French actress Danielle Darrieux studied the cello at the Paris Conservatory, but the direction her life took was more towards acting than music. Danielle made an impressive film debut as a headstrong teenager in La Bal (1931), but didn't crack the consciousness of international filmmakers until her heartrending portrayal of the doomed Baroness Marie Vetsera in Mayerling (1937). The success of this film led to Danielle's American contract with Universal pictures; studio executive Joe Pasternak cannily concocted what film critic Leonard Maltin has labelled a "winsome" image for the actress in her first US film, The Rage of Paris (1938). Electing to return to France after her American debut, Danielle found herself working under the scrutiny of the new Nazi regime. She made the best of things, continuing to star in films and entertaining the occupation troops as a singer. Unfortunately, this latter activity caused Ms. Darrieux to be labelled a collaborator by the French underground, which at one point targetted the actress for execution. After the war, there were some awkward moments for Danielle, but the death sentence was allowed to lapse. She returned briefly to the US in the early '50s, appearing as a French chanteuse in Rich, Young and Pretty (1950) and as James Mason's duplicitous lady friend in Five Fingers (1952). Most fans feel that Danielle did her best work in the latter part of her career, notably in director Max Ophuls' Madame De... (1953) and Jacques Demy's Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). The actress sang in concerts and cabarets in the '60s, and in 1970 replaced Katharine Hepburn the Broadway musical Coco. In the '80s, Danielle Darrieux scored a significant success in a Paris staging of the film musical Gigi, playing the role originated in the 1985 film by Hermione Gingold.
by Hal Erickson biography