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Charles Boyer (28 August 1899 – 26 August 1978) was a French actor who appeared in more than 80 films between 1920 and 1976. After receiving a dramatic education, Boyer started on the stage, but he found his success in European and Hollywood movies during the 1930s. Although moving to the U.S., he maintained a connection with french cinema. His most famous role was opposite Ingrid Bergman in the 1944 mystery-thriller Gaslight. Other memorable performances were possibly in the era's highly praised romantic dramas, Algiers (1938) and Love Affair (1939). During his lifetime, he received four Academy Award nominations for Best Actor.

Early years

Born in Figeacmarker, Lotmarker, Midi-Pyreneesmarker, France, to Maurice and Louise Boyer, Charles was a shy, small-town boy who discovered the movies and theater at the age of eleven. Boyer performed comic sketches for soldiers while working as a hospital orderly during World War I. He began studies briefly at the Sorbonnemarker, and was waiting for a chance to study acting at the Paris Conservatorymarker. He went to the capital city to finish his education, but spent most of his time pursuing a theatrical career. In 1920, his quick memory won him a chance to replace the leading man in a stage production, and he scored an immediate hit. In the 1920s, he not only played a suave and sophisticated ladies' man on the stage but also appeared in several silent films.

MGM signed Boyer to a contract, and he loved life in the United States, but nothing much came of his first Hollywood stay from 1929 to 1931. At first, he did film roles only for the money and found that supporting roles were unsatisfying. However, with the coming of sound, his deep voice made him a romantic star.

His first break came with a very small role in Jean Harlow's Red-Headed Woman (1932). After starring in a French adaptation of Liliom (1934) directed by Fritz Lang, he began to receive public favor; Boyer landed his first leading Hollywood role at the romantic musical Caravan (1934) with Loretta Young. French expatriate Claudette Colbert requested him in the psychiatric drama Private Worlds (1935), which was a modest success.


During this period, Boyer continued making European films, and Mayerling co-starring Danielle Darrieux in 1936 made him an international star. This was followed by Orage (1938), opposite Michèle Morgan. The offscreen Boyer was bookish and private, far removed from the Hollywood high life. But onscreen he made audiences swoon as he romanced Marlene Dietrich in The Garden of Allah (1936), Jean Arthur in History Is Made at Night (1937), Greta Garbo in Conquest (1937), and Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939). His first Technicolor film was The Garden of Allah, which established him as a major actor in the U.S.

In 1938, he landed his famous role as Pepe le Moko, the thief on the run in Algiers, an English-language remake of the classic French film Pepe le Moko with Jean Gabin. Although he never invited costar Hedy Lamarr to "Come with me to the Casbah" in the movie, this line was in the movie trailer. The line would stick with him, thanks to generations of impressionists and Looney Tunes parodies. Boyer's role as Pepe Le Moko was already world famous when animator Chuck Jones based the character of Pepe le Pew, the romantic skunk introduced in 1945's Odor-able Kitty, on Boyer and his most well-known performance. Boyer's vocal style was also parodied on the Tom and Jerry cartoons, most notably when the Tom character was trying to woo a female cat (like for instance in The Zoot Cat).
from the trailer for All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
Boyer played in three classic films of unrequited love: All This, and Heaven Too (1940), with Bette Davis; Back Street (1941), with Margaret Sullavan; and Hold Back the Dawn (1941), with Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard.

In contrast to his glamorous image, Boyer began losing his hair early, had a pronounced paunch, and was noticeably shorter than leading ladies like Ingrid Bergman. When Bette Davis first saw him on the set of All This, and Heaven Too, she did not recognize him and tried to have him removed from the set.

In 1943, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar Certificate for "progressive cultural achievement" in establishing the French Research Foundation in Los Angelesmarker as a source of reference (certificate). Boyer never won an Oscar, though he was nominated for Best Actor four times in Conquest (1937), Algiers (1938), Gaslight (1944) and Fanny (1961), the latter also winning him a nomination for the Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance.

Charles Boyer is best known for his role in the 1944 film Gaslight in which he played a thief/murderer who tries to convince his newlywed wife that she is going insane.

After World War II

After World War II, Boyer continued an international career including French films and the London stage. In 1947, he was the voice of Capt. Daniel Gregg in the Lux Radio Theater's presentation of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, played in the film by Rex Harrison. In 1948, he was made a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.

