Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

Charles Boyer: A Birthday Celebration

Happy Birthday, Charles Boyer! I love you beyond all reason and sanity.

This photo, taken during one of his many shifts at the Hollywood Canteen, really seems to capture him: warm, real, and totally un-movie-star-ish. Absent are the silly studio-mandated shoe lifts and toupee, which he never wore off camera—and you can see how hideously disappointed Claudette Colbert is about that. She’s like, “Oh, yeah, Gary Cooper’s here too? Whatever!”

boyer-colbert-cooper-entertaining-the-troops

Charles Boyer was the perfect leading man—insanely attractive, wildly romantic, with deep, limpid eyes and a voice like honey pouring over a hot toddy. Maybe too perfect for his own good, as he often wasn’t appreciated for the brilliant actor he was. Criminally overlooked at Oscar time, he was nominated for four films and went home empty-handed every time.

The year he was up for Gaslight, he lost to Bing Crosby, for God’s sake, in Going My Way. I mean, that was a sweet and touching performance, and I love me some Toora Loora Loora as much as the next Irish girl. But really? It’s like picking one color crayon instead of the box of 128. To cast Charles Boyer, who was pretty much every sane woman’s romantic ideal, as a murderous sociopath was pure genius, as was his performance—which shifted slowly and seamlessly from ardent suitor to seemingly doting husband to cruel, abusive tyrant to desperate, pleading criminal. But even as he sits helplessly tied to a chair, exposed as a murderer, a glint of arrogance still flickers across his face: he really believes he still has a shot at wooing his wife into helping him escape.

It’s just astonishing. I mean, did the Oscar voters even see his performance? Is it too late to send them the DVD?

boyer-bergman-gaslight

And could this monster possibly be the bon vivant who succumbed to a shipboard romance in Love Affair just a couple of years earlier? Again, Boyer was perfect, softening the somewhat brittle Irene Dunne in a way no other actor could, without ever diminishing her. In fact she shines all the more, and they’re just fabulous together. If I could have studied this kind of chemistry in school, I would have majored in science. But there’s nothing gooey about them—they’re smart and witty and grown-up and a bit surprised at how completely besotted they are. They’re painfully aware of the hurdles they face and the risk of great heartache. But they plunge in anyway because really, what choice do they have?

boyer-dunne-loveaffair-1

But I especially love him in a slightly more obscure film, Frank Borzage’s History Is Made At Night. Mystery, melodrama, romantic comedy, this one’s got it all—even a lovely number where Jean Arthur kicks off her evening slippers while dancing with Boyer to I Get Ideas. (I’m right there with you, Jean.) Colin Clive plays a deeply crazed shipping magnate whose creepy scheme to frame his wife drives her straight into Boyer’s arms—and understandably, he’s curious as to why she married such a man. But rather than ask her directly and risk scaring her off, he playfully interrogates her by painting a little face on his hand and calling it Coco, and then cooing his questions at her in a high-pitched puppet voice.

Okay I’ll pause a moment while you read that last bit again. Suffice to say that Charles Boyer is one of about five people on the planet who could pull that off without the woman smiling awkwardly while slowly reaching for her purse and backing up toward the door. Or maybe just saying to hell with the purse and running. Honest to God, the man could do anything.

But Boyer’s best love story was the one he lived offscreen. He fell in love with his wife, Pat Paterson, at first sight. And despite his dashing reputation, he was a happy homebody who was more content curling up with a book than cuddling with a co-star. Their only, much-cherished child, Michael, lost his life when he was just 21, playing Russian roulette after breaking with his girlfriend. Heartbroken and devastated, Boyer somehow forged ahead with filming on How to Steal a Million, with a resolve that left his co-stars in awe. But when he lost Pat after 44 years together, it was one blow too many. He took his own life just two days later.

boyer-pat

Below are a couple of pictures from my own Charles Boyer collection.

Here he is looking terribly kind and dapper as he arrives at an airport sometime in the 1950s. See the woman in the back, staring as if mesmerized? That would have been me, except I wouldn’t be in the frame because I would be unconscious on the floor.

boyer-airport1950s

And here he is (toupee-less as usual) treating Ingrid Bergman to lunch at the Brown Derby, in between bouts of terrorizing her and trying to drive her insane. What a guy!

boyer-bergman-brownderby

Finally, if you want to see the ultimate example of a movie star entirely comfortable with himself, poking fun at his Hollywood image, here’s his classic appearance on I Love Lucy: www.hulu.com/watch/438083 Yes, Mrs. Ricardo, I would’ve stalked him too…

 

11 Comments

  1. I think he’s so fabulous in the film with Hedy Lamarr when he purrs to her,”Come to the Casbah!” 1938’s Algiers. He and Lamarr have a chemistry that won’t quit. Another one that is good is The Garden of Allah, where he starred with Marlene Dietrich,

  2. Laurie

    Perceptive analysis of a lovely man and versatile actor who was definitely underappreciated. As a child, I found the throbbing vein in his forehead distracting, but as I grew up, came to adore him (and his vein!), as did my mother.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read these posts, Laurie — and clearly we have similar tastes! I love your comment about Charles’ vein!! And yes, definitely look for Gail, especially in The Uninvited, When We Were Young and Gay and The Angel and the Badman. You’ll feel protective toward her the minute she appears on the screen, her vulnerability is so evident. If only someone could have helped her or she could have helped herself…

  3. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well wrtten article.
    I will make sure to bookmark it and come back to read more
    of your useful information. Thanks foor the post.
    I’ll certainly return.

    • Thank.you so much for your kind words! Always wonderful to meet another Charles Boyer fan. Please do drop by again and share your thoughts on any of the performers or films I cover!

      Take care,

      Janet

  4. Can you tell us more about this? I’d love to find out some additional information.

  5. Thanks for spreading the Boyer love! Fell in love with him in “Love Affair”…wow, I’ve said love a lot here. 🙂

  6. Tiziana

    What a great post and what a great blog! I’ve read with pleasure your analysis and your personal considerations about this charming, elegant, attractive, wonderful (how many qualities am I writing?) actor. I’ve seen him for the first time in Cluny Brown in a role that I’ve loved, then in Break of Hearts with Katharine Hepburn (personally, I’ve found this film a little bit boring, even if the love story into it could be considered captivating and finally (for now) in Love Affair in which he is really really… Wow! I cannot say anything better. I am still discovering him and maybe the best is yet to come (Gaslight?)…

    • You will LOVE Gaslight!! And thank you so much for your kindness about my blog! You are a sweetheart! And I always love finding a kindred spirit where Charles Boyer is concerned. He’s such an underrated actor. Have fun discovering more of his wonderful work!! ❤

      • Tiziana

        So it is not just here in my country (Italy) that Charles Boyer is not very much considered! In 2007 I discovered and started to follow Robert Mitchum and I thought that him was too much underrated, but over the years I’ve seen that he was not alone. I love classic movies since I was a kid (now I’m 24), but I’ve never never never heard of Charles Boyer till October 2014. I feel a little bit embarassed for that, but I am really excited about all the movies I still have to watch *:*
        Keep going like this with your work! You’re great!

      • Well, almost two years has passed, but here I am again to tell how much I love this actor. I have not wasted time and I have watched all the Boyer’s films I could have found, Gaslight included. One of the most perfect psychological noir I have ever seen. And I have watched a lot of them, because noir is my favorite film genre! But I have appreciated him in romantic comedies and dramas too. And, I thought I would have never said such a thing, but also in costume dramas, a genre that I usually don’t like.
        Actually I am developing a little project about him, a dedicated Italian website. We cannot stop our passions 😀

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