Charles Boyer (1899-1978)

Charles Boyer
Charles Boyer

Charles Boyer was was a French-born actor who became a naturalised American citizen in 1942. He appeared in more than 80 films between 1920 and 1976 and received four Oscar nominations for Best Actor, although all were unsuccessful. He and Maurice Chevalier were the only two French actors to achieve great success in Hollywood during the thirties. To this day Boyer is associated with the catchphrase "Come with me to the casbah", though he never actually said it on screen.

Boyer had a deep, theatre-trained voice and bedroom eyes, and women everywhere fell for his Gallic charm in romantic dramas such as 'The Garden of Allah' in 1936, 'Algiers' in 1938, and 'Love Affair' in 1939. Such was his longevity in this type of role that he became known as "the last of the cinema's great lovers." In reality, offscreen he was a self-confessed "bookworm". He was a happily married man who, at the age of 78, committed suicide two days after his wife's death from cancer.


Charles Boyer was born on 28 August 1899 in Figeac, Lot, France. His father was a merchant and the family were comfortably off. They had no show business connection but Boyer, a shy youth, discovered a love for theatre and the movies when he was still at school. He originally had no ambition to make acting a career and he studied philosophy at the Sorbonne before making his debut on stage in 1920 in 'Aux jardins de Murcie'. The play was a success and he then appeared in a play 'La Bataille', becoming a star in France almost overnight..

He continued stage acting in France, learning his craft, usually playing the part of a suave and sophisticated ladies' man on the stage, and also appearing in several silent films.such as 'Chantelouve' in 1921, 'Le Grillon du Foyer' the following year and 'Esclave' in 1923. For several years he continued to focus his attention on the theatre, returning to the screen in the late 1920s with 'Infernal Circle' in 1928, 'Captain Fracasse' the following year and 'La barcarolle d'amour' in 1930.

Hollywood Actor

By the late 1920s talking pictures were revolutionizing Hollywood movie making, and studios were keenly searching for new faces, and theater-trained voices. Boyer had a deep, rich, voice ideal for the movies, and with his smooth continental manner, he soon became famous for his whispered declarations of love to the beautiful and famous actresses of the day such as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Ingrid Bergman.

MGM brought him to Hollywood for 'Révolte dans la prison;', released in 1931.and In the same year he had his first English speaking role in 'The Magnificent Lie' for Paramount. Also in 1931 he appeared in the French version of 'The Trial of Mary Dugan' and 'Tumultes'.

He spent the early 1930s honing his movie skills and appearing with major stars such as Claudette Colbert in 'The Man from Yesterday' in 1932 and Loretta Young in 'Caravan' in 1934.

International Star

After several more high quality movie performances including some English language movies: 'Thunder in the East' and 'The Only Girl' in 1934, Boyer became a genuine international star when he signed a five year contract with the established Hollywood producer Walter Wanger. The next decade brought a succession of memorable roles and films.

In 1935 he co-starred with Claudette Colbert in the psychiatric drama 'Private Worlds' and then in the same year appeared with Katharine Hepburn in 'Break of Hearts' and Loretta Young in 'Shanghai'.In 1936 he continued to work with the best when he starred as Rudolf, Crown Prince of Austria. in 'Mayerling' directed by Anatole Litvak and in the same year he was twice teamed with Marlene Dietrich first in 'The Garden of Allah' and then 'I Loved a Soldier' .

For the remainder of the 1930s, Boyer co-starred with the cream of Hollywood's leading ladies in successful movies. In 1937 he co-starred with Jean Arthur in 'History Is Made at Night'', with Greta Garbo in .Conquest. and with Claudette Colbert in 'Tovarich' again directed by Litvak. His most famous role came the following year when he played Pepe le Moko, the thief on the run in 'Algiers' produced by Wanger. Although in the movie Boyer never said to co-star Hedy Lamarr "Come with me to the Casbah," this line was in the movie trailer and it would stick with him for the rest of his life. Boyer was very much in demand at this time and in 1939 he appeared with Irene Dunne in 'Love Affair' and 'When Tomorrow Comes'.


He returned to France in 1939 and when France declared war on Germany in September of that year, he joined the French army. His service only lasted two months as the French government decided he would be of greater service making movies. He duly returned to Hollywood and played in three romantic movies: 'All This, and Heaven Too' in 1940 with Bette Davis, and 'Back Street' and 'Hold Back the Dawn', both in 1941.


