Charles Boyer (1900-1974)

Charles Boyer
Charles Boyer

Charles Boyer Charles Boyer was a French actor who became famous as a romantic Hollywood lead in the 1930's and 1940's and who, in a long career between 1920 and 1976 appeared in more than 80 films. He was nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Actor for 'Conquest' in 1937, 'Algiers' he following year, 'Gaslight' in 1944 and 'Fanny' in 1961.

His marriage was long and happy, by Hollywood standards. It lasted 44 years, and two days after his wife died, Charles Boyer committed suicide by drug overdose.


He was born on 28 August 1899 in Figeac, Lot, in central France. His father was a merchant, selling coal and farming implements, and the family were comfortably off. After his father died suddenly from a stroke when Charles was 10 years old, his mother sold the family business. Charles had developed a passion for theater and cinema and he regularly accompanied his mother to Paris to see plays. He also became a regular at the small local cinema ar Figeac.

In deference to his mother's hopes that he should follow a career in medicine or law, Charles began studying at the College Champollion, but concentrated more on studying the history of theatre and performing in College plays, at the expense of his academic work.

At the outbreak of the First World War he became volunteer orderly at a local hospital and his first public performances were comic sketches for wounded soldiers in the hospital. Near the end of the war he played a walk on part when a film company did some location shooting nearby. With the help of one of the company's actors Charles managed to convince his doubting mother to allow him to study acting. He enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1918 and soon became part of the city's thriving theatrical community.

Professional Stage Actor

In 1920 friends recommended him as a replacement for the leading man in the play 'Les Jardins de Murcie', due in no small part to his remarkable ability to memorize scripts almost on one reading. It was the break he needed, He was a sensation in the play and was accepted into the highly influential Paris Conservatoire, on an acting programme for talented students.

He began to be offered many different roles in productions around the city and he made a name for himself as a talented, hard-working performer. As his fame increased in France during the 1920's, he began to specialise in romantic leading man roles and to receive movie offers. He was adept at German, Italian and Spanish but spoke no English and so appeared initially in foreign-language versions of feature films for the European market, such as 'Captain Fracasse' in 1929 and 'La barcarolle d'amour' in 1930.

Hollywood Actor

He joined MGM in 1929 and proceeded to journey between Europe and Hollywood, continuing his stage career whilst learning English and appearing in MGM's French language movies such as 'Révolte dans la prison' and 'Le procès de Mary Dugan' in 1931 and 'Moi et l'impératrice' and 'L'épervier' in 1933.

He quickly learned .to speak English well, although always with an attractive accent which helped him to cultivate the image of the seductive French lover in his early Hollywood movies with top leading ladies. He appeared in 'Red-Headed Woman' in 1932 opposite Jean Harlow, and 'Caravan' in 1934 with Loretta Young. In 1935 he was requested by fellow French national, Claudette Colbert to co-star with her in the movie 'Private Worlds'. The film was undistinguished but Boyer's reputation as the continental lover was firmly established. From that time on he was a Hollywood sex symbol and major movie star.

Hollywood Star

Boyer continued to make French films such as the highly successful 'Mayerling' in 1936 but his focus from the mid 1930's was Hollywood and he appeared with many of the top female stars of the day such as Katharine Hepburn in 'Break of Hearts' in 1935, Marlene Dietrich in 'The Garden of Allah' the following year, Greta Garbo in 'Conquest' in 1937, which earned him his first Oscar nomination, and Irene Dunne in 'Love Affair' in 1939.

His second Oscar nomination for Best Actor came for his performance opposite Hedy Lamarr in 'Algiers' in 1938. The famous line "Come with me to the Casbah," came from the movie's trailer although he never said it during the film.

World War II

In 1939, the 40-year-old Boyer joined the French Army although his time was cut short, supposedly due to studio influence. He remained involved with the Free French Resistance throughout the war.

The 1940's began well for Boyer and he continued his romantic screen conquests with Bette Davis in 'All This, And Heaven Too' in 1940, and 'Hold Back the Dawn' the following year with Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard. In 1944 he appeared in one of his best known films, 'Gaslight' with Ingrid Bergman, for which he received his third Academy Award nomination.

He appeared with Ingrid Bergman again in 1948 in 'Arch of Triumph' but the movie was a disappointing failure and Boyer, sensitive to the vagaries of Hollywood producers, began looking for character roles as a supporting rather than as a leading man. He also made a return to his first love, the stage, with performances in London and New York.

During the 1950's as Boyer's Hollywood movie output decreased he returned to French cinema for leading roles in 'The Earrings of Madame de..' in 1953 and 'Nana' in 1955 and he appeared in a pleasing cameo role in 'Around the World in Eighty Days' in 1955, but his main focus at this time was the new medium of television.

Television Career

Boyer saw the possibilities of the developing medium of television and in 1952 he went into partnership with actors Dick Powell and David Niven to form "Four Star Productions" (Joel McCrea, the fourth partner, backed out). For five years each partner took his turn at starring in a half-hour show and the company was a great financial and artistic success. Boyer continued to appear regularly on television in programmes such as 'I Love Lucy', 'Alcoa Theatre', and 'The Dick Powell Theatre' and from 1964-5 appeared regularly with David Niven and Gig Young in 'The Rogues' series.

Later Career

Boyer continued his movie career during the 1960's in such films as 'Fanny' in 1961 with Leslie Caron, for which he received his fourth and final Best Actor Oscar nomination, 'How to Steal a Million' in 1966 with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole, and 'Barefoot in the Park' in 1967. His final movie appearance was in 'A Matter of Time' in 1976, co-starring with Ingrid Bergman and Liza Minnelli.

Boyer never forgot his roots in live theater and for two years from 1958 he co-starred on Broadway with Claudette Colbert in the comedy 'The Marriage-Go-Round' and in 1963 he was nominated for the Best Actor Tony Award for his performance in the Broadway production of 'Lord Pengo'.


Boyer became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1942. He did not live a wild Hollywood lifestyle. He married once, to a young actress called Pat Paterson whom he met in 1934. They became engaged two weeks after meeting and married three months later. Their only child, Michael, committed suicide aged 21 in 1963. The Boyer marriage lasted 44 years until Pat died from cancer in August, 1978.

Two days after his wife's death, Charles Boyer took an overdose of the barbiturate, Seconal, whilst staying at a friend's house in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was taken to hospital in Phoenix but died there on the same day, 26 August, 1978. He was buried alongside his wife and son at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California.

Charles Boyer Academy Awards

No Wins:
Four Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actor ... Conquest (1937)
Best Supporting Actor ... Algiers (1938)
Best Supporting Actor ... Gaslight (1944)
Best Supporting Actor ... Fanny (1961)

Charles Boyer Filmography

L'homme du large

Le grillon du foyer
Esclave (Short)
Infernal Circle
Captain Fracasse
La barcarolle d'amour
Révolte dans la prison
The Magnificent Lie
Le procès de Mary Dugan
The Man from Yesterday
Red-Headed Woman
La bataille
F.P.1 Doesn't Answer
Moi et l'impératrice
Thunder in the East
The Only Girl
Le bonheur
Private Worlds
Break of Hearts
The Garden of Allah
I Loved a Soldier
History Is Made at Night
Marie Walewska
Love Affair
When Tomorrow Comes
Le corsaire
All This, and Heaven Too
Back Street
Hold Back the Dawn
Appointment for Love
Tales of Manhattan
Flesh and Fantasy
Immortal France
The Constant Nymph
Together Again
Congo (Short)
Confidential Agent
The Battle of the Rails (voice, uncredited)
Cluny Brown
A Woman's Vengeance
Arch of Triumph