Happy Birthday, Leslie Caron!
Leslie Caron is one of my favorite actresses!!!! I was introduced to her rather early in my classic film obsession. I was maybe 10 years old, and my grandpa had acquired a HUGE collection of VHS tapes, all classic films. Aware of my interest, he kindly gave them all to me at our Thanksgiving family reunion that year. This gracious gift granted me access to films I would otherwise not have seen for years—we didn’t have TCM at home until I was in high school!
My First Leslie Caron Films
Among the movies my grandpa gifted me were An American in Paris (1951), Lili (1953), Daddy Long Legs (1955), and The Glass Slipper (1955). It was the perfect introduction to Ms Caron for a girl who loved to dance, for Leslie performs charming dance numbers in each of these films.
As I have gotten older, my interest and appreciation for Leslie Caron has grown exponentially: I think she is a terribly underappreciated actress today! She’s a living legend, and her dramatic and comedic performances are always memorable. She makes us root for her in any situation, and when I’m watching a Leslie Caron film, I never want it to end!
Today, to celebrate Leslie, I wanted to share a little bit about her pre-Hollywood dance career, and a fun fact from one of my favorite films of hers, The Glass Slipper (1955).
Did you know Ms Caron was a ballerina in a Parisian ballet company before becoming a film star? It’s obvious Leslie had good dance training because of all the films she made that featured her ballet talent, but she was more than just a trained dancer: she was a ballerina in Roland Petit’s prestigious ballet company, the Ballets des Champs-Elysees. (Interesting side note, Roland Petit is the son of Rose Repetto, the woman who founded my very favorite brand, Repetto! So much fascinating history there, but I’ll save it for another post!)
In her page-turning autobiography (which I highly recommend!!), Leslie shares the enchantment surrounding this special time in her life:
“It was the Renaissance of Paris. It was September 1947, I was sixteen years old, and I felt on top of the world!”
It was while dancing with Roland Petit’s ballet company that Leslie was discovered by Gene Kelly, who, so impressed by her charisma and technique, offered her the role in An American in Paris (1951) that made Leslie a star.
Now I’ve got a “small world” moment for you. Want to know who else danced in Roland Petit’s Ballets des Champs-Elysees with Leslie? See if you can recognize her in the picture below–Lesli is on the right, and our mystery dancer is on the left–and then I’ll tell you who she is, using Leslie’s own words:
“Another very young dancer…very promising, with a pretty face and slim figure, joined the company for the 1947 Paris season…She chose another road and did quite well. We called her “Bichette” (Little Doe), but her name was Brigitte Bardot.”
YES! Could you guess from the picture? Leslie danced with Brigitte Bardot in the same ballet company before either of them became famous film stars! What a small world. Love them both!
The Glass Slipper
Oh The Glass Slipper (1955)!!! This is not just a favorite Leslie Caron film of mine, this is one of my favorite films period. Whenever it plays on TCM, I watch it online the whole week after, until TCM pulls it down. (Did you know you can do that? Just log into your cable provider from the TCM website!) I was thrilled when my daughter Mary Jeanne began enjoying this film with me. As you may have inferred from the title, The Glass Slipper is a Cinderella story. And if you ask me, it is the BEST adaptation of this classic fairytale ever put on film.
An Unconventional Cinderella
Leslie plays a very modern, spunky, Cinderella in the film. Named “Ella,” this is the first film that Leslie sports her classic pixie cut in. Leslie says she does some of her best technical dancing in this film, and she’s right! The dance sequences, which Leslie used her star power to get Roland Petit’s company to perform with her in the film, are magnificent!
The interesting fact I want to share from this film is Leslie’s inspiration for her character. Her spunky Ella had themost unlikely muse. As Leslie shares,
“One amusing note on my creation of the character of Cinderella: I was, like everyone else in Hollywood, under the influence of Marlon Brando’s performance in On the Waterfront, which had just come out. His modern style of acting created such a revolution in Hollywood. Yes, I admit it, ridiculous as it may be, my inspiration for Cinderella was…Marlon Brando.”
Marlon Brando and Cinderella! An unlikely pairing, but hey, it worked for Leslie! Her Ella is quite literally, perfection. And when you know Brando was her inspiration, it’s fun to spot moments of Leslie’s Ella doing the classic “Brando brood” in the film.
Happy Birthday, Ms Caron!
From your accomplished ballet work, to your Gamine, comedic and dramatic film roles, I am continuously in awe of your many and unique talents. Happy Birthday, Ms. Caron!
My Favorite and Recommended Leslie Caron Films
The Glass Slipper (1955)
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
Father Goose (1964)