The Monsieur Louis Jourdan Archive | HOME
Louis Jourdan's experiences in wartime France
The following article was syndicated across newspapers in the United States in May 1960
HOLLYWOOD – Watching Louis Jourdan embrace Shirley MacLaine in “Can-Can” – While Frank Sinatra seethes – the audience may wonder if Jourdan really is a Frenchman, as he portrays.
This tall, smooth leading man who scored so delightfully in “Gigi” hasn’t had an easy life,
though he may look it.
Born Louis Gendre on June 19 in Marseille, France, one of three sons of Henry Gendre, a hotel owner and his wife Yvonne Jourdan. Louis took his mother’s name for the stage.
After attending school in Marseilles and Paris, young Jourdan enrolled in a Parisian dramatic school in 1938. While studying there he was singled out for occasional roles on the professional stage. These attracted the attention of the French motion picture director Marc
Allegret, who signed Jourdan for his first role in “Le Corsaire” staring Charles Boyer, in 1940.
He was an instant hit, appearing in nine more films in three years, in addition to taking an occasional stage part.
When Hitler invaded Poland and France began her long fight against the Nazis, Jourdan, who had been working in three films simultaneously, suddenly found himself working in none. All Film production stopped. He reported for Army service and was told he would be called later as he
was under age.
Then France fell. Jourdan was assigned by the Nazis to a work gang and spent a year of long, grueling hours cutting wood, building roads and digging ditches. Released, he was ordered to report to the movie studios where French film production was restarting. “They didn’t want
pictures,” he recalls, “they wanted propaganda. They permitted no freedom, and, where there is no freedom, there can be no art.”
This was no life for Jourdan. His family was in unoccupied France and he decided to make a break for the South. He was able to reach Cannes, where he was reunited with his family. There, in the unoccupied zone, he found a group which was making pictures and joined them. The group
made ten pictures in two years, and Jourdan appeared in every one of them.
During this time, the Gestapo arrested Jourdan’s father. Months later, his father escaped, and with his wife and children, Louis, Robert and Pierre – joined the French underground. Louis minimizes his own work for the underground. “I was given work to do and I did it,” he says simply. “I worked on illegal leaflets, helping to print and distribute them.” In the Nazi book, this was a crime punishable by death had he been caught.
When the Allies were in France, and the country was near its liberation, Jourdan returned to Paris, Taking back with him a bride – his childhood sweetheart, Berte Frederique, known as Quique
(pronounced Keek). He went back into French films and shortly thereafter received a letter from a David O. Selznik talent scout and was brought to America as soon as travel could be arranged.
He has enjoyed a steady rise toward top stardom since. He is at his best in the Suffolk-Cummings Todd-AO production of “Can-Can,” in which not only Sinatra and MacLaine are co-starred with him, but also another fairly well known French actor, Maurice Chevalier.
(source Lewiston Evening Journal – Mar 5, 1960 )