Louis Jourdan

19 Jun 1921
14 Feb 2015
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Louis Jourdan (born Louis Robert Gendre; 19 June 1921 – 14 February 2015) was a French film and television actor. He was known for his suave roles in several Hollywood films, including The Paradine Case (1947), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), Gigi (1958), The Best of Everything (1959), The V.I.P.s (1963) and Octopussy (1983).

Jourdan was born Louis Robert Gendre in Marseille, France in 1921, one of three sons of Yvonne (née Jourdan) and Henry Gendre, a hotel owner. He was educated in France, Turkey, and the UK, and studied acting at the École Dramatique. While there, he began acting on the professional stage, where he was brought to the attention of director Marc Allegret, who hired him to work as an assistant camera operator on Entrée des Artistes (The Curtain Rises).

Allegret then cast Jourdan in what should have been his first movie, Le Corsaire in 1939 opposite Charles Boyer. Filming was interrupted by the Second World War and was never resumed.

Jourdan was too young for army service and was hired by Julien Duvivier along with his brother Pierre to appear in Untel Père et Fils in Rome. This was interrupted by the declaration of war between France and Italy; he returned to France, made some films and spent a year on a work gang.

Jourdan was ordered to make German propaganda films which he refused to do and fled to join his family in unoccupied France. There he started making movies again, ten films in two years. His father was arrested by the Gestapo; months later he escaped, and joined the French Resistance. “I was given work to do and I did it”, said Jourdan later of his time in the resistance. “I worked on illegal leaflets, helping to print and distribute them.” After the liberation of France in 1945, he returned to Paris with his childhood sweetheart, Berte Frederique (“Quique”).

Cited by author James McKay as the “epitome of the suave Continental”, Jourdan was spotted in a French film by a talent scout working for David O. Selznick, who offered the actor a contract. His first American film was The Paradine Case (1947) starring Gregory Peck. A drama directed by Alfred Hitchcock, he did not want Jourdan cast as the valet in the film. Jourdan frequently argued with Selznick, who put him on suspension a number of times for refusing roles.

With Joan Fontaine, Jourdan starred in the Max Ophüls film Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). David Thomson in 2010 observed how his performance as Stefan Brand altered as the character aged over the extended period of the film’s narrative: “I notice how his way of talking has changed. The younger Stefan was boyish, eager and open. Ten years later, the man is filled with self-loathing and fake ironies.” It was “signature performance” from Jourdan, Thomson wrote in Have You Seen?, he was “handsome yet a touch empty; romantic yet not entirely there.” John Houseman, the film’s producer, “felt he lacked sex appeal, but that shortcoming serves very well as his defect of memory,” a significant element of the film’s plot. In Hollywood, Jourdan became friends with several stars who shared his love of the game of croquet.

After appearing in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), Jourdan made his Broadway début in the lead role in the Billy Rose stage adaptation of André Gide’s novel, The Immoralist. He returned to the Great White Way for a short run in 1955, and also that year he made his American TV début as Inspector Beaumont in the TV series Paris Precinct. In 1956, he appeared in the film The Swan along with Grace Kelly and Sir Alec Guinness, playing the role of “Dr Nicholas Agi”.

During the 1950s, Jourdan acted in several major films, taking the male lead in The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful (1956) with Brigitte Bardot as the lead actress. However, he may be best remembered as the romantic lead alongside Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier in the film version of the novella by Colette, Gigi (1958). This film won nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Jourdan co-starred with Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine in the musical Can-Can (1960).

In later years, Jourdan also appeared on television, including 1977’s Count Dracula for the BBC and the 1978 Columbo episode Murder Under Glass. He later played Anton Arcane in the movie Swamp Thing (1982) and in its sequel The Return of Swamp Thing (1989). During the 1970s, Jourdan recorded a series of spoken word albums of the Babar the Elephant books that were released by Caedmon Records. In 1983, Jourdan played the villainous Kamal Khan in the James Bond movie Octopussy. He played the role of Pierre de Coubertin in The First Olympics: Athens 1896, a 1984 TV series about the 1896 Summer Olympics.

On 11 March 1946, Jourdan married Berthe Frédérique (nicknamed “Quique”), with whom he had his only child, Louis Henry Jourdan (b. 6 October 1951), a son who died of a drug overdose on 12 May 1981 and was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles, California. Berthe died in 2014.

He retired and lived, at least part-time, in the greater Los Angeles area. In July 2010, Jourdan was made a Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur, which he received accompanied by friends, including Sidney Poitier and Kirk Douglas.

Jourdan has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6153 and 6445 Hollywood Boulevard.

Jourdan died at his home in Beverly Hills on 14 February 2015 at the age of 93

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