In 1942, after filming 'The Constant Nymph' with Joan Fontaine, Boyer signed a nine movie three year contract with Universal, which allowed him to produce as well as act.

Arguably his greatest acting success came in 1942 with 'Gaslight' where he abandoned his typical romantic persona to play a cold-blooded husband slowly manipulating his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, into insanity.

Four Star Productions

In 1952 Boyer joined partners David Niven, Dick Powell, and Joel McCrea (later replaced by Ida Lupino) to form Four Star Productions to make programs for television. The venture proved highly successful and the principals served as producers and stars for their TV anthology series, Four Star Playhouse. The venture made Boyer and his partners a great deal of money.

Later Career

During this time Boyer's movie acting career changed as he aged and began to play more character roles. He continued to be extremely busy and appeared in 'The 13th Letter ' in 1951,,'The First Legion' and 'The Happy Time', both in 1952 and 'Thunder in the East' released in 1953.

Television Career

In addition to his performances for Four Star Theater' Boyer appeared often on television in a variety of programs such as 'I Love Lucy' in 1956 and 'What's My Line' in 1957. He appeared several times in 'Goodyear Theatre' and 'Alcoa Theatre'. He also joined David Niven again in the series 'The Rogues' from 1964-5.


Boyer did not neglect his first love, the theater and made several successful appearances on Broadway, firstly in 1948 in 'Red Gloves' which ran for over 100 performances, and in 1952, he won Broadway's 1951 Special Tony Award for 'Don Juan in Hell'. He returned to Broadway in 1953 for 'Kind Sir' directed by Joshua Logan, which ran for 166 performances. Boyer co-starred again with Claudette Colbert on Broadway in 'The Marriage-Go-Round' from 1958–1960. It was a major hit and ran for 431 performances. In 1963 he was nominated for the Tony Award as Best Actor in 'Lord Pengo', which ran for 175 performances.

During his later career Boyer managed to fit in numerous successful movie appearances, usually in support roles as in 'How to Steal a Million' with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole; 'Barefoot in the Park' the following year with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda and 'Casino Royale' also in 1967.

Boyer's final credits included the French film 'Stavisky' in 1974, which won him the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor and he also received the Special Tribute at Cannes Film Festival in that year. 1976 saw Boyer's final movie performance in 'A Matter of Time with Liza Minnelli and Ingrid Bergman, directed by Vincente Minnelli.


Boyer became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1942.

Boyer was most certainly not a Hollywood party animal. In contrast to his glamorous image, He began losing his hair and developed a paunch early, and he was short in stature. When Bette Davis first saw him on the set of 'All This, and Heaven Too', she did not recognize him and tried to have him removed.

He married British actress Pat Paterson in 1934. The two became engaged after two weeks of courtship and were married three months later.. The marriage lasted 44 years until her death. from cancer in 1978. Together, they went through the tragedy of losing their only son Michael to suicide in 1965, when he was just 21.

Charles Boyer died on 26 August 1978. He committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills while at a friend's home in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 78 years old. His death came two days after the death of his wife. He was interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California, alongside his wife and son.

Charles Boyer Academy Awards

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

Charles Boyer Filmography

L'Homme du large
Le Grillon du foyer
Infernal Circle
Infernal Circle
Captain Fracasse
La Barcarolle d'amour
Revolt in the Prison
The Magnificent Lie
Le Procès de Mary Dugan
The Man from Yesterday
Red-Headed Woman
The Only Girl
Ich und die Kaiserin
Moi et l’impératrice
I.F.1 ne répond plus
La Bataille
Le Bonheur
The Battle
Private Worlds
Break of Hearts
I Loved a Soldier
The Garden of Allah
The Convention (uncredited)
History is Made At Night
Le Corsaire,
Love Affair
When Tomorrow Comes
All This, and Heaven Too
Appointment for Love
Back Street
Hold Back the Dawn
The Constant Nymph
Untel père et fils
Les Îles de la liberté, (voice)
Flesh and Fantasy
Together Again
Confidential Agent
Cluny Brown
La Bataille du rail
Arch of Triumph
A Woman’s Vengeance