Louis Jourdan, Hollywood's 'French cliche' who starred in Octopussy and Gigi, dies at 93

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - French actor Louis Jourdan, who played a suave bon vivant in the Oscar-winning film Gigi and had a long reign as Hollywood's top choice to play elegant international gentlemen, died on Saturday at the age of 93, his biographer said.

Jourdan, who also worked frequently on stage and television, died at home, Olivier Minne, his friend and biographer, told Reuters by telephone from Paris.

Jourdan starred in Gigi, one of the most successful movies of the 1950s, as the dashing Gaston, who realises he is falling for the title character, played by Leslie Caron, as she evolves from tomboy to courtesan-in-training. Gigi dominated the 1959 Academy Awards with nine Oscars, a record at the time, including best picture and best director for Vincente Minnelli.

Jourdan sang the movie's title tune and it won the Oscar for best song, even though Maurice Chevalier's Thank Heaven For Little Girls in the film was perhaps more memorable.

Jourdan grew up as Louis Gendre in Cannes, where his father was a hotelier, and went to the prestigious Ecole Dramatique in Paris to study acting. He took his mother's last name for his movie career, which had just begun when it was interrupted by World War Two. The occupying Nazis ordered Jourdan to make propaganda films but instead he fled back to the south of France, where he joined his brothers in printing and distributing pamphlets for the French Resistance.

His acting career resumed after the war and he soon came to the attention of American producer David O. Selznick, who brought him to Hollywood for a crucial role in Alfred Hitchcock's 1947 film The Paradine Case, starring Gregory Peck.

The next year Jourdan stood out in Letter From An Unknown Woman as a concert pianist haunted by his ambivalence for a woman, played by Joan Fontaine, who had loved him for decades.

Jourdan was so handsome and debonair that typecasting was inevitable and for a while he resisted the romantic leads, which often led to him being suspended by Selznick under Hollywood's autocratic studio system.

"My basic disagreement with producers was that I didn't want to be perpetually cooing in a lady's ear," Jourdan said in a 1960 interview with Coronet magazine. "There is not much aesthetic satisfaction in it." He later said he reconciled with his Hollywood image as "the French cliche".

In addition to Gigi, his notable films included Three Coins In The Fountain (1954), The Swan (1955) with Grace Kelly, The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful (1956) with Brigitte Bardot and Can-Can (1960) with Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine.

In Julie (1955) he had a chance to break from the stereotype by playing Doris Day's psychotic husband and television and stage work also provided more varied roles, including playing a homosexual attracted to a man played by James Dean in The Immortalist on Broadway. "It was quite revolutionary for him to accept playing a homosexual on stage," said Minne, his biographer. "His legacy in the industry was that he brought some kind of French elegance. That was his nature, in his way of speaking and behaving, his gestures," said Minne. Jourdan was a passionate lover of classical music and was friends with artists and intellectuals, Minne said.

Later in his career directors discovered that Jourdan also could play villains - albeit handsome, urbane villains - such the Afghan prince Kamal Khan, James Bond's nemesis in the 1983 film Octopussy. In Wes Craven's 1982 horror film Swamp Thing he was the evil immortality-obsessed Dr Anton Arcane, a role he reprised in 1989's The Return Of The Swamp Thing.

Jourdan's charm was lost on Elizabeth Taylor, however. In the 1963 movie The V.I.P.s, he was an aging playboy having an affair with Taylor but the actress, then in the midst of her stormy first relationship with Richard Burton, was upset by a story that Jourdan's wife, Quique, had written about her for Paris Match magazine. Taylor reportedly insisted that Jourdan apologise in front of the cast and crew but he refused.

In 1985 Jourdan went on a touring stage version of Gigi, playing the dapper Honore, the role filled by Chevalier in the movie. He retired from acting in 1992 and in 2010 France presented him the Legion of Honour award.

Jourdan and Quique, who met during his time in the French underground, married in 1946. He was once asked about the contrast between his long-running marriage and the playboy roles he so often filled on screen and said: "When one has been married more than 30 years it would be absurd not to admit there had been some sort of difficulties at some times...but the important thing is that we have weathered them." The Jourdans' only child, Louis Henry Jourdan, died of a drug overdose in 1981.