Thursday, April 22, 2010

Down-to-Earth Sophistication: Claudette Colbert in Hollywood

Claudette Colbert’s biography could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood press agent. She was born Lily Claudette Chauchoin in Paris, France, on September 13, 1903. In 1910, Colbert’s family immigrated to America.

From an early age, Colbert wanted a career on the stage. By the late 1920s, she was a Broadway veteran, earning good notices. In 1927, Colbert tried her hand at movies. She starred in For the Love of Mike, helmed by a young director named Frank Capra. Unhappy with the results, Colbert vowed never to make another film. But when the stock market crashed, and the lights on Broadway dimmed, she gave the movies another try.

Colbert signed with Paramount Pictures in 1929, appearing in musicals, melodramas, epics, and comedies. In 1934, Colbert starred in a record three movies (It Happened One Night, Imitation of Life, and Cleopatra) that were all nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. That same year, she won the Oscar for Best Actress, playing run-away heiress Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night.

What made Colbert unique from other actresses, was her ability to combine class and sophistication with down-to-earth warmth and charm, a talent that endeared her to both men and women equally.

A top box office draw for over 20 years, Colbert was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood. She worked with the best directors in the world, including Capra, Gregory LaCava, Ernst Lubitsch, Mitchell Leisen, and Preston Sturges. Excelling at sophisticated comedy, Colbert is the only actress, from Hollywood’s golden age, to have worked with both Lubitsch and Sturges.

Few movie stars, before or since, have matched her talent. By any measure, she's one of the greatest actresses Hollywood has ever seen.

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