Claudette Colbert: Wikis


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Claudette Colbert

in I Cover the Waterfront (1933)
Born Émilie Claudette Chauchoin
September 13, 1903(1903-09-13)
Saint-Mandé, Seine, France (now Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, Île-de-France, France)
Died July 30, 1996 (aged 92)
Speightstown, Barbados
Occupation Actress
Years active 1923–1965; 1974–1987
Spouse(s) Norman Foster (1928–1935) (divorced)
Dr. Joel Pressman (1935–1968) (his death)

Claudette Colbert (pronounced /koʊlˈbɛr/; September 13, 1903 – July 30, 1996) was a French-born American stage and film actress.

Born in Saint-Mandé, France and raised in New York City, Colbert began her career in Broadway productions during the 1920s, progressing to film with the advent of talking pictures. She established a successful film career with Paramount Pictures and later, as a freelance performer, became one of the highest paid entertainers in American cinema. Colbert was recognized as one of the leading female exponents of screwball comedy; she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her comedic performance in It Happened One Night (1934), and also received Academy Award nominations for her dramatic roles in Private Worlds (1935) and Since You Went Away (1944).

Her film career began to decline in the 1950s, and she made her last film in 1961. She continued to act extensively in theater and briefly television during her later years. After a career of more than 60 years, Colbert retired to her home in Barbados, where she died at the age of 92, following a series of strokes.

Colbert received theatre awards from the Sarah Siddons Society and also received lifetime achievement awards from Kennedy Center Honors, and in 1999, the American Film Institute placed her at number 12 on their "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars" list of the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends".[1]


Early life

Commemorative plate on Colbert's birthplace in Saint-Mandé, France.

Émilie Chauchoin[2][3] was born in Saint-Mandé, Seine, France,[4] to Georges Claude, a banker, and Jeanne Loew Chauchoin, a pastry-cook.[5][6] After some financial reversals, her family emigrated to New York City in 1906.[6][7] Colbert eventually became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.[8]

Colbert studied at Washington Irving High School, where her speech teacher, Alice Rossetter encouraged her to audition for a play she had written, and Colbert made her stage debut at the Provincetown Playhouse in The Widow's Veil, at the age of fifteen.

She then attended the Art Students League of New York. She intended to become a fashion designer, but appeared on the Broadway stage in a small role in The Wild Westcotts (1923). Inspired to pursue a career in theater, Colbert ended her studies and embarked on a stage career in 1925.[9] She adopted the name "Claudette Colbert" as her stage name two years later; she had been using the name of Claudette since high school, and Colbert was the maiden name of her paternal grandmother.[citation needed]




After signing a five-year contract with the producer Al Woods, Colbert played ingenue roles on Broadway from 1925 through 1929. During her early years on stage, she fought against being typecast as a maid, and received critical acclaim on Broadway in the production of The Barker (1927), playing a carnival snake charmer, a role she reprised for the play's run in London's West End.[10]

See Naples and Die and Eugene O'Neill's Dynamo (1929) were unsuccessful; however, she was noticed by the theatrical producer Leland Hayward, who suggested her for a role in Frank Capra's film For the Love of Mike (1927), now believed to be a lost film.[11] The film, Colbert's only silent film role, was a box office failure.[5]

Early film career

After the failure of For the Love of Mike, Colbert did not make any films for two years, but ultimately signed a film contract with Paramount Pictures in 1928. Her earliest films were produced in New York, which enabled her to continue her stage career. Her first sound film was The Hole in the Wall (1929), co-starring another newcomer, Edward G. Robinson, which was followed by The Lady Lies (1929). While filming The Lady Lies, Colbert was also appearing at night in the play See Naples and Die, which was to be her final stage performance for 20 years.

She appeared in the French language film Mysterious Mr. Parkes, one of the few foreign language films of the time to be widely screened in the United States, and was also cast in The Big Pond. The latter was filmed in both French and English, and Colbert's fluency in both languages was a key consideration in her casting. She appeared opposite Maurice Chevalier, who commented of her, "She was lovely, brunette, talented and a delicious comedienne, and her English was perfect."[12] While these films were popular with audiences, one of her films from this period, Young Man of Manhattan, her only collaboration with her then husband, Norman Foster, was criticized by Picturegoer magazine. The magazine criticized Foster's performance and noted him as one of Colbert's weakest leading men, writing, "He did not seem to get any sincerity into his love scenes."[12]

She co-starred with Fredric March in Manslaughter (1930), and received positive reviews for her performance as a rich girl, jailed for vehicular manslaughter.[13] The New York Times wrote, "It cannot be denied that Claudette Colbert – given an even chance – is capable of excellent acting."[14] She was briefly paired with March, and they made four films together, including Dorothy Arzner's Honor Among Lovers (1931). She sang in her role opposite Maurice Chevalier in the Ernst Lubitsch musical The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and was acknowledged by critics for her ability to assert herself opposite the more experienced Miriam Hopkins.[12]

Cecil B. DeMille cast her as the Roman empress Poppaea in his historical epic, The Sign of the Cross (1932), opposite Fredric March. In one sequence, Colbert bathes in a marble pool filled with asses' milk, a scene that came to be regarded as an example of Hollywood decadence prior to the enforcement of the Production Code.[15] Later the same year she played in The Phantom President. In 1933, Colbert renegotiated her contract with Paramount to allow her to appear in films for other studios.


