The Discovery of Leslie Caron

The Discovery of Leslie Caron
Academy Award-nominated actress/dancer Leslie Caron followed in her mother’s footsteps when she began dance training at age eleven. By the time she was sixteen years old, Caron was a member of the Ballet des Champs-Elysees and received recognition for her talent. But the biggest recognition for her talent would be the chance to dance alongside Gene Kelly in her debut film, “An American In Paris” (1951).

During pre-production of “An American In Paris” (1951), actress/dancer Cyd Charisse was set to play the role of “Lise Bouvier” until she discovered she was pregnant. Charisse was forced to drop out of the film and MGM studios had to find an immediate replacement. While the studio scrambled to find someone, Gene Kelly went with his hunch that “Lise Bouvier” should be played by an authentic French girl. Kelly scoured Paris in search of his leading lady when he was mesmerized by Caron’s dancing with the Ballet des Champs-Elysees in a production of “La Recontre.”

Kelly made a screen-test with Caron and sent it to Hollywood. Hollywood agreed with Kelly on his choice for Caron and Caron won the role. When the film was released, “An American In Paris” (1951) was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won six, including “Best Picture.” But Hollywood was not going to let go of this talented French import yet. Immediately after “An American In Paris,” MGM Studios put Caron in a film that was the exact opposite of her first film. “The Man With A Cloak” (1951) was a thriller starring Joseph Cotten and Barbara Stanwyck with Caron in a supporting role as “Madeleine Minot.”

Afterwards, Caron began to take on a career of her own. “When I did small films like “Lili” and “Buenos Vista,” everyone thought my career would be ruined.” But Caron proved her critics wrong when she received an Academy Award nomination in the “Best Actress In A Leading Role” category for her title role in “Lili” (1953). In “Daddy Long Legs” (1955) Caron co-starred and danced opposite Fred Astaire. When Audrey Hepburn turned down the offer to star in a musical film adaptation of “Gigi,” Caron won it. She starred opposite Maurice Chevalier, Louis Jourdan and Hermione Gingold in the classic film “Gigi” (1958). “Gigi” swept the nine Oscars it was nominated for, but not one of them belonged to Caron for her extraordinary skill at playing the title character – a tomboy who transforms into a beautiful young woman and surprises her true love with her metamorphosis.

By the 1960s, Caron returned to Europe and continued making films in France. Today, Caron continues work with cameos in films such as “Chocolat” (2000) and “Le Divorce” (2003) and television roles. In 2006, she received an Emmy for her role as “Lorraine Delmas” in an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” When she is not working in film or television, Caron owns a Bed & Breakfast named, “La Lucarne aux Chouettes” (roughly translated as “The Owl’s Nest”) located in Burgundy, South of Paris, France. In 2009, Caron published a memoir about her life in dance and film titled, “Thank Heaven.”

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