By Carmel Dagan
Louis Jourdan, who crafted a Hollywood acting career in the footsteps of fellow dapper Frenchmen Maurice Chevalier and Charles Boyer and is best remembered for the musical “Gigi” and as the villain in James Bond pic “Octopussy,” has died at 93. According to his friend and biographer Olivier Minne, he died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills.
Jourdan offered a certain effortless charm that worked equally well in light heroic roles and more sinister ones.
“He was the last French figure of the Hollywood golden age. And he worked with so many of the greatest actors and directors,” said Minne, who is working on a documentary and a book about Jourdan.
In Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 musical confection “Gigi,” Jourdan starred with Leslie Caron and Chevalier in an effort from the creatives of “My Fair Lady” and highly resembling a Frenchified version of it. The New York Times said, “Louis Jourdan is suave as the hero who holds out against (Gigi’s) blossoming charms.”
The film won nine Oscars; while Jourdan was not among those honored, he did receive a Golden Globe nomination in the comedy/musical actor category.
Raising his profile in the 1980s were bigscreen appearances in Wes Craven’s campy monster movie “Swamp Thing” and James Bond film “Octopussy.”
The actor had made his English-language debut in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1947 thriller “The Paradine Case,” playing a valet with mysterious motives, and then appeared with Joan Fontaine in the Max Ophuls masterpiece “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” in which he portrayed a playboy who barely notices the woman who ultimately commits suicide over him.
In Minnelli’s version of “Madame Bovary” starring Jennifer Jones, Jourdan played one of the men with whom Bovary becomes scandalously entangled.
He appeared in a pair of adventure pics in 1951, “Bird of Paradise” with Debra Paget and Jacques Tourneur’s “Anne of the Indies,” about a female pirate played by Jean Peters.
The next year he starred with Boyer in a very different sort of movie: the cozy, near-classic “The Happy Time,” about a boy coming of age in a French-Canadian family.
Jourdan reunited with Fontaine for “Decameron Nights” and returned to France to star in Jacques Becker’s 1953 film “Rue de l’Estrapade.” While in Europe, he also shot the very frothy romance “Three Coins in the Fountain,” in which he played an Italian prince.
Back in the U.S. he appeared opposite Grace Kelly in “The Swan,” in which Kelly played a princess who loves her brothers’ tutor, played by Jourdan, but dutifully marries a dour prince (Alec Guinness).
The actor explored darker territory as the insanely jealous husband of Doris Day in the Oscar-nominated 1956 thriller “Julie.” The same year he played opposite Brigitte Bardot in the French romantic comedy “Her Bridal Night.”
The actor seemed appropriately uninterested in his rather humorless role in the middling 1960 musical “Can Can,” which reunited him with Chevalier and also starred Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine.
Jourdan made a couple of forays onto the Broadway stage in the 1950s, starring in “The Immoralist” with Geraldine Page and James Dean and in “Tonight in Samarkand.”
The actor had begun doing smallscreen work since 1953, appearing on episodic anthology shows such as “Studio One in Hollywood” and “The Ford Television Theatre” but most interestingly starring in the brief ABC rarity “Paris Precinct,” a series about French police detectives actually shot in Paris but intended for American TV. It ran for two seasons from 1953-55.
In the 1960s and 1970s Jourdan did his bigscreen work in mostly low-profile pictures, many made in Europe. These films included “Disorder,” “The Sultans” and “To Commit a Murder.”
He starred as the hero in a visually enticing 1961 French version of Dumas classic “The Story of the Count of Monte Cristo”; later he played the villain in a 1975 telepic adaptation of the tale that starred Richard Chamberlain.
Jourdan remained on the radar with work in a few prominent films: He played an unctuous ladies’ man trying to woo Elizabeth Taylor away from Richard Burton in the 1963 all-star pic “The V.I.P.s”; he was the narrator for Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce”; he appeared with Rex Harrison and Rosemary Harris in a 1968 adaptation of Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear.”
On TV he appeared in the noted NBC telepic “Run a Crooked Mile” with Mary Tyler Moore in 1969; reunited with Chamberlain for another Dumas adaptation, 1977’s “The Man in the Iron Mask,” in which he played D’Artagnan; played the title character in “Count Dracula” for PBS’ “Great Performances”; and appeared in ABC’s 1979 miniseries “The French Atlantic Affair.”
In 1978 returned to Broadway after an absence of more than two decades to star in “13 Rue de l’Amour.”
He made his final TV appearance in NBC’s 1986 telepic “Beverly Hills Madam,” starring Faye Dunaway.
The actor returned for a “Swamp Thing” sequel in 1989 and retired to the South of France and Beverly Hills in 1992 after appearing in Peter Yates’ “Year of the Comet,” a misleadingly titled caper pic centered around wine.
Louis Gendre was born in Marseille. He was educated not only in France but in Turkey and the U.K. as well, and he received his training as an actor at the Ecole Dramatique. Jourdan’s film debut came in 1939’s “Le Corsaire,” and he appeared in several movies made by director Marc Allegret as war was raging in Europe, including “Les petites du quai aux fleurs” and “Twilight.”
In 2010 the actor was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in Los Angeles. Friends including Sidney Poitier and Kirk Douglas were there to congratulate him.
Son Louis Henry Jourdan died of a drug overdose in 1981. His wife, Berthe Frederique “Quique” Jourdan, to whom he was married for more than six decades, died last year.