Colbert shows co-star Clark Gable how to hitchhike in It Happened One Night (1934)

During 1934, Colbert's film career flourished. Of the four films she made that year, three of them – the historical biography, Cleopatra, the romantic drama, Imitation of Life and the screwball comedy, It Happened One Night were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture.

Colbert was reluctant to appear as the "runaway heiress", Ellie Andrews, in the Frank Capra romantic comedy, It Happened One Night (1934), opposite Clark Gable and released by Columbia Pictures. Behind schedule after several actresses had refused the role, the studio accepted Colbert's demand that she be paid $50,000 and that filming was to be completed within four weeks to allow her to take a planned vacation. Colbert felt that the script was weak, and Capra recalled her dissatisfaction, commenting, "Claudette fretted, pouted and argued about her part... she was a tartar, but a cute one."[16]

The film contained at least one scene that is often cited as representative of the screwball film genre and which became well known, even by people who had not seen the entire film.[17][18] Stranded in the countryside, Colbert demonstrates to an astonished Gable how to hitchhike by displaying her leg. Colbert won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. The film was the first to sweep all five major Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, and was a resounding box-office success. In later life, Colbert reflected upon her misgivings about the film and her lack of confidence when it was completed, commenting, "I left wondering how the movie would be received. It was right in the middle of the Depression. People needed fantasy, they needed splendor and glamour, and Hollywood gave it to them. And here we were, looking a little seedy and riding on our bus".[19]

In Cleopatra (1934)

In Cleopatra (1934), she played the title role opposite Warren William. DeMille perceived Colbert as a femme fatale, and her films with him included partial nudity.[20] Colbert did not wish to be portrayed as overtly sexual and thereafter refused such roles.[21]

Post 1934

Colbert's success allowed her to renegotiate her contract, raising her salary. In 1935 and 1936, she was listed in the annual "Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars", which was compiled from the votes of movie exhibitors throughout the U.S. for the stars that had generated the most revenue in their theaters over the previous year.[22]

She received a second Academy Award nomination for her role in the hospital drama, Private Worlds (1935).

In 1936, she signed a new contract with Paramount Pictures, which required her to make seven films over a two year period, and this contract made her Hollywood's highest paid actress.[23] This was followed by a contract renewal in 1938, after which she was reported to be the highest paid performer in Hollywood with a salary of $426,924.[24] Her films during this period include The Gilded Lily (1935) and The Bride Comes Home (1935) with Fred MacMurray, She Married Her Boss (1935), with Melvyn Douglas, Under Two Flags (1936), with Ronald Colman, Maid of Salem (1937), again with MacMurray, Tovarich (1937), with Charles Boyer, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), with Gary Cooper, Zaza (1939), with Herbert Marshall, Midnight (1939), with Don Ameche and It's a Wonderful World (1939), with James Stewart.

In the film Tovarich (1937)

With her success, Colbert was able to assert control over the manner in which she was portrayed and she gained a reputation for being fastidious by refusing to be filmed from her right side. She believed that her face was uneven and photographed better from the left. She learned about lighting and cinematography, and refused to begin filming until she was satisfied that she would be shown to her best advantage. An example of Colbert's determination to control the way she was photographed, took place during the filming of Tovarich in 1937, when one of her favored cameramen was dismissed by the director, Anatole Litvak. After seeing the rushes filmed by the replacement, Colbert refused to continue. She insisted on hiring her own cameraman, and offered to waive her salary if the film went over budget as a result.[23] Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) with Henry Fonda was Colbert's first color film, however she distrusted the relatively new Technicolor process and feared that she would not photograph well, preferring thereafter to be filmed in black-and-white.[25]

During this time she began acting for CBS' popular Lux Radio Theater, making numerous appearances between 1935 and 1954.[26]

Later film career

In 1940, Colbert refused a seven-year contract that would have paid her $200,000 a year, as she had found that she could command a fee of $150,000 per film as a freelance artist. With her brother as her manager, Colbert was able to secure roles in prestigious films, and this period marked the height of her earning ability.[23]

Colbert's film career continued successfully into the 1940s, in films such as Boom Town (1940), with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, and Hedy Lamarr; Arise, My Love (1940), with Ray Milland; and the Preston Sturges comedy The Palm Beach Story 1942, opposite Joel McCrea.

After more than a decade as a leading actress, Colbert began to make a transition to more mature characters, though she was reportedly very sensitive about her age. During filming of So Proudly We Hail! (1943), with Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake, a rift occurred when Colbert overheard a remark made by Goddard in an interview. Asked which of her costars she preferred, Goddard had replied, "Veronica, I think. After all, we are closer in age", further commenting that Colbert "flipped" and "was at Paulette's eyes at every moment" and said that they continued their feud throughout the duration of filming.[27]

Impressed by her performance in this film, but aware of Colbert's sensitivity, David O. Selznick approached her to play the lead role in Since You Went Away (1944). She balked at the prospect of playing a mother of teenaged children, but Selznick believed that she was the best candidate for the role, and valued her marketability, commenting that "even light little comedies with her have never done under a million and a half."[28] Eventually, Colbert accepted.

The director, John Cromwell, later noted that Colbert was "level headed, very professional and with no temperament", but Selznick expressed frustration with some of her demands. He wrote in a memo to Colbert's agent that they had rebuilt several sets "because of her refusal to have the right side of her face photographed, on top of which we have to pay her not only a fabulous salary, but also give her two days off a month, which works out to $5000 every four weeks for doing absolutely nothing, and now she's demanding three.... Tell her there's a war on and we all have to make some sacrifices."[29]

Released in June 1944, the film became a substantial success and grossed almost 5 million dollars in the United States. The critic James Agee praised aspects of the film, but particularly Colbert's performance, writing "Selznick has given Claudette Colbert the richest, biggest role of her career. She rewards him consistently with smooth Hollywood formula acting, and sometimes – in collaboration with Mr. (Joseph) Cotten – with flashes of acting that are warmer and more mature."[30] Colbert received her final Academy Award nomination for this performance.

In The Secret Heart (1946)

In 1945, Colbert ended her association with Paramount Studios, and continued to free-lance in such films as Guest Wife (1945), with Don Ameche. RKO Studios hired her to appear opposite John Wayne in Without Reservations (1946), with a storyline and setting intentionally inspired by It Happened One Night.[31] As a result, Without Reservations grossed $3 million in the U.S.,[32] and the overall popularity of Colbert's films during 1946 led to her making a final appearance in the "Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars".[22] She achieved her last great success opposite Fred MacMurray in the comedy The Egg and I (1947). The film was one of the year's biggest hits, and was later acknowledged as the 12th most profitable American film of the 1940s.[33] Her subsequent films failed to capitalize on her renewed success, with the exception of the suspense film Sleep, My Love (1948) with Robert Cummings.

Colbert then lost two roles that were originally intended for her, and which were highly successful ventures for each of the actresses who replaced her. She was signed to appear in State of the Union with Gary Cooper, who was replaced by Spencer Tracy. Two days before filming began, Colbert advised the director Frank Capra that she was unable to work beyond 5 p.m. each day, citing "doctor's orders". Capra refused to accommodate her terms and cast Katharine Hepburn in the role.[34]

In 1949, Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote the part of Margo Channing in All About Eve for Colbert, feeling that she best represented the style of the older actress he envisioned for the part. Mankiewicz admired her "sly wit and sense of class" and felt that she would play the part as an "elegant drunk", who would easily win the support of the audience. Colbert was enthusiastic about the role, and after a succession of noble roles, relished the prospect of playing what she described as a more "feline" character. Before production started, Colbert severely injured her back, while filming a scene for Three Came Home, and although 20th Century Fox postponed the production of All About Eve for two months while she convalesced, she was still not fit enough to take the role and was replaced by Bette Davis. Years later, Mankiewicz commented that he still imagined how effectively Colbert would have embodied the role, and how greatly her portrayal would have differed from Davis's.[35] Colbert described her loss of the role as one of her great regrets, and said that she wished she could have played the role, even if it had been "in a wheelchair".[36]

Her films of this period received mixed reception. The RKO comedy Bride for Sale, in which Colbert was part of a love triangle that included George Brent and Robert Young, was well reviewed and modestly successful. The Secret Fury (1950), also for RKO, was a mystery melodrama that was widely panned, with one critic commenting that Colbert and her co-star Robert Ryan "wandered through the film like two abandoned children in search of their father".[37]

Decline of film career

In the early 1950s, Colbert traveled to Europe and began making fewer films. She appeared in the French film Royal Affairs in Versailles, one of only two films she made in her native country, and a success at the local box-office.[38] Colbert had a supporting role rather than top billing in the film, which also featured a number of well known French cinema performers.[39]

In 1954, after a successful appearance in a television version of The Royal Family, she began acting in various teleplays. From 1954 to 1960, she appeared in the television adaptations of Blithe Spirit in 1956 and The Bells of St. Mary's in 1959. She also guest starred on Robert Montgomery Presents, Playhouse 90, and Zane Grey Theater.

In Parrish (1961)

In 1958, she returned to Broadway in The Marriage-Go-Round, for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award.

By 1955 she had stopped making films, although returned to the screen in Parrish (1961) for Warner Brothers. When the film was released, most of the studio publicity was in support of the young male lead Troy Donahue, who was being groomed by the studio. Colbert, playing the supporting role of Donahue's mother, received little attention, and the film was not a success. She never made another film although the press occasionally referred to upcoming projects that did not exist. Embarrassed, Colbert instructed her agent to stop his attempts to generate interest in her as a film actress. In the late 1960s, a reporter asked her why she had made no more films, to which she replied, "Because there have been no offers."[40]

Her occasional acting ventures were limited to theater and included performances on Broadway and in London in The Irregular Verb to Love (1963); The Kingfisher (1978) in which she co-starred with Rex Harrison, and Frederick Lonsdale's Aren't We All? (1985) also with Rex Harrison.

In 1987, Colbert appeared in a supporting role in the television miniseries The Two Mrs. Grenvilles. The production was a ratings success and was nominated for several awards. Colbert won a Golden Globe and received a nomination for an Emmy Award. This marked her final performance on film, however she continued to act in theater.

