Leslie Caron is one of the true Hollywood starlets from the golden era of Hollywood. At just 18 she was plucked out of a ballet company and thrust onto the big screen, beginning a career in show businesses that would last over sixty years (and counting).
She first captivated audiences with her performance as Lise Bouvier in An American in Paris alongside Gene Kelly. She became the American French fantasy. Since then she has been cast in over 40 films, 27 television series, and been awarded with a primetime Emmy, a Golden Globe, and nominated for two academy awards. She has danced alongside Fred Astaire, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikail Baryshnikov. But most importantly, with time and gumption she has proven herself as a true fighter in the industry.
Here are five things every performer can learn from the great, Leslie Caron.
1. Be Versatile
Leslie didn’t put limitations on herself. She started her career as a classical ballet dancer with Ballet des Champs Elysées, and favoured the long tutus, romantic low swept hair, and the elegance she could bring to each role.
Years later, while working on An American in Paris, the choreographer put together a sultry jazz number with a chair that was meant to demonstrate her character’s ‘exciting side’. Caron claims she hardly knew what jazz was before starting the film, but she performed the piece with such conviction that the censorship team at MGM considered the number to be too erotic. She was asked to tone down the sex appeal before the film was allowed to appear on screen.
Though it might have been safer to rest on her laurels as a classical ballerina, Caron challenged herself to take on roles outside her comfort zone. Through the course of her career she performed in both comedies and dramas, became a jazz and a modern dancer, and even started singing. She gave herself room to evolve and ultimately became a triple threat.
2. Have a Creative Vision
Caron was only 18 when she signed her first contract with MGM in 1951. It was a time where most women in the industry were expected to not have an opinion. When beginning the production of An American in Paris the creative team wanted to thin out her eyebrows for a more refined look, but Caron refused. She was afraid of looking like every other girl in Hollywood at the time.
She was passionate about presenting her own authentic look for the role, so much so that on her first day of shooting she arrived on set with a new haircut. She chopped off her long locks into a short bouffant style. She took a risk for the sake of her own creative vision, and it ultimately payed off. Although the production team wasn’t thrilled with her decision and delayed shooting her scenes for a few weeks, Caron still got to sport her new do in the film.
3. Listen to Your Own Voice
Leslie was pushed by her mother (a former dancer) to be a great ballerina and a film star. Though it wasn’t what she ever envisioned, she strived for stardom to win the praises of her mother. But, after making it big in Hollywood, Caron’s mother was only reminded of her own failures and resented Leslie for her success.
Her second husband, Peter Hall, also grew to resent Leslie for her work after they started a family. Peter expected Leslie to stop performing and stay home to raise their children, but Leslie loved performing too much to consider ever giving it up. Though she wanted to make it work, the couple ended up divorcing nine years later.
In the end Caron lost two important relationships to her love of performing, but she eventually found happiness by chasing her dreams for no one but herself.
4. Carve Your Own Path
After the production of Lili was predicted to be a flop, Arthur Freed (a Hollywood producer) approached Caron about doing another film together to ‘save her career’. When asked if she had any ideas Caron suggested “Gigi”. It was a show Audrey Hepburn had performed on Broadway about a young courtesan in training. Gigi would later be considered one of Caron’s best roles, and MGM’s last great hit musical.
Though she enjoyed performing and was thankful for her success with MGM, Caron eventually grew unhappy with life in the United States, and missed the freedom that her life in Europe granted her. She decided to take action, and somehow managed to negotiate out of her contract with MGM early. She ended up moving to London, and became a freelance actress.
Leslie knew how to make her own opportunities, and took advantage of the ones that knocked on her door. She wasn’t afraid to take risks in her career and listened carefully to her instincts, which ultimately furthered her success.
5. Stay Humble
Through it all, Leslie still credits her success to ‘good use of good luck’. Though it might have been fate that brought Gene Kelly to her Roland Petit company performance, it was her talent and stage presence that caught his attention. Leslie didn’t take her success for granted and kept fighting to prove herself for every opportunity that came her way.
At the Age of 86 Leslie Caron has not announced a plan for retirement. Her love of performing continues to shine through in every role, both on stage and screen. If you liked this post give it a like and comment below!