CHARLES BOYER - THURSDAYS IN JANUARY, as TCM's Star of the Month
In TCM's first-ever tribute to Boyer as "Star of the Month," we offer a comprehensive look at his career as an international film favorite, which encompasses five decades. "He was romance!" That succinct description of Charles Boyer comes from my 98-year-old friend, Ruth Viscioni, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is a big fan of both Boyer and TCM. Ruth remembers the days of her youth in the 1930s and '40s as a romantic time principally "because of the movies, and all the beautiful ladies and handsome men. We could dream!"
For female audiences of the period, nobody inspired more ardent dreams than Boyer. His debonair good looks, resonant speaking voice and those hooded "bedroom eyes" made him perfect casting for the role of romantic lover--although his talent was such that he could also be convincing in roles ranging from villain to farceur. That dashing charm, a facility with sophisticated comedy and a certain sardonic streak led some to refer to him as "the French Cary Grant."
Boyer was born August 28, 1899, in Figeac, a country town in Southwestern France. The only child of a merchant and his amateur-musician wife, Charles was a shy and precocious boy who felt more comfortable with adults than with other children. He would later describe himself as "a very old man with a strong resemblance to a little boy, with whom other children had difficulty in forming friendships." When he was 10 years old, his father died suddenly from a stroke.
The young Charles found his escape in movies and in plays his mother took him to see in Paris. His academic career suffered from his preoccupation with theatrical matters; he read every theatre book he could find and acted in school productions. During World War I, with wounded soldiers returning home, he became a volunteer orderly at a local hospital and organized entertainment for the convalescing troops.
Enrolling as a student of philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, Boyer departed the town of his birthplace and would not return for some 30 years. With the blessings of his mother, he studied acting at the prestigious Paris Conservatoire. In 1920, because of a photographic memory that allowed him to learn lines quickly, he became an emergency replacement for another actor in the play Les Jardins de Murcie. That same year, he made his film debut in the silent L'homme du large (1920) playing an "evil" character who lures a fisherman's son into bad behavior.