Personal life

In 1928, Colbert married Norman Foster, an actor and director, who appeared with Colbert in the Broadway show The Barker. However, she and her first husband lived apart, never sharing a home together in Hollywood,[41] supposedly because Colbert's mother disliked Foster and wouldn't allow him into their home.[42] Colbert and Foster divorced in 1935, and in December of that year, Colbert married Dr. Joel Pressman, a surgeon at UCLA.[5] The marriage lasted 33 years, until Pressman's death of liver cancer in 1968.

Colbert had one brother, Charles (1898-1971), who used the surname Wendling and served as her agent and business manager for a time.[6] He is credited with negotiating some of her more lucrative contracts in the late 1930s and early 1940s.[12]

Colbert was a staunch Republican and conservative.[43]

Final years

For years, Colbert divided her time between her apartment in Manhattan and her summer home in Speightstown, Barbados.[5] After suffering a series of strokes in 1993, she remained in her Barbados home, Belle-rive, where she died on July 30, 1996, at age 92.[5] She was buried in the Parish of St. Peter Cemetery in Barbados.[44] Colbert left no immediate family.[5]

The bulk of Colbert's estate was left to a friend, Helen O'Hagan, a retired director of corporate relations at Saks Fifth Avenue, whom Colbert had met in 1961 on the set of the her last film and who cared for Colbert following her 1993 strokes.[45]

Contemporary reception

Colbert established one of the most successful film careers of any actress of her generation, and was considered a dependable and bankable star. Her status was reflected in her earnings as one of the best paid performers of the 1930s and 1940s. Colbert once commented that she had sacrificed for the sake of her career.

In discussing Colbert's career, her contemporaries confirmed her drive. Irene Dunne commented that she had lacked Colbert's "terrifying ambition" and noted that if Colbert "finished work on a film on a Saturday, she would be looking for a new project by Monday". Hedda Hopper wrote that Colbert placed her career "ahead of everything save possibly her marriage", and described her as the "smartest and canniest" of Hollywood actresses, with a strong sense of what was best for her, and a "deep rooted desire to be in shape, efficient and under control".[27]

Other actors admired Colbert's comic timing; David Niven related in his biography that Gary Cooper was "terrified" at the prospect of working with Colbert in his first comedy, Bluebeard's Eighth Wife because he considered Colbert to be an expert in the genre. The film gave Niven one of his first significant parts, and he wrote that Colbert took a nurturing role towards him and "was the soul of fun and a most generous performer," although he noted that her insistence that she be filmed only from her left side created difficulties for the cameramen.[46] Her fastidious attitude in this regard became well known, with Doris Day quoted as saying, "God wasted half a face on Claudette". During her heyday, film technicians described the right side of her face as "the dark side of the moon."[27] In a 1930s interview Constance Bennett replied to questions about her own demands, with the comment that Colbert's idiosyncrasies were far more excessive, but Bennett acknowledged that it was an integral part of Colbert's success.[23] Colbert was also generally respected for her professionalism, with the New York Times stating that she was known for giving "110 percent" to any project she worked on, and she was also highly regarded for learning the technical aspects of studio lighting and cinematography that allowed her to maintain a distinctive film image.[23] In her biography, Myrna Loy stated that Colbert, along with Joan Crawford, "knew more about lighting than the experts did."[47]

Modern critics and film historians note that Colbert demonstrated versatility throughout her career, and played characters that ranged from vamps to housewives, and that encompassed screwball comedy and drama.[23] Pauline Kael wrote that Colbert was widely admired by American audiences from the time of It Happened One Night because she represented "Americans' idealized view of themselves — breezy, likable, sexy, gallant and maybe just a little hare-brained."[17]

She found it difficult to make the transition to playing more mature characters as she approached middle-age and expressed her admiration for Bette Davis, saying that she had been able to make the transition more easily because she had shrewdly played character roles as a young woman.[27]

She was praised for her sense of style and awareness of fashion, and she ensured throughout her career, that she was impeccably groomed and costumed. Such was the importance she placed upon costuming, that for the 1946 melodrama, Tomorrow is Forever, Jean Louis was hired to create eighteen changes of wardrobe for her.[48]

When she received a Kennedy Center Honor, her fashion sense was referred to with a quotation from Jeanie Basinger in The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers: "[Her] glamour is the sort that women attain for themselves by using their intelligence to create a timeless personal style."[49] The writer A. Scott Berg described Colbert as one of Paramount Studio's greatest assets as she had "proved deft in all genres" and had "helped define femininity for her generation with her chic manner."[50]

Colbert is cited as a leading female exponent of screwball comedy, along with such actresses as Jean Arthur, Irene Dunne, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy and Rosalind Russell. In her comedy films, she invariably played shrewd and self reliant women, but unlike many of her contemporaries, Colbert rarely engaged in physical comedy, with her characters more likely to be observers and commentators.[51]


Awards and honors

Colbert was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for three films, It Happened One Night (1935), Private Worlds (1936), and Since You Went Away (1945), winning for It Happened One Night. In addition, she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Mini-series, or Motion Picture Made for Television for her role in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1988), and was nominated for an Emmy Award for the same.

