Leslie Caron’s advice for living well at 90


At the 1952 Oscars, Leslie Caron walked the red carpet in a strapless pink dress covered in white chiffon with embroidery on the bodice. Photographers gathered around her and fans cheered from the stands. His film, the MGM musical An American in Paris, had been nominated for eight Oscars, and Caron seemed every inch the star… even though she was only 20, it was her first film, and MGM had designed her dress.

“I had no experience of how to talk, how to look glamorous, how to be a movie star! Caron said during a recent phone call from his home in London. “I was like a little girl who didn’t know what to say.”

Today she knows better. Caron celebrates his 90th birthday on July 1st and fall will also mark the 70th birthday of An American in Paris, which remains one of the most acclaimed musicals of all time. “I think it had very little to do with me,” she insists.

Caron will privilege the music of George and Ira Gershwin, the staging of Vincente Minnelli and the dance of Gene Kelly, who discovers it in the Parisian company of Roland Petit. Kelly encouraged MGM to play Caron as Lise Bouvier, the French lover of her character, the American painter Jerry Mulligan, although he knew that Caron had never studied his style of jazz dance, had no acting experience and spoke only a little English. Once in Hollywood, Kelly coached Caron on his online readings and also taught him how to act on screen. “He was like, ‘Honey, turn your face to the camera, or your grandma won’t know it’s you!’ She remembers.

In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, the characters of Kelly and Caron fall in love on the banks of the Seine, dancing to Gershwin’s standard “Love Is Here to Stay”. It’s one of the most romantic moments in the movie, and anyone watching is wondering what Caron had in mind as he floated into Kelly’s arms. “I was just thinking, