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Obit: Why Louis Jourdan Endures

Obit: Why Louis Jourdan Endures

Jourdan was the last of the dashing Continental lovers – sophisticated, rich and elegantly handsome – who delighted movie audiences during Hollywood’s golden age.  Like Jourdan, they were usually French, personified by Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier.

In his most famous screen role, the 1958 MGM musical “Gigi,” he was the nephew of Chevalier, an elderly roué.  In the film Jourdan was scheduled to live the same life of rich food, elegant vacations and serial mistresses as his uncle until he fell in love with Gigi (Leslie Caron) who was being groomed to become a courtesan.  The movie was a fairy tale that Jourdan carried with an easy charm.
After Jourdan had played a dozen or more of such roles – as a playboy in Max Ophul’s classic “Letter From an Unknown Woman” (1948) who cannot remember a woman who was the mother of his child; as one of “Madame Bovary’s” lovers in Vincente Minnelli’s 1949 version of the Flaubert novel; as an Italian prince in another romantic soufflé, “Three Coins in the Fountain” (1954) —  American movies got harder edged and French playboys went out of fashion.  The second role for which Jourdan is best remembered is as the villain in the 1983 James Bond movie, “Octopussy” who wants to use a nuclear weapon to destroy an American air base.

Louis Jourdan was born Louis Robert Gendre in Marseille, France on June 19, 1921.  His father was a hotel owner who was arrested by the Gestapo after the fall of France in World War II.  Jourdan and his two brothers joined the French Underground, and Jourdan’s budding film career in France ended when he refused to act in Nazi propaganda films. That career was reinstated after the war when David O. Selznick brought him to Hollywood to act in “The Paradine Case” (1947) directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  That career ended in 1992 with a role in Peter Yates’ “Year of the Comet.”
In direct opposition to his screen persona, Jourdan married his childhood sweetheart, Berthe Fredérique, and stayed married for more than 60 years.  Berthe died in 2014.  Their only child, Louis Henry, died of a drug overdose in 1981.

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