Claudette Colbert remains the only actress in the history of cinema to star in three films in the same year to be nominated for Best Picture Academy Award, those films being Cleopatra, Imitation of Life, and It Happened One Night which were all made in 1934.[citation needed]

In 1980, Colbert was awarded the Sarah Siddons Award for her theatre work.[52] In 1984, Colbert was awarded the Gala Tribute award by the Film Society of Lincoln Center.[53] The same year, a building at the old Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York, where she had made ten films in early career, was renamed in her honor.[54] In 1985, Colbert was awarded a Drama Desk Special Award.[55]

In 1989, Colbert was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement.[56] In 1990, Colbert was honored with the San Sebastián International Film Festival Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award.[57]

For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Claudette Colbert has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6812 Hollywood Blvd.[58]



  1. ^ "AFI's 100 Years, 100 Stars, American's Greatest Legends" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  2. ^ Larousse Encyclopedia : Claudette Colbert
  3. ^ "Claudette Colbert" (in French). 
  4. ^ COLBERT, Claudette. British Film Institute.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Pace, Eric (1996-07-31). "Claudette Colbert, Unflappable Heroine of Screwball Comedies, is Dead at 92". The New York Times: p. 2. 
  6. ^ a b c Quirk, Claudette Colbert, p. 5.
  7. ^ Ellis Island History: Some Were Destined For Fame. Ellis Island National Park. Accessed: 19 January 2008.
  8. ^ "Famous Naturalized U.S. Citizens". Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  9. ^ Claudette Colbert - Filmography - Movies - New York Times.
  10. ^ Basinger, Jeanine; Audrey E. Kupferberg. "Claudette Colbert - Films as actress:". Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  11. ^ Classic Film Guide.
  12. ^ a b c d Shipman, The Great Movie Stars, p. 113.
  13. ^ Manslaughter at Allmovie
  14. ^ Quirk, p. 64 citing The New York Times.
  15. ^ Edwards, p. 121.
  16. ^ Hirschnor, p. 87.
  17. ^ a b Kael, p. 285.
  18. ^ Edmonds and Mimura, p. 48.
  19. ^ Harris, pp. 112–114.
  20. ^ Springer, p. 62.
  21. ^ Chaneles, p. 97.
  22. ^ a b "The 2006 Motion Picture Almanac, Top Ten Money Making Stars". Quigley Publishing Company. Retrieved 2006-08-18. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f Shipman, The Great Movie Stars, p. 115.
  24. ^ Karney, p. 53.
  25. ^ Finler, p. 24.
  26. ^ "Audio Classics Archive Radio Logs: Lux Radio Theater". Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  27. ^ a b c d Shipman, Movie Talk, p. 126.
  28. ^ Haver, pp. 338–340.
  29. ^ Haver, pp. 340–341.
  30. ^ Haver, p. 342.
  31. ^ Jewell and Harbin, p. 211.
  32. ^ "Without Reservations: Business and Box Office Data."
  33. ^ Finler, p. 216.
  34. ^ Anderson, pp. 191–192.
  35. ^ Staggs, pp. 59–60.
  36. ^ Chandler, p. 184.
  37. ^ Jewell and Harbin, p. 248.
  38. ^ IMDB Royal Affairs at Versailles: Business and Box Office Data
  39. ^ Soares, Andre (January 12, 2005). "Best Films – 1954". Alternative Film Guide. 
  40. ^ Shipman, The Great Movie Stars, p. 117.
  41. ^ Claudette Colbert at the TCM Movie Database
  42. ^ DiLeo, John (October 5, 2008-10-05). "Star Light, Star Bright". Washington Post: p. BW08. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  43. ^ Granger, Derek (1996-08-02). "Obituary: Claudette Colbert". The (London) Independent. 
  44. ^ Claudette Colbert at Find A Grave.
  45. ^ Rush, George, and Salvatore Arena. Colbert Leaves 3.5M Estate to a Life-Long Pal. New York Daily News. 9 August 1996.
  46. ^ Niven, p. 286.
  47. ^ Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, p. 119.
  48. ^ Jewell and Harbin, p. 209.
  49. ^ "The Kennedy Center, Biography of Claudette Colbert". Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  50. ^ Berg, p. 190.
  51. ^ DiBattista, p. 210.
  52. ^ "Sarah Siddons Society Awardees". Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  53. ^ "Film Society of Lincoln Center". New York Times.,%20CLAUDETTE&field=per&match=exact. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  54. ^ Garcia, Gary D. (16 April 1984). "Time: People". Time Magazine.,9171,954273,00.html. Retrieved 2007-02-11. 
  55. ^ Drama Desk Award winners.
  56. ^ "The Kennedy Center, Biography of Claudette Colbert". Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  57. ^ "Archive of awards, juries and posters". San Sebastián International Film Festival. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  58. ^ "Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Walk of Fame, Claudette Colbert". Retrieved 2008-01-18. 


