer, only after director Frank Capra agreed to pay her twice the original salary and complete filming in four weeks. She hated the experience and was glad to be rid it. Although the film was initially released to indifferent reviews of the first critics, the film caught traction in secondary theatres, becoming more and more popular through word of month. The film would go on to become Colombia biggest moneymakers of the year and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including best actress. Colbert did not attend the ceremony; confident she would not win and boarded a train to New York instead. When her name was announced as winner, Harry Cohn sent someone to fetch her from the train station. The film was the first to win all five of major awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Actor, and Best Actress. The next year, she received another Academy nomination for her role in Private Worlds.
Now a major star, in 1936, Colbert was able to further renegotiate her contract, and in the process making her the highest paid actress in Hollywood. She also began to exercise her power in how she photographed. She took an independent interest in light design and cinematography in order to look her absolute best. She refused to be filmed on the right side of her face and insisted on hiring her own cameramen regardless of the director's choice. Despite her peculiarities of how to be photographed, she otherwise gained a reputation of constant professionalism. By now, she was at the peak of per popularity and starred in hit after hit. Her ability to ease in and out of genre's made her a highly sought after actress. Her comedies, such as 1935's She Married Her Boss and 1936's The Bride Comes Home were met with the same success as her dramas such as 1936's Under the Flag and 1939's Zala. In 1939, she starred opposite Henry Fonda in her first color film, Drums Along the Mohawk.
By 1940 she was being offered 150,000 dollars for leading roles and decided it would best to go freelance than sign another 200,000 dollar a year contract. In 1940 she starred in the Billy Wilder penned film Arise, My Love. The story is noted is it's interventionist message and is cited by Colbert as being her favorite of her own films. In 1943 she starred opposite Paulette Goddard in So Proudly We Hail and in 1944 She was nominated another Academy Award for her role in the World War II family drama Since You Went Away. She continued her throughout he 1940's with hits like Guest Wife opposite Don Ameche, The Egg and I opposite Fred MacMurray, and Bride for Sale opposite George Brent and Robert Young. However, as the new decade approached Colbert began to loose traction
Later Career and death
She began the 1950's with the poorly reviewed The Secret Fury. She film also failed to perform at the box office. Colbert also had difficulty in mature roles due her still very young looking face. Although originally slated to play Margo Channing in All About Eve, she was forced to back out of the project before filming began due to a back injury. As her popularity waned, she traveled to Europe to star opposite Orson Welles in Royal Affairs in Versailles. She then starred in a series of televised plays before returning to Broadway for the 1956 play The Marriage-Go-Around. For her efforts she was nominated for a Tony Award. She made one final film appearance in 1961's Parrish but opted after to remain in theatre and television, as she was not receiving any film offers at the time.
Throughout the 60's and 70's Colbert appeared on the stage and screen intermittently. Her most successful stage ventures were those that co-starred Rex Harrison, 1978's Kingfisher and 1985's Aren't We All. In 1987, Colbert had a huge success with the TV miniseries The Two Mrs. Greenvilles. She was nominated for an Emmy Award and won the Golden Globe. In 1993, she suffered a small series of strokes and was under supervision for the remainder of her life. On July 20th, 1996, Claudette Colbert died in her Barbados home. She was 92 years old.(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).
HONORS and AWARDS:.
Claudette Colbert was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Actress for It Happened One Night (as Ellie Andrews) in 1934.
|1934||Best Actress||It Happened One Night (1934)||Ellie Andrews||Won|
|1935||Best Actress||Private Worlds (1935)||Jane Everest||Nominated|
|1944||Best Actress||Since You Went Away (1944)||Anne Hilton||Nominated|
She was honored with one star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the category of Motion Pictures.
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Marilyn David: I want a glass. About this big. Mmm, no, maybe about THIS big. And I don't care what you put in it - whiskey, hair tonic, rat poison - but whatever it is, when I finish drinking it, I want to be curled up in a little heap, right HERE.
Mrs. Anne Hilton: [Brig is sleeping on the elderly woman on train] I'm afraid she's awfully heavy for you.
Elderly Woman on Train: Oh, no. She's so like my granddaughter. I love holding her.
Mrs. Anne Hilton: Is she about the same age?
Elderly Woman on Train: No. Mary is almost 30 now. She's a nurse. Here, let me show you her picture.
[opens a locket around her neck]
Mrs. Anne Hilton: Oh, she's pretty! Where is she now?
Elderly Woman on Train: I really don't know. You see, she was at Corregidor.
Mrs. Anne Hilton: Oh, I'm so sorry.
Jane Deborah Hilton: Mother, won't you let me do something now? Can't I -
Mrs. Anne Hilton: Oh, Jane, please, darling, not again. I'm so hot and so tired.
Jane Deborah Hilton: But just for the summer, Mother. I could be a nurse's aide, maybe.
Mrs. Anne Hilton: All right, Jane.
Jane Deborah Hilton: Oh, gee, Mother, that's swell!
Mrs. Anne Hilton: But remember now, just for the summer.
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