When another film with Bergman, Arch of Triumph (1948), failed at the box office, he started looking for character parts. Apart from European films such as Max Ophuls' The Earrings of Madame de... (1953, again with Danielle Darrieux) and Nana (1955, opposite Martine Carol), he also moved into television as one of the pioneering producers and stars of Four Star Theatre; Four Star Productions would make him and partners David Niven and Dick Powell rich. In 1956, Boyer was a guest star on I Love Lucy. He was nominated for the Golden Globe as Best Actor for the 1952 film The Happy Time; and also nominated for the Emmy for Best Continuing Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic Series for his work in Four Star Playhouse (1952–1956).

In 1951, he appeared on the Broadwaymarker stage in one of his most notable roles, that of Don Juan, in a dramatic reading of the third act of George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman. This is the act popularly known as Don Juan in Hell. In 1952, he won Broadway's 1951 Special Tony Award for Don Juan in Hell. It was directed by actor Charles Laughton. Laughton co-starred as the Devil, with Cedric Hardwicke as the statue of the military commander slain by Don Juan, and Agnes Moorehead as Dona Anna, the commander's daughter, one of Juan's former conquests. The production was a critical success, and was subsequently recorded complete by Columbia Masterworks, one of the first complete recordings of a non-musical stage production ever made. As of 2006, however, it has never been released on CD, but in 2009 it became available as an MP3 download. Boyer co-starred again with underdog Claudette Colbert in the Broadway comedy The Marriage-Go-Round (1958–1960), but said to the producer, “Keep that woman away from me". He was also nominated for the Tony Award as Best Actor (Dramatic) in the 1963 Broadway production of Lord Pengo.

Later career

Onscreen, he continued in older roles: in Fanny (1961) starring Leslie Caron; Barefoot in the Park (1967) with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda; and the French film Stavisky (1974, starring Jean-Paul Belmondo), the latter winning him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor, and also received the Special Tribute at Cannes Film Festivalmarker.

Another notable TV program, The Rogues, starred Boyer with David Niven and Gig Young; the series lasted through the 1964–1965 season.

His career lasted longer than other romantic actors, winning him the nickname "the last of the cinema's great lovers." He recorded a very dark album called Where Does Love Go? in 1966. The album consisted of famous love songs sung (or rather spoken) with Boyer's distinctive deep voice and French accent. The record was reportedly Elvis Presley's favorite album for the last 11 years of his life, the one he most listened to.

His last major film role was that of the High Lama in a poorly received musical version of Lost Horizon (1973), although he also had a notable part as a corrupt city official in the 1969 film version of The Madwoman of Chaillot, featuring Katharine Hepburn. Later in life, he turned to character parts in such films as: Around the World in 80 Days (1956), How to Steal a Million (1966, featuring Audrey Hepburn), Is Paris Burning? (1966), and Casino Royale (1967).

For his contribution to the motion picture and television industries, Boyer has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker at 6300 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life

In addition to French and English, Boyer spoke Italian, German, and Spanish.His only marriage was to British actress Pat Paterson, whom he met at a dinner party in 1934. The two became engaged after two weeks of courtship and were married after a three month engagement. Later, they would move from Hollywood to Paradise Valley, Arizonamarker. The marriage lasted 44 years.

In Hollywood, he also was one of the few close friends of the great French actor/singer Maurice Chevalier. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1942.

On 26 August 1978, two days after his wife died from cancer, and two days before his own 79th birthday, Boyer committed suicide with an overdose of Seconal while at a friend's home in Scottsdalemarker. He was taken to the hospital in Phoenixmarker, where he died. He was interred in Holy Cross Cemeterymarker, Culver City, Californiamarker, alongside his wife and son Michael Charles Boyer. At the age of 21, Michael committed suicide by playing Russian roulette with a gun after a breakup with his girlfriend - apparently over a misunderstanding of what she meant by "I'm leaving."



Short subjects

  • The Candid Camera Story (Very Candid) of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures 1937 Convention (1937) (uncredited)
  • Hollywood Goes to Town (1938)
  • On Stage! (1949)
  • 1955 Motion Picture Theatre Celebration (1955) (uncredited)


  1. TCM Film Guide, p. 29.
  2. TCM Film Guide, p. 29.
  3. TCM Film Guide, p. 29.
  4. TCM Film Guide, p. 31.


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