He was already a star in French films when David O. Selznick brought him to Hollywood.
He will forever be known for playing the bored, worldly playboy who falls for the title character (Leslie Caron, upper left) in Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical Gigi.
He was stereotyped early on as the Continental lover complete with charming accent. He intensely disliked that image of himself. Against that type of role (of the stupid, continental charmer) I fight pitilessly, he said.
Our man, Louis Jourdan, went on to have a long career ( nearly 90 credits over more than a half century) spanning everything from Alfred Hitchcock suspense and Hollywood melodrama to James Bond and populist horror outings. (He worked until three years before the end; Jourdan died in 2015, at the age of 93.)
He was born Louis Gendre in 1921 in Marseille to a well off family (his father ran hotels in Provence), He studied theater in Paris, and made his movie debut in 1939’s Le Corsaire (The Pirate) starring another continental charmer, Charles Boyer.
Jourdan appeared in about a dozen films in France through the German occupation. (He maintained that he and his family were active during these years in the French resistance.) He also was tabbed as something of a sex symbol thanks to a photo of him — shirtless — that was published in a French magazine.
In any case, by 1945, Jourdan came to the attention of Selznick who lured him to Hollywood with a contract and promise to appear in Hitchcock’s 1947 suspense drama, The Paradine Case, starring Gregory Peck. (See below.) Although the film was a box office dud, Jourdan found steady work. “I was a star without one box office hit,” he complained to columnist Hedda Hopper.
In 1948’s Letter From An Unknown Woman, opposite Joan Fontaine, Jourdan played the somewhat jaded hero, a callous concert pianist, who encounters a woman from his past with secrets. The director of the picture, a costume drama set in 1900 Vienna, is Max Ophuls making the melodrama something of special interest to film buffs.
1956’s Julie presents with Doris Day as a stewardess who takes over from deceased pilot to land a commercial airliner. Jourdan is her insanely jealous second husband, who turns out to be something far more villainous. A juicy part for the actor. ( That’s director Andrew Stone, left, in the photo below with Day and Jordan)
James Bond fans will recall another of Jourdan’s villain turns in 1983’s Octoussy, where he plays an exotic character (one Kamal Khan, see below) who tussles with 007 (Roger Moore) over a Faberge egg with nuclear ambitions.
And let’s not forget the late stage Jourdan turning up in such popular fare as 1982’s Swamp Thing and its sequel, 1989’s The Return of the Swamp Thing. The actor also worked extensively on the stage and on tv.
(A trivia item: Jourdan and a young James Dean personally clashed when they appeared in a 1954 Broadway adaptation of the Andre Gide story The Immoralist. Jourdan found Dean to be unprofessional.)
Interesting to note that Jourdan and director Minnelli often clashed about how to go about making Gigi. In her 2009 autobiography Thank Heaven, Caron wrote that the actor was unhappy with Minnelli’s staging. He poured his grudges out on me. I was quite exhausted to hear, every time the camera stopped, his litany of grievances.
More recently Caron amended her observation, writing: I now stand in admiration of his charm and his melodious voice.