June Duprez

Active - 1936 - 1947  |   Born - May 14, 1918   |   Died - Oct 30, 1984   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Adventure, Mystery, Action

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Biography by Bruce Eder

June Duprez (pronounced "Du-Pray") seemed to live a charmed life for her first 22 years. Born in London in 1918 (some sources said 1921), she was the daughter of Fred Duprez, an American comedian who made his career in England's music halls. She was a natural musician, with a proficiency at the piano that seemed to make her destined for a career in the concert hall. But at 17, she decided to aim for a theatrical career instead; she joined the Coventry Repertory Company and spent eight months on the stage. In 1938, she reportedly paid for her own screen test and arranged for producer Alexander Korda, the founder and head of London Films, to see it. As a result, she was cast in two movies: a small but important role in Michael Powell's The Spy in Black (1939) and as Ethne, the romantic lead, in The Four Feathers (1939). The latter -- shot in Technicolor -- was among the largest-scale adventure films of the 1930s. Those roles led to Duprez's being cast as the Princess in Korda's grandest production of the decade, The Thief of Bagdad (1940), which proved a defining role for the actress. Her haunting beauty and understated elegance, coupled with the exotic setting of the Arabian Nights fantasy epic, made her one of the more memorable elements in a movie that was brimming over with visual splendors.

As a result of the outbreak of the Second World War and Korda's financial situation, the production was moved from London to Hollywood in the spring of 1940, and when shooting was finished in September of that year, Duprez remained in Hollywood. Although she was under contract to Korda, the producer was unable to sustain a full-time independent production company in the United States, and Duprez soon found herself stranded in the film capital. Duprez was unable to get work in films initially because of her contract with Korda, and his demands (echoed by her own agent) for a very high price for her work (reportedly 50,000 dollars a picture). Once he released her, it was no less difficult for her -- The Thief of Bagdad had made such an impact that she found herself typecast in exotic Oriental roles. She couldn't find anything more than bit parts and roles in decidedly lower-ranking productions such as the serial Don Winslow of the Coast Guard. Additionally, she had lost her father just before shooting on The Thief of Bagdad had started, and all of the family's money was frozen in England, a situation that only became worse when her mother passed away soon after a voyage to Australia. (According to some contemporary accounts, her family situation was further complicated by the plight of her brother Charles, a pilot who, after being turned down by the Royal Air Force because of a vision problem, joined the Finnish Air Force. That led to his flying missions against the Soviets, but when the Germans became allied with Finland, Charles Duprez was arrested as an enemy alien and imprisoned; he managed to escape and make his way to Iceland before returning to England.)

Stranded and impoverished -- and divorced, having parted with her first husband -- June Duprez would periodically hock pieces of jewelry to sustain herself, and was working at a sales job to earn enough to eat, when she crossed paths with the wife of actor Nigel Bruce. The Bruces took matters into their hands by giving the actress the couple's daughter's room to live in. She became a part of the family's extended circle, and through them she chanced to meet Cary Grant, who was a guest for dinner one night in their home. He was in the process of putting together a movie that he hoped would redefine his image on a more serious level, None But the Lonely Heart, based on a novel by Richard Llewellyn (How Green Was My Valley), and arranged for her to take a screen test. That led not only to her being cast as the female lead, but to a contract with RKO.

Duprez followed that up with the starring role in And Then There Were None (1945), but she was never really comfortable with Hollywood or its demands, or its tendency to type actors, and in 1946 she joined the American Repertory Theater. She spent a major part of her career working on-stage, including a stint with Margaret Webster's drama company, and appeared in three Broadway productions, Henry VIII, What Every Woman Knows, and Androcles and the Lion. She married a second time in the late '40s and had two daughters. In later life, she lived in Rome and later in London.

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