Family & Companions
An unconventional beauty who specialized in waif-like roles in her early career, Leslie Caron was an actress and dancer who rose to fame in the 1950s in such acclaimed musicals as "An American in Paris" (1951) and "Gigi" (1958). Caron also projected considerable warmth and charm in straight dramas, which led to a successful career outside of musicals, including Oscar-nominated turns in "Gaby" (1958) and "The L-Shaped Room" (1963). Her Hollywood star faded somewhat in the late 1960s and 1970s, though she was active in European productions, where she was well utilized as elegant older women. Caron was still active in the 1990s and early 2000s, enjoying substantive roles in several well-regarded films, including "Damage" (1993), "Chocolat" (2000) and one of the final Merchant-Ivory productions, "Le Divorce" (2003). Her effortless class and grace, both onscreen and off, especially in the face of a high-profile divorce case in 1965, were at the center of her enduring popularity.
Born Leslie Claire Margaret Caron in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France on July 1, 1931, she was prepared for a career in dance from an early age. Father Claude was a chemist, while mother Margaret, an American and former dancer, who introduced her daughter to ballet at the age of 10. The Nazi occupation of France forced her to flee to Cannes, but she returned after the war, and by the age of 16, was performing in the Ballets des Champs Elysee, where Gene Kelly saw her in a production of "La Recontre." The Hollywood icon was moved to meet Caron backstage after the performance, but intense antipathy from her fellow dancers had forced her to flee the theater. Three years later, Kelly would bring her to instant stardom when he cast her as his love interest and chief dance partner in what many considered his greatest film, "An American in Paris" (1951).
The film led to a contract with MGM and more roles in films. Much of Caron's early movie career was devoted to musicals, which made excellent use of her ballet training and endearingly girlish screen persona. She proved a perfect partner for Fred Astaire in "Daddy Long Legs" (1955) and an ideal Cinderella in "The Glass Slipper" (1955), but Caron found screen musicals physically taxing and began to study acting. Gradually, she became known for films that required little or no dancing at all; she earned her first Academy Award as "Lili" (1953), a naïve country girl who falls for a self-pitying puppeteer (Mel Ferrer). With 1958's "Gigi," Caron is Colette's heroine, a young girl trained to become a courtesan by her aunt (Isabel Jeans) and grandmother (Hermione Gingold), which was her final appearance in a major Hollywood musical. In it, she did no dancing at all, and her singing voice was dubbed by Betty Wand. Both films remained enduring classics decades after their release, and helped to cement Caron's status as one of the select performers who came to fame as part of the Hollywood musical's heyday.
By 1956, she had already been married twice - once to meat packing heir George Hormel, and later to British theater legend Peter Hall - and sought more substantive roles. The decline of the musical in the late 1950s provided her with the exit she sought, and Caron was free to pursue straight dramatic and comedic roles. Again, she found success almost immediately; 1961's "Fanny" earned multiple Academy Award nominations for its sweeping story about a young sailor torn between his desire for adventure and his love for a young woman (Caron). Two years later, she earned her second Oscar nomination as a young unmarried mother in Bryan Forbes' drama "The L-Shaped Room" (1963). In 1964's "Father Goose" she was well-matched opposite Cary Grant as a French schoolmistress who must rely on his gruff coast-watcher to evade enemy forces during World War II.
But Caron's film appearances grew fewer and further between by the mid-1960s. Her divorce from Peter Hall in 1965 was tinged with scandal when it was revealed that she had been involved in an affair with Warren Beatty; the actor was later required by a London court to pay legal fees for his part in the dissolution. The news did little good for their 1966 film collaboration, "Promise Her Anything." But she remained active throughout the seventies, where she was called upon to play elegant older women of means. Her best efforts during this period were in Francois Truffant's "The Man Who Loved Women" (1977) and the miniseries "QB VII" (ABC, 1974), though she earned notices for her full-blooded performance as silent film star Alla Nazimova in Ken Russell's atrocious biopic "Valentino" (1978), starring Rudolf Nureyev.
Television on both sides of the Atlantic kept Caron busy throughout the 1980s, most notably in the miniseries "Master of the Game" (CBS, 1987) and a guest role on "Dynasty" (ABC, 1981-89), she also returned to the stage in productions of "On Your Toes" and "One for the Tango," and at 57, performed alongside Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov in a 1988 New York gala for the Paris Opera Ballet. The 1990s saw Caron in some of her best film roles since the 1960s; she was Juliette Binoche's mother in Louis Malle's drama "Damage" (1992), while the HBO drama "Last of the Blonde Bombshells" saw her as the former bass player for an all-female swing band who left the group in World War II to join the French resistance. Lasse Hallstrom's "Chocolat" (2000) reunited her with "Bombshells" star Judi Dench and Juliette Binoche, whose confections awaken a long-dormant romance between a widow (Caron) and her admirer. She later joined "Chocolat" castmate Alfred Molina to play a well-traveled European lady of substance in a modernized TV-movie version of Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" (2001).
In 2003, Caron co-starred in "Le Divorce," director James Ivory's final co-production with longtime partner Ismail Merchant, as Naomi Watts' mother, who remains steely and imperious in the face of her daughter's mounting tragedies. The actress settled comfortably into semi-retirement by beginning work on her memoirs while operating a bed and breakfast in the countryside south of Paris. But Caron proved that her acting abilities were not yet put to rest with a 2006 turn on "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ). Her performance as a long-silenced rape victim earned her an Emmy Award in 2007.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Film acting debut in "An American in Paris"
Played signature role of "Lili"; earned Oscar nomination
Appeared as Ella in "The Glass Slipper", a retelling of Cinderella
Last dance musical, "Daddy Long Legs", opposite Fred Astaire
Last musical, "Gigi" (singing voice was dubbed)
Made her London stage debut playing the title role of "Gigi"
French language film debut in Abel Gance's "Austerlitz"
Earned second Oscar nomination for dramatic turn in "The L-Shaped Room"
Starred opposite Cary Grant in "Father Goose"
Had major role in the ABC miniseries "QB VII"
Portrayed flamboyant screen star Alla Nazimova in Ken Russell's "Valentino"
Appeared in CBS's star-studded miniseries of Sydney Sheldon's "Master of the Game"
Starred in national tour of "On Your Toes"
Appeared in Louis Malle's "Damage", playing the mother of Juliette Binoche's character
Acted in Peter Chelsom's "Funny Bones"; stellar cast included Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis and Oliver Reed
Cast as Sela Ward's mother-in-law in "Passion's Way" (CBS)
Reunited with Dench and Binoche in "Chocolat"
Co-starred with Judi Dench and Ian Holm in the HBO original "The Last of the Blonde Bombshells"
Appeared in James Ivory's "Le Divorce" opposite Naomi Watts and Thierry Lhermitte
Made a rare appearance in front of American cameras to guest-star on NBC's "Law & Order: SVU"
Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame