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Boulogne-Billancourt, Seine, France
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French ballet dancer Leslie Caron was discovered by legendary MGM star Gene Kelly during his search for a co-star in one of the finest musicals ever filmed, the Oscar-winning An American in Paris (1951). Her gamine looks and pixie-like appeal were ideal for Cinderella-type rags-to-riches stories. Combined with her fluid dancing skills, she became one of the top foreign musical talents of the 1950s...and her triple-threat talents as a singer, dancer and actress sustained her long after the musical film`s "golden age" had passed.
Leslie Claire Margaret Caron was born on July 1, 1931. Her father, Claude Caron, was a French chemist, and her American-born mother, Margaret Petit, had been a ballet dancer back in the States during the 1920s. Leslie herself began taking dance lessons at age 11 until the Nazi occupation forced her and her brother to flee to Cannes with her grandparents. She later returned to Paris and attended the Convent of the Assumption. Continuing her dance training at the National Conservatory, she became a 16-year-old member of the Ballet des Champs-Élyées where she greatly impressed her teachers. Cast in the ballet "La Recontre" in 1948, Gene Kelly saw her in the production and was entranced. Luckily for her, he remembered that performance two years later when he returned to Paris in search for a dancing unknown to introduce in his newest musical film.
Put under an MGM contract, Leslie also appeared in one dramatic film but it was held in abeyance until the release of the George Gershwin-inspired An American in Paris (1951). Kelly and newcomer Caron`s touching performances and elegant and exuberant footwork (especially in the "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and "Embraceable You" numbers and the dazzling 17-minute ballet to the title song) had critics and audiences enthralled and it won several Oscar awards, including "Best Picture". While her dramatic mettle was tested as a New Orleans nightclub entertainer opposite Ralph Meeker`s boxer in Glory Alley (1952) and as a French governess in The Story of Three Loves (1953), it was as the toothsome, child-like urchin who falls for a cruel carnival puppeteer in Lili (1953) that finally brought her to Academy Award attention. The film, which went on to inspire the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Carnival," earned Leslie not only an Oscar nomination, but the British Film award for "Best British Actress". At her waif-like best once again in the musical Daddy Long Legs (1955), this time Leslie was paired with the other male dancing film legend, Fred Astaire. The story, which unfolded in an appealing Henry Higgins/Eliza Dolittle style, was choreographed by Roland Petit, who founded the Ballet des Champs-Élyées, Leslie`s former dance company.
While she gave poignant life to the ugly-duckling-turned-swan tale The Glass Slipper (1955) opposite Britisher Michael Wilding`s Prince Charming and touchingly played a ballerina in love with a WWII soldier (John Kerr) in Gaby (1956), a rather so-so remake of the far-superior "Waterloo Bridge", it took another plush musical classic, Gigi (1958), to remind audiences once again of Leslie`s unique appeal. When MGM could not sign megastar Audrey Hepburn, who played the title role in the 1951 Broadway version, the part was given to Leslie, who had also performed the role successfully on stage in 1956. The musical received nine Academy Awards, including best picture, but Leslie herself was shamefully overlooked as a nominee.
A few more forgettable film roles came and went until she returned triumphantly in a non-musical adaptation of a highly successful 1954 stage musical. Fanny (1961) was blessed with gorgeous cinematography, a touching script and the continental flavor of veterans Maurice Chevalier, Salvatore Baccaloni and Charles Boyer. As its centerpiece, the child-like Leslie (at age 30!) was mesmerizing as a young girl with child, deserted by her sailor/boyfriend (Horst Buchholz). Even more adult in nature, she played a pregnant woman abandoned again, this time a French refugee, in the shattering drama The L-Shaped Room (1962), which earned her a second British Film Academy trophy and a second Oscar nomination.
On stage Leslie earned applause in another Audrey Hepburn vehicle, "Ondine," in 1961. While the mid-1960s and 1970s saw her film career take a downhill detour amid a number of nothing-special comedies opposite the likes of Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and Warren Beatty, and in mediocre foreign pictures, she began seeking out work on American TV. In the 80s appeared in stage production of "On Your Toes" and "One for the Tango".
Her private life has been more turbulent than expected. She is divorced from the late meat packing heir and musician Geordie Hormel; from avant-garde Royald Shakespeare director Peter Hall, by whom she had two children, Christopher and Jennifer; and from her Chandler (1971) producer Michael Lau
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Full Name at Birth
Leslie Claire Margaret Caron
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Leslie Claire Margaret Caron (born 1 July 1931) is a French film actress and dancer who appeared in 45 films between 1951 and 2003. Her autobiography Thank Heaven, was published in 2010 in the UK and US, and in 2011 in a French version.
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United Agents Ltd., Paradigm Agency N.Y.
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