  • Anderson, Christopher (1997). An Affair to Remember, The Remarkable Love Story of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. William Morrow and Co. Inc. ISBN 0-688-15311-9
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  • Chandler, Charlotte (2006). The Girl Who Walked Home Alone, Bette Davis, A Personal Biography. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-6208-5
  • Chaneles, Sol (1974). The Movie Makers. Octopus Books. ISBN 0-7064-038708
  • DiBattista, Maria (2001). Fast Talking Dames. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09903-7
  • Edmonds, I. G. and Mimura, Reiko (1980). The Oscar Directors. Tantivy Press. ISBN 0-498-02444-X
  • Edwards, Anne (1988). The DeMilles, An American Family. William Collins, Sons & Co. ISBN 0-00-215241-X
  • Finler, Joel W. (1989). The Hollywood Story: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the American Film Industry But Didn't Know Where to Look. Pyramid Books. ISBN 1-855-10009-6
  • Harris, Warren G. (2002). Clark Gable, A Biography. Aurum Press. ISBN 1 85410 904 9
  • Haver, Ronald (1980). David O. Selznick's Hollywood. Bonanza Books, New York. ISBN 0-517-47665-7
  • Hirschnor, Joel (1983). Rating the Movie Stars for Home Video, TV and Cable. Publications International Limited. ISBN 0-88176-152-4
  • Jewell, Richard B. and Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story, Octopus Books. ISBN 0-7064-1285-0
  • Kael, Pauline (19840. 5001 Nights at the Movies. Zenith Books. ISBN 0-09-933550-6
  • Karney, Robyn (1984). The Movie Stars Story, An Illustrated Guide to 500 of the World's Most Famous Stars of the Cinema. Octopus Books. ISBN 0-7064-2092-6
  • Kotsilibas-Davis and Loy, Myrna (1988). Being and Becoming. Donald I. Fine Inc. ISBN 1-556611-101-0
  • Niven, David (1976). Bring on the Empty Horses. Putnam. ISBN 0-399115-420-0
  • Quirk, Lawrence J. (1974). Claudette Colbert An Illustrated Biography. Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-55678-2
  • Shipman, David (1970). The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years. Bonanza Books, New York. Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number 78-133803
  • Shipman, David (1988). Movie Talk. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-03403-2
  • Springer, John (1978). They Had Faces Then, Annabella to Zorina, the Superstars, Stars and Starlets of the 1930s. ISBN 0-8065-0657-1

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Claudette Colbert (September 13, 1903July 30, 1996) was a French-born American stage and an Academy Award-winning US film actress. She was a popular leading lady in Hollywood films, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1999, she was ranked 12th by the American Film Institute in their list of the Greatest Female Stars of All Time.


  • Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have the same enemy—the mother.
    • Time (September 14, 1981)

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Claudette Colbert
File:Claudette Colbert in I Cover the Waterfront
Born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin
September 13, 1903
Saint-Mandé, Seine, France (now Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, Île-de-France, France)
Died July 30, 1996
Spouse Norman Foster (1928-1935)
Joel Pressman (1935-1968)

Claudette Colbert (IPA: /koʊlˈbɛɹ/) (September 13, 1903 - July 30, 1996) was a French-born American actress who won an Academy Award for It Happened One Night.

With her heart-shaped face, lively wide eyes, charm, aristocratic manner, and flair for light comedy as well as emotional drama, Colbert was known for a versatility that led to her becoming one of the biggest box-office stars of her time. In 1999, she was ranked as the 12# greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute in their list AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars. As she said to an interviewer, "Audiences always sound like they're glad to see me, and I'm damned glad to see them."[1]


Early life

Born Emilie Claudette "Lily" Chauchoin in Saint-Mandé, Seine, France (now Saint-Mandé, Val-de-Marne, Île-de-France, France), September 13, 1903, to Georges Cauchoin and his wife, the former Jeanne Loew, her family emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City. She had one brother, Charles, who used the surname Wendling and went on to become his sister's agent.

She began acting in high school and a few years later in 1923 appeared on the Broadway stage in a bit part. Hooked, she gave up on her plans to be a fashion designer to instead pursue a career in acting. She made her first motion picture appearance in 1927, in For the Love of Mike, a silent film shot on location in Paramount Studios in New York, New York facilities. However, talking films were taking over and two years later, Colbert appeared in her first talking film, The Hole in the Wall, co-starring another newcomer, Edward G. Robinson .


In 1930 Colbert went out on with the DUMB Paramount Pictures, who were looking for stage actors who could handle dialog in the new "talkies" medium. Colbert's elegant, musical voice was one of her best assets. Some of her early hit films were Manslaughter (1930) and Honor Among Lovers (1931), both with Fredric March, The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), with Maurice Chevalier and Miriam Hopkins, and Torch Singer (1933), with Ricardo Cortez and David Manners.

Colbert's career got a huge boost when Cecil B. DeMille cast her as the Roman empress Poppaea in his historical epic The Sign of the Cross (1932), opposite Fredric March and Charles Laughton (as Nero). In one of the most memorable scenes in movie history, Claudette bathes nude in a marble pool filled with asses' milk.

