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Gigi in Hollywood

Postcards from the transatlantic life of Leslie Caron.

Feb 1, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 19 • By KATE LIGHT
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When Caron left school early to dance, her mother helped out by providing a precocious and somewhat bizarre reading list. What young Leslie wasn’t given she discovered for herself; and so, despite a lack of formal education, she became well read, alert to languages, and sophisticated in her literary leanings, paving the way to an international career in the truest sense. Her cosmopolitan nature granted her hundreds of regal friends and acquaintances, and her career spanned an astonishing array of film and stage roles. Her directors ranged from America’s Gene Kelly and Vincent Minnelli, to Canada’s Arthur Hiller, to France’s René Clair, François Truffaut, and Jean Renoir, Bryan Forbes and Ken Russell in England, in Italy, Nanni Loy and Franco Zeffirelli (and a near-miss with Federico Fellini), Krzysztof Zanussi in Poland, and more. She crosses paths with Fred Astaire, Christopher Isherwood, Rock Hudson, Ingrid Bergman, Orson Welles, Noel Coward, David Niven, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and more. She champions struggling actors and directors—Zero Mostel after his blacklisting; Montgomery Clift, whose reputation rendered him unemployable—and among the Hollywood stories is how eerily close she and her family came to renting the house in which Roman Polanski would briefly live with his wife Sharon Tate and where she was brutally murdered. 

In later years, as roles came less frequently, and she struggled with alcohol and depression, Caron reinvented herself as the creator of a small-town auberge, leaving her months of construction and contracting to do the occasional acting role. The auberge is clearly a remarkable place, and she emerges from her depression at peace with the world and her family, bringing us these enlivening tales of an extraordinary career, from a golden time which still resonates.

Kate Light, poet and violinist in the New York City Opera, is the author, most recently, of Open Slowly.

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