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French Music: Maurice Chevalier

Maurice Chevalier“The French are true romantics. They feel the only difference between a man of forty and one of seventy is thirty years of experience.”

So said Maurice Chevalier (September 12, 1888 – January 1, 1972, celebrated French musician, singer and actor.

Born in Paris, Maurice Chevalier began a career in singing and dancing at a young age and never really stopped apart from a time in the army when he was wounded and captured (1916) and held in a prisoner of war camp.

Returned to Paris in 1917 after help from the King of Spain, an admirer of Chevalier’s lover Mistinguett the famous singer and dancer of the Casino de Paris – he resumed his career and became a star. His music was immensely popular and he started to act in films notably with Charlie Chaplin in “A Woman of Paris”.

In 1928 he went to Hollywood and appeared in several well received films achieving a nomination for Best Actor in 1930.

Accused of being a Nazi collaborator during the day days of occupation in Paris in the 1940s – many say that it was a propaganda smear designed to lower morale in France. Whatever the truth he was deeply affected by the attacks and later denied it strongly saying that he never took a political position at all – he had just wanted to sing although he refused to sing for a collaborationist radio station or in Berlin when asked. He did sing for allied prisoners in a camp in exchange for liberating ten people.

After the war his popularity grew, his concerts sold out everywhere, and in Hollywood his star shone after a period of difficulty during the McCarthy years. He acted with Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Jayne Mansfield and many other great names of the day. Films such as Gigi (1958) and Love in the Afternoon (1957). His final contribution to the film industry was in 1970 when at the age of 82 he sang the title song of the Disney film The Aristocrats.

Best known for his melodic renditions, Olivier Jauffrit of radio station Paris Chanson says of Chevalier “You know what they say about French lovers, French kiss and so on? It’s basically thanks to him. Our reputation is mostly down to him…”

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