“Even now, I feel furious with myself because whenever there’s a camera pointed towards me, my MGM training makes me smile. I don’t like it.” –Leslie Caron
The musical genre is one that is incredibly multifaceted in terms of how it tells a story. Though there are scripts and lyrics that can further the plot along, musicals also tell stories where words fall short. Musicals employ a wide range of expression and one of these is dance. The musical genre has showcased the dancing abilities with many a star, with one of them being Leslie Caron.
Leslie Claire Margaret Caron was born in the suburbs of Paris, France, in Boulogne-Billancourt, Seine, now Hauts-de-Seine, France. Her father, Claude, was a French chemist, pharmacist, perfumer, and boutique owner, while her American-born mother, Margaret Petit, was a ballet dancer. Though her older brother became a chemist, Caron was encouraged by her mother to pursue a career in performance. As a result, Caron began taking dance lessons at age 11. Her family soon relocated to Paris, where Caron attended the Convent of the Assumption and started her ballet training.
Caron studied at the National Conservatory of Dance, where she appeared in The Pearl Diver at age 14—a show for children in which she danced and played a little boy. By age 16, she was hired by Roland Petit to join the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, where she was immediately given solo parts.
While performing for the Ballet des Champs-Elysees, she was seen by then-married Hollywood couple, Gene Kelly and Betsy Blair. Caron did not meet the couple at the end of the show that night and dutifully went home. Later, when it came time for Kelly to recast the lead female role in An American in Paris (1951) due to initial co-star Cyd Charisse’s pregnancy, Kelly remembered Caron’s performance when he returned to Paris to search for a partner. Caron secured the role, making her film debut alongside Kelly.
Both Kelly and Caron offered elegant and enthusiastic performances, which captivated audiences. The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film was only the second color film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, 12 years after the first—Gone With the Wind (1939). Caron signed a seven-year contract with MGM.
During her time with MGM, her skills would be displayed in both musical and non-musical roles. Caron appeared in the drama The Man with a Cloak (1951) and the musical The Glass Slipper (1955). She worked with Fred Astaire in Daddy Long Legs (1955), becoming one of the six actresses who danced with both Astaire and Kelly at some point in their careers. Caron also starred in Lili (1953) with Mel Ferrer and Gigi (1958) with Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier.
In the 1960s and thereafter, Caron worked in European films, as well. Her film assignments during this period included Father Goose (1964) with Cary Grant and Valentino (1977), in which she appeared in the role of silent screen star, Alla Nazimova. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in Lili. Caron won the BAFTA Award for Best British Actress and an Oscar nomination for her performance in the British drama, The L-Shaped Room (1962). Caron was also one of the many lead actresses under consideration for Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) but lost the role to Angela Lansbury.
Caron has continued to act long after her time at MGM and continues to appear in films and television shows. She also attends film festivals and retrospective concerts regularly. She currently alternates her residences among Paris, London, and New York City.
There are few places of relevance to Caron’s early years in France. Today, the Convent of the Assumption still exists in Paris. The building is located at 17 Rue de l’Assomption, 75016 Paris, France.
While the National Conservatory of Dance still exists as an institution, it now exists in a new building. It is located at 209 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 75019 Paris, France.
In Hollywood, Caron was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 2009 with a motion pictures star. Her star is located at 6153 Hollywood Boulevard.
Her autobiography, Thank Heaven, was published in 2010 in the UK and US, with a French version released in 2011.
As of the publication of this article in May 2019, Caron is still with us at age 87. It is well worth celebrating both her past and current career achievements.