In the eyes of many film-buffs, actor Maurice Chevalier, with his sophisticated charm, zest for life, and wit, is the consummate movie Frenchman. Chevalier, born in Paris, was the youngest of nine children. His father was a house painter and did not work steadily. To help out, the 11-year-old Chevalier quit school to work as an apprentice engraver and a factory worker. After performing briefly as an acrobat, he was injured and unable to continue his acrobatics so began singing in Paris cafes and halls. It is odd that he should turn to music as Chevalier had a notoriously weak, and average singing voice; to compensate, he added a touch of comedy to his act and soon became the toast of the town. Though only 21, he got his biggest break when he became the revue partner of the infamous musical star Mistinguett in the Folies-Bergere. Soon she became his lover as well. While serving in World War I, Chevalier was captured and spent two years in a POW camp; later he was awarded a Croix de Guerre. After the war he rose to world fame as a star of music halls. His trademarks were his boulevardier outfit of a straw hat and bow tie, his suggestive swagger, and his aura of Epicurean enjoyment. Having appeared in a number of silent films, he moved to Hollywood in 1929 and was popular with American audiences as the light-hearted, sophisticated star of romantic films. He left Hollywood in 1935, but continued making movies elsewhere. In 1938 he was decorated a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. In 1951 he was refused re-entry to the United States because he had signed an anti-nuclear-weapons document, the "Stockholm Appeal." In 1958 he was allowed to return to Hollywood and receive a special Oscar "for his contributions to the world of entertainment for more than half a century."
Biography by Rovi
- Dropped out of school at age 11 to help his family by working as an acrobat. Also sang and danced at Paris music halls.
- Was wounded and spent two years in a POW camp during World War I; he studied English while incarcerated.
- Became a star in music halls and movies in Paris, known for his trademark boater hat and tuxedo.
- Performed at his WWI prison camp in exchange for the release of 10 prisoners during World War II.
- Was accused of collaboration with the Nazis, but was acquitted.
- Signed the Stockholm Appeal, which called for a ban on nuclear weapons. Was thought to have Communist leanings and was not welcome in the U.S. until 1955.
- Toured in one-man shows until his retirement.