Most film buffs do not know that two of France’s most beautiful and famous stars from the 1930s and 40s, Danielle Darrieux and Michele Morgan, are still with us.
Darrieux (above) was born in Bordeaux 96 years ago, and has had the longest career in films in French history — over eight decades.
Morgan (pronounced Mor-gaan, pictured below) comes from Neuilly, is 93, a famous painter now and lives outside of Paris.
Both had been big stars in France in the 1930s.
Darrieux, who had scored opposite Charles Boyer in director Anatole Litvak’s 1936 prince-and-commoner melodrama, Mayerling, had even come to Hollywood in ’37 but after one film (as a charming gold digger opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in Universal’s 1938 comedy, The Rage of Paris) returned to France.
During World War II their careers took quite different paths. After the Nazi invasion Morgan fled to America. Darrieux remained in France.
Michele Morgan’s Hollywood career was lackluster. She starred opposite Frank Sinatra in his film debut in 1943’s Higher and Higher. She worked opposite Humphrey Bogart in 1944’s Passage to Marseille. She’d missed out on the role in Casablanca. RKO wouldn’t loan her out to Warners for the price they were offering.
Morgan appeared in a little known 1946 film noir, United Artist’s The Chase costarring Robert Cummings and Steve Cochran. Then, the war over, she was off to England to costar with Ralph Richardson in Carol Reed’s 1948 thriller, The Fallen Idol.
Darrieux chose to remain in France. The story is murky. She made films in France in the early forties, supposedly because her brother was threatened by the Nazis. She married playboy Porfirio Rubirosa and when he was detained in Germany she made a promotional film in Berlin for his release. They were then allowed to live out the remaining months of the war in Switzerland.
She returned to France and resumed her career. Darrieux achieved considerable renown playing sophisticated, understanding women, especially under the supervision of director Max Ophuls (e.g., 1950’s La Ronde and 1953’s The Earrings of Madame D.)
According to Alan Riding, a former correspondent for The New York Times whose book — And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris, published in 2010 — film stars were by no means exempt from the intense pressures of living with invaders.
For example, Riding notes that none other than Maurice Chevalier starred in a 1941 night club revue at Le Casino de Paris despite knowing the venue was patronized by German troops.
Riding also cites Chevalier’s appearance at a “charity gala” attended by German officers, as well as concert he performed before some 3000 POW’s in Altengrabow, Germany. In the summer of 1942, Chevalier learned that his name had appeared on a Free French list of prominent collaborators who deserved death. Charles DeGaulle’s provisional French government in Algiers even sentenced him to death.
Chevalier secreted himself for the remainder of the German occupation outside Paris, mostly at a rural hideaway in the rural Dordogne region, and was eventually exonerated (thanks to well-connected friends, suggests Riding) of charges of Nazi collaboration.
Darrieux and Morgan survived in less dramatic circumstances.
Although neither actress set Hollywood on fire, they remain to this day revered figures of French cinema. We salute them both.