★ Today is the 98th birthday of beautiful French actress, Danielle Darrieux. Having appeared in over 110 films since 1931, her eight-decade career is amongst the longest in film history! I usually try to keep these Silver Screen Stars features quite short, but Darrieux’s had such a fascinating life that I just can’t resist expanding on it a bit (or maybe a lot!). So, fasten your seat-belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!
The daughter of a physician serving in the French Army in World War I, Danielle Yvonne Marie Antoinette Darrieux was born in Bordeaux on 1st May 1917. After her father’s death when she was just seven years old, she studied music at the Conservatoire de Musique in Paris; a background which saw her secure a role in the musical film Le Bal (1931). In 1935, at the tender age of 18, she married director and screenwriter, Henri Decoin, who was nearly thirty years her senior. A talented singer and dancer as well as actress, Darrieux soon achieved stardom in her native France, but it was her role in Mayerling (1936) that brought her to the attention of international audiences. Encouraged to try Hollywood by her husband, she signed with Universal Studios in 1938 to star in The Rage of Paris (below) opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Despite the film’s success, she returned to France shortly afterward.
Remaining in Paris during the German occupation of France in World War II, she continued to perform, a decision that was reportedly motivated by a Nazi threat to deport her brother to Germany if she left. Despite suffering severe criticism from her compatriots, and enduring the end of her marriage to Decoin, Darrieux’s presence in occupied Paris nevertheless proved fortuitous for her, as it was during this time she met and fell in love with the Dominican diplomat and international playboy, Porfirio Rubirosa. They married at Vichy Town Hall on 18th September 1942, but it was not long before Rubirosa ran into trouble with the Nazi regime and found himself exiled to Berlin, where he was placed under house arrest. Darrieux agreed to make a promotional tour of Berlin in exchange for his freedom, and soon after his release the couple left for Switzerland, where they remained until the end of the war.
A notorious womanizer, Rubirosa’s constant philandering saw the couple’s relationship become increasingly fraught, and by late 1946 they were largely estranged. After he embarked on a sordid affair with wealthy tobacco heiress, Doris Duke, Rubirosa and Darrieux finally ended their marriage in May 1947, but not before Duke allegedly offered Darrieux $1 million in exchange for not contesting the divorce. Rubirosa and Duke (pictured below) went on to get married in September 1947, but would themselves get divorced in 1951. Darrieux married scriptwriter Georges Mitsikidès in 1948, and it did indeed prove ‘third time lucky’ for her, as their union lasted until his death in 1991.
Having continued to act in various French and Italian films after the war, Darrieux was lured back to Hollywood by a starring role in the MGM musical Rich, Young and Pretty in 1951, and would go on to appear opposite James Mason in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s spy thriller Five Fingers in 1952 (Darrieux is seen in a publicity photo for it, below). Spending the next few years alternating between Hollywood and France, she once again courted controversy by starring in a raunchy adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1955). With its themes of uninhibited sexuality and infidelity, the film was banned in the United States for ‘promoting adultery’ – a ruling that remained in force until the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1959. In 1956, she made her final film in Hollywood, the historical epic Alexander the Great, which starred Richard Burton and Claire Bloom.
Branching out as a concert singer in the 1960s, Darrieux continued to appear in many French films throughout the decade, but did agree to star in the British-made drama film, The Greengage Summer (1961), alongside Kenneth More. Increasingly working in the theatre, 1970 saw her replace Katherine Hepburn in the Coco Chanel inspired Broadway musical Coco, but without Hepburn the production soon folded. Working steadily on various film, theatre and TV projects throughout the 1970s, 80s, 90s and early 2000s, Darrieux’s most recent big-screen appearance was in the romantic comedy Pièce montée in 2010.
Given an Honorary César Award in 1985 for her long service to the motion picture industry, Danielle Darrieux is widely regarded as one of the grande dames of French cinema. Through the death of her father, marriages, divorces, Nazi threats, forced exile, public controversy, and an impressive body of work spanning eight decades, Darrieux’s immense talent, beauty and onscreen grace have endured, undoubtedly earning her a place as one of the truly great stars of the cinema firmament.