Friday, January 6

Capucine

 My favorite actress of all-time she is. 

Capucine.  One name... very sleek, very chic... just like she was.  Have you heard of her?  She has pretty much faded from the public consciousness, I'm sorry to say, and she didn't even grace the silver screen for that long.  She was a product of the 60s and all of her notable work was done during that decade.
Her most famous work is likely the original version of The Pink Panther where she played Simone, the conniving wife of Peter Sellers' bumbling Inspector Clouseau.
And today is her birthday.  Happy birthday Cappy.

Before her there were others who stole my heart.  Some may eschew my choices because there's not a Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck or Meryl Streep among them.  Au contraire says I.  A superb acting talent does not alone a favorite actress make.  I am most impressed by multi-talented actresses (and actors) and would sing their praises any time but a favorite is someone who appeals to me through my senses and I am not always able to explain the appeal, although surely it owes a certain something to passion.

My first childhood favorite was Doris Day.  I saw her sunny movies and heard her music around the house.  Mom liked her, too, and I listened to Mom in those days.  Mom had nothing to do with my switch to Joan Leslie.  She was actually a Doris Day type, only red-haired but wholesome, energetic, and she could do drama, comedy, sing and dance.  Briefly there was Grace Kelly and I was absolutely besotted… glamorous, more inaccessible than the first two and perhaps that was part of the allure.

I fell from Grace in 1956 when she left Hollywood for Monaco and from then until 1960 I was barren.  Maybe that’s why I engaged in some of those pesky teenage things.

In 1960 I ambled into a darkened movie theater and saw Song Without End.  I barely knew who Franz Lizst was or Dirk Bogarde who played him and I wasn't sure I liked all that highbrow music.  When Capucine came on the screen, she took my breath away.  I’d never seen anyone like her.  Bogarde became sick in love with her princess and I knew exactly how he felt. 














I was mad about her looks, marveled at her carriage, her countenance, her deportment.  And the voice... that French accent, almost a drawl, set my senses on fire.  Her long neck brought to mind a swan.  She seemed unattainable, a little haughty perhaps, somewhat languorous.  Whatever magic she held for me, she was a celluloid goddess and I was over the moon.

I did as I always did... I read up on her in whatever way I could in those days before the internet.  I learned the rudimentary stuff... born 1928 in Saint-Raphael, Var, France, and for some time she shaved some years off that.  As a high fashion model she understandably changed her name from Germaine Lefebvre to the more alluring Capucine.  She worked for several famous designers but Givenchy was special to her and they became lifelong friends.  I found out later, almost as a secret being revealed, that she had been briefly married once in her youth.

Prior to making Song Without End, she had attracted the attention of the womanizing agent and then powerful producer, Charles K. Feldman.  She became his galpal and he got her American career going.  She next had two roles as prostitutes.  The first was a comedy Feldman put her in with his pal John Wayne, North to Alaska.  Then Feldman put her into my favorite Capucine film of them all, Walk on the Wild Side, as Hallie Gerard, the prostitute caught in a triangle involving a drifter who has loved her for years and the jealous madam of the bordello where she unhappily works.

Making the film apparently was not a happy experience for anyone and the ill-will between her and top-billed Laurence Harvey is well-documented.  But hey, she was the boss Feldman’s girlfriend.  Oh well.  The film sadly was not well-received except for the famous opening titles where a black cat and a white cat have a pretty fierce go of it.  I loved this film and know it scene-by-scene, nearly line by line.

Since I have already gone on record as loving animal movies, needless to say I found her next film, The Lion, filmed in Africa and about a young girl's obsession with an adult male lion, to be one of my favorites as well.  She probably felt the same because she traded in Feldman for one of his friends and the star of the film, William Holden.  Two years later after they made the Malaysian war film The 7th Dawn, she and the long-suffering, married Holden ended their relationship.  In between the Holden movies she was sensational in the caper film The Pink Panther, an apt foil for the manic Sellers and well-matched with suave David Niven while fending off Robert Wagner.


                                             
She's always been the cat lady to me and she moved through films with the grace of one.  First Walk on the Wild Side, which featured cats, then a Lion and a Panther and next What's New Pussycat? again with Sellers.  Perhaps from the ruckus on Walk on the Wild Side she got a reputation of some sorts, which may have meant some didn't want to work with her.  All sorts of wild rumors swirled about her. Warren Beatty chose not to involve himself in Pussycat and apparently said he didn't want to work with her.  Peter O'Toole took the part.

She played a princess for the second time in The Honey Pot, a not very successful movie that had a dynamic cast in Rex Harrison, Susan Hayward, Cliff Robertson and Maggie Smith.  In Fraulein Doktor she had more or less a cameo role as a lesbian-murderess. At the end of the 1960’s and basically the end of her career she made a film I absolutely detest, Fellini's Satyricon.  I felt unfaithful but in the end I didn't care whether she was in it or not.

She did some television, some European films and some horrible sequels to the Pink Panther franchise.  One day I picked up a book written by Boz Hadleigh called Hollywood Lesbians.  I was quite surprised to read her name among those interviewed for the piece.  Oh who cares?  She was still my girl.

She moved to Switzerland near her longtime pal, Audrey Hepburn, another Givenchy friend, and another lover of Holden’s.  When he died in 1981, he left money to Cappy in his will.

On March 17, 1990, I was living less than six months in the Midwest, driving along the main drag already thinking about death because it was the anniversary of my father's passing, I heard on the radio that she had died.  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe they didn't say that.  But I was sure I heard the word "Capucine" and I knew it was unnecessary to say "Capucine Who?"  She was 62.  She jumped off the eighth floor of her apartment building in Lausanne, Switzerland.  They said she was very depressed.  I was, too.

You touched my heart.  I will always be your biggest fan.  Happy birthday, sweet Cappy. 













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4 comments:

  1. Great entry, thanks for sharing. I live in Lausanne, I will try to pass in the next day by the Chemin de Primerose, 6, that's where she was living until she committed suicide. Charming actress, sad life.

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  2. Merci. She was my favorite as well.

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  3. So glad to hear, Cynthia. Now there's two of us. LOL. Thanks so much for writing.

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  4. You still touch my heart. Happy, happy birthday.

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