Claudette Colbert, born Émilie "Lily" Chauchoin (September 13, 1903 July 30, 1996), was a French-American actress from The Golden Age of Hollywood known for playing modern women with sophisticated wit.
Claudette began her acting career on Broadway, generally typecast as the French Maid. Wanting to get away from this, she moved to Hollywood in 1928. She signed up with Paramount Pictures, and gradually received roles with the bigwigs of the 1930s Hollywood: The Smiling Lieutenant directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and two Cecil B. DeMille films, The Sign of the Cross and Cleopatra.
Then the movie that changed it all: Frank Capras classic Screwball Comedy It Happened One Night—no one thought it would amount to anything, least of all Claudette. Before the films shooting, she famously asked for a doubling of her salary (making it $50,000) and that the film wrap up before her planned ski vacation. Fortunately, the film succeeded and shot Claudette to movie stardom, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress and achieving success as a top comedienne.
Claudette worked with the best directors of the time (Ernst Lubitsch, Cecil B. DeMille, Frank Capra, and Preston Sturges), was dedicated to her work, and a shrewd woman; during The '30s, she was the best paid star in Hollywood, negotiating her way to the top, and continuing to work hard in The '40s.
Less active in films during The '50s, she returned to Broadway and received a Tony for her work in The Marriage Go-Round (1958), and later, an Emmy for the TV movie The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987).
She died in 1996, a legend of the silver screen.
Select Claudette Colbert Films:
- The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) With Miriam Hopkins and Maurice Chevalier.
- The Sign of the Cross (1932) A Cecil B. DeMille epic, highly controversial for showing Claudette naked in a milk bath.
- Cleopatra (1934) Stylish Art Deco sets and outfits. Oh◊, my◊ goodness◊.
- Imitation of Life (1934) Dramatic film about racism: two women from different social strata (one white and one black) become friends and raise their children together. It follows their rise to wealth and their tribulations.
- It Happened One Night (1934) Screwball Comedy of the highest order, directed by Frank Capra and co-starring Clark Gable
- The Gilded Lily (1935) First of seven films with Fred MacMurray, also co-starring Ray Milland.
- Tovarich (1937) With Charles Boyer and Basil Rathbone.
- Bluebeard's Eighth Wife (1938) Another Lubitsch film, co-starring with Gary Cooper
- Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) With Henry Fonda.
- Midnight (1939) Delightful Screwball Comedy with Don Ameche, John Barrymore, and Mary Astor. Also boasts a screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.
- It's a Wonderful World (1939) Screwball Comedy with Jimmy Stewart.
- Boom Town (1940) — Paired with Clark Gable again
- The Palm Beach Story (1942) Preston Sturges Screwball Comedy with Joel McCrea.
- Since You Went Away (1944) With Joseph Cotten and Shirley Temple.
- Tomorrow Is Forever (1946) — With Orson Welles, George Brent, and 8-year-old Natalie Wood
- Thunder on the Hill (1951) — Film Noir with Ann Blyth.