Born in Paris, France on September 12, 1888, Maurice Chevalier and his older brother started their careers as circus acrobats. At age eleven, Maurice landed his first singing job at 12 francs a week and, while still in his teens, he picked up his most famous trademark: a straw hat.
At the age of 17, Maurice was "discovered" by night club singer Mistinguett and they became a popular act at the Folies-Bergere. They also fell in love. Click here to see the silent short film, La Valse à la Mode, made when Chevalier was nineteen years old (1908).
In 1914, Maurice joined the French Army, was wounded and captured. During his two years in a German prisoner of war camp, he learned English from an British prisoner of war.
Following the war, Chevalier began appearing in French musical films in addition to working on stage.
In 1928, Maurice and his wife, Yvonne, moved to Hollywood, where soon he was recognized (in the words of film critic Leonard Maltin) as "the epitome of French charm and sophistication." In 1929, his first Hollywood musical Innocents of Paris was released. This was only two years after Al Jolson made the first all-talking motion picture. Maurice was later nominated for Academy Awards for The Love Parade (1929/1930) and The Big Pond (1929/1930) and made a dozen musical comedies over the next seven years, Chevalier and his songs, such as "Mimi", "Louise", and "Valentine", became internationally popular. He returned to Paris in 1935. Click here for the song, Valentine from Folies-Bergère, which was his last US film before returning to live in France.
During World War II, Maurice lived with his second wife, Nita, in the occupied part of France. He refused to perform for the Nazi, but agreed, in exchange for the release of ten French prisoners, to entertain the French prisoners at the camp where he was held in the First World War. The Allied news media confused the story and he was accused of collaboration. It was only through the efforts of French general Charles de Gaulle and fellow entertainer, Marlene Dietrich, that Maurice was entirely cleared of the accusations and charges.
After the war, Maurice toured the world with a one-man show. In the late 1950s, his appearance in the movie Love in the Afternoon with Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper started a second film career. This popular film was followed by Can-Can, Pepe, Count Your Blessings, A Breath of Scandal, Jessica, A New Kind of Love, In Search of the Castaways, Fanny, and, most importantly, Gigi. In 1959 he received a special Academy Award for his contributions to the world of entertainment. In the 1950's and 1960's, he made a number of memorable appearances on television in such programs as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour Click here for the 1958 episode, Lucy Goes to Mexico. and The Jack Benny Program.
While honored throughout the world as a great international entertainer, Maurice was especially popular with French and English-speaking peoples, becoming an unofficial ambassador of goodwill in the relations between France and the United States.
Throughout his seventies, he continued his popular one-man show around the world. Maurice retired from the stage in 1968, a show business legend. His last work was the title song in the Disney movie, The Aristocats in 1970. Click here for his introduction to The Aritocats.
Maurice Chevalier died on New Year's Day, 1972.