Claudette Colbert, born Émilie "Lily" Chauchoin (September 13, 1903 – July 30, 1996), was a French-American actor from The Golden Age of Hollywood known for playing modern women with sophisticated wit.
Born in suburban Paris, Colbert moved with her family to New York City at the age of seven and first became interested in acting in high school. After studying at the Art Students League of New York she began her career on Broadway, where she was generally typecast as the French Maid. Wanting to get away from this, she moved to Hollywood in 1928. There she signed up with Paramount Pictures, and gradually received roles with the bigwigs of the 1930s Hollywood, including 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 Capra’s classic Screwball Comedy It Happened One Night—no one thought it would amount to anything, least of all Claudette. Before the film’s 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, Colbert returned to Broadway and received a Tony Award nomination for her work in The Marriage Go-Round (1958). She was also nominated for an Emmy Award, and won a Golden Globe, for her performance in the TV movie The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (1987).
Colbert was married to actor and director Norman Foster from 1928 until they divorced in 1935, and to physician Joel Pressman from 1935 until his death in 1968. She had no children.
She died in 1996 at the age of 92, 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.
- So Proudly We Hail! (1943) – An ensemble war film with various famous women of the 40s including Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard.
- 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.