She worked again for DeMille and was dazzling as his Cleopatra (1934), opposite Warren William and Henry Wilcoxon. In 1934 she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role opposite Clark Gable in the Frank Capra classic screwball comedy It Happened One Night, a movie she initially described as the "worst picture in the world". Her performance, however, proved to Hollywood that she was an expert comedienne. She initially balked at pulling up her skirt to entice a passing car to give her and Gable a ride in one famous scene, complaining that it was unladylike. However, upon seeing the chorus girl who was brought in as her body double, an outraged Colbert told the director, "Get her out of here. I'll do it. That's not my leg!"[2] Colbert then starred in the original Imitation of Life (1934), opposite Warren William and Louise Beavers.

Claudette spent the rest of the 1930s deftly alternating between romantic comedies and dramas, and found success in both: Private Worlds (1935), with Charles Boyer; She Married Her Boss (1935), with Melvyn Douglas; The Gilded Lily (1935) and The Bride Comes Home (1935), both with Fred MacMurray; Under Two Flags (1936), with Ronald Colman; Tovarich (1937), again with Boyer; Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938), with Gary Cooper; Zaza (1939), with Herbert Marshall; Midnight (1939), with Don Ameche; It's a Wonderful World (1939), with James Stewart; and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), with Henry Fonda.

In addition to Capra and DeMille, Colbert was working with the top directors in the industry: Dorothy Arzner, Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Frank Lloyd, John M. Stahl, Wesley Ruggles, Gregory La Cava, Anatole Litvak, George Cukor, Mitchell Leisen, and John Ford.

Colbert was a stickler for perfection regarding the way she appeared on screen. She believed that her face was difficult to light and photograph, and was obsessed with not showing her "bad" side, the right, to the camera, because of a small bump that resulted from a childhood broken nose.[3]

From 1936 to 1944, she starred in numerous programs of Cecil B. DeMille's Lux Radio Theater, which was one of the most popular dramatic radio shows at the time. In 1952, she returned to work in her native France where she stayed until 1955.

Apart from making two more Hollywood films, she went back to Broadway in 1958 doing "The Marriage Go-Round" with Charles Boyer, earning a 1959 Tony Award nomination for her work. Also for her Chicago theatre work, in 1980 she won the Sarah Siddons Award. In 1984 she appeared with Rex Harrison in Frederick Lonsdale's "Aren't We All" at the Haymarket Theatre, London, and also the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on Broadway, presented by Douglas Urbanski. Ms. Colbert's last film was Parrish in 1961. She acted in numerous Broadway plays for the next twenty years. In 1987, she did a television mini-series titled The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Mini-series or a Special. In 1988, she won the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture made for TV. In 1989 she received the Kennedy Center Honors.

During her long and successful career, Claudette Colbert played in sixty-five films. For her contribution to the motion picture industry, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6812 Hollywood Blvd.

Personal life

Colbert married twice. Her first husband was Norman Foster, an actor and later a director, whom she married in 1928 and divorced in Mexico in 1935. According to the account of the divorce in the New York Times, published on 31 August 1935, "Some secrecy surrounded the proceedings, for while Mr. Feldman [Colbert's agent] apparently was at liberty to tell of the divorce being granted, he said he could not tell where in Mexico it was obtained." The report further stated that "The Fosters created something of a sensation when they disclosed that they were trying to remain happily married while living in separate homes. But even this experiment apparently failed." Four months after her divorce, on 24 December 1935, Colbert married Dr. Joel J. Pressman, a throat specialist, who died in 1968; her former husband went on to marry the actress Sally Blane, a sister of Loretta Young.

When she retired from motion pictures, Colbert and her husband moved to Palm Springs where she operated a store for a time before moving to Barbados. The idea of moving to Barbados came to her following a visit to Noel Coward's house in Jamaica. At her home there, called Bellerive, she spent her later years as a hostess to the world's powerful and famous. Ronald Reagan was one of her guests during his presidency, as were Lillian Helman, Kirk Douglas, Jack Benny, Rex Harrison, and Slim Keith. She had a small guest house built on the property for the honeymoon of Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow.

Colbert died at her home in Barbados, following series of small strokes during the last two years of her life at the age of 92, and she was interred there in the Parish of St. Peter Cemetery along with her mother and husband. A requiem mass was held at St. Vincent Ferrer church in New York City later.

According to an article published in the 10 August 1996 issue of the Cincinnati Post, the childless Colbert left most of her estate, estimated at $3.5 million and including her Manhattan apartment and her home in Barbados, to a friend, Helen O'Hagan (1931—), a retired director of corporate relations at Saks Fifth Avenue, whom Colbert had met in 1961 on the set of Parrish, the actress's last film.[4][5]Bellerive was later bought by David Geffen.

After Colbert's death, rumors about the actress's purported lesbian relationships, including supposed affairs with Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, began to circulate in the international media. In response, Colbert's friend Helen O'Hagan told the New York Daily News that the actress barely knew Dietrich or Garbo and that Colbert was "a man's lady".[6] The purported Colbert-Dietrich relationship also was explored in the 2001 book Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, 1910-1969 by William J. Mann, a film historian.


  • For the Love of Mike (1927)
  • The Hole in the Wall (1929)
  • The Lady Lies (1929)
  • Young Man of Manhattan (1930)
  • The Big Pond (1930) (a French version was also filmed with the same cast)
  • Manslaughter (1930)
  • Mysterious Mr. Parkes (1930) (French version of the 1930 film Slightly Scarlet)
  • Honor Among Lovers (1931)
  • The Smiling Lieutenant (1931)
  • Secrets of a Secretary (1931)
  • His Woman (1931)
  • Hollywood on Parade (1932) (short subject)
  • The Wiser Sex (1932)
  • Misleading Lady (193)
  • The Man from Yesterday (1932)
  • Make Me a Star (1932) (Cameo)
  • The Phantom President (1932)
  • The Sign of the Cross (1932)
  • Tonight Is Ours (1933)
  • Hollywood on Parade No. 9 (1933) (short subject)
  • I Cover the Waterfront (1933)
  • Three-Cornered Moon (1933)
  • Torch Singer 1933)
  • The Hollywood You Never See (1934) (short subject)
  • Four Frightened People (1934)
  • It Happened One Night (1934)
  • Cleopatra (1934)
  • Imitation of Life (1934)
  • The Fashion Side of Hollywood (1935) (short subject)
  • The Gilded Lily (1935)
  • Private Worlds (1935)
  • She Married Her Boss (1935)
  • The Bride Comes Home (1935)
  • Under Two Flags (1936)
  • Maid of Salem (1937)
  • I Met Him in Paris (1937)

  • Tovarich (1937)
  • Breakdowns of 1938 (1938) (short subject)
  • Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938)
  • Hollywood Goes to Town (1938) (short subject)
  • Zaza (1939)
  • Midnight (1939)
  • It's a Wonderful World (1939)
  • Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
  • Boom Town (1940)
  • Arise, My Love (1940)
  • Skylark (1941)
  • Remember the Day (1941)
  • Hedda Hopper's Hollywood No. 6 (1942) (short subject)
  • The Palm Beach Story (1942)
  • No Time for Love (1943)
  • So Proudly We Hail! (1943)
  • Since You Went Away (1944)
  • Practically Yours (1944)
  • Guest Wife (1945)
  • Tomorrow Is Forever (1946)
  • Without Reservations (1946)
  • The Secret Heart (1946)
  • The Egg and I (1947)
  • Sleep, My Love (1948)
  • Family Honeymoon (1949)
  • Bride for Sale (1949)
  • Three Came Home (1950)
  • The Secret Fury (1950)
  • Thunder on the Hill (1951)
  • Let's Make It Legal (1951)
  • The Planter's Wife (1952)
  • Daughters of Destiny (1954)
  • Royal Affairs in Versailles (1954)
  • Texas Lady (1955)
  • Parrish (1961)


  • The Jack Benny Program (1951, 1 episode)
  • General Electric Theater (1954-1955, 2 episodes)
  • The Best of Broadway (1954, 1 episode)
  • Climax! (1954-1955, 3 episodes )
  • The Ford Television Theatre (1955, 2 episodes)
  • Letter to Loretta (1955, 1 episode)
  • Ford Star Jubilee (1956, 1 episode)
  • Robert Montgomery Presents (1956, 1 episode)
  • The Steve Allen Show (3 episodes, 1956-1958)
  • What's My Line? (2 episodes, 1956-1959)
  • Playhouse 90 (1957, 1 episode)
  • Zane Grey Theater (1957-1960, 2 episodes)
  • General Motors 50th Anniversary Show (1957)
  • Telephone Time (1957, 1 episode)
  • Suspicion (1958, 1 episode)
  • Colgate Theatre (1958, 1 episode)
  • The Bells of St. Mary's (1959)
  • The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987)


  • The Wild Westcotts (1923-1924)
  • A Kiss in a Taxi (1925)
  • The Ghost Train (1926)
  • The Pearl of Great Price (1926)
  • The Barker (1927)
  • The Mulberry Bush (1927)
  • La Gringa (1928)
  • Within the Law (1928)
  • Fast Life (1928)
  • Tin Pan Alley (1928)
  • Dynamo (1929)
  • See Naples and Die (1929)
  • Janus (1956)
  • The Marriage-Go-Round (1958-1960)
  • Julia, Jake and Uncle Joe (1961)
  • The Irregular Verb to Love (1963)
  • The Kingfisher (1978-1979)
  • A Talent for Murder (1981)
  • Aren't We All? (1985)


  1. Eric Pace, "Claudette Colbert, Unflappable Heroine of Screwball Comedies, is Dead at 92", The New York Times, 31 July 1996, page D21
  2. Eric Pace, "Claudette Colbert, Unflappable Heroine of Screwball Comedies, is Dead at 92", The New York Times, 31 July 1996, page D21
  3. Helen Dudar, "Claudette Colbert Revels in a Happy, Starry Past", The New York Times, 27 October 1991, page A-1
  4. Stephanie Harvin, "O'Hagan, a Legend at Saks", Post and Courier, 23 August 1996
  5. "Colbert's Will Provides for Longtime Friends", Austin American-Statesman, 10 August 1996, page B12
  6. George Rush and Joanna Molloy, "It Happened One Night -- Or Did It?", The New York Daily News, 5 August 1996, page 14
  • "Colbert Wealth Left to Neighbor", The Cincinnati Post, 10 August 1996


  • Claudette Colbert (1976), William K. Everson
  • Claudette Colbert : An Illustrated Biography (1985), Lawrence J. Quirk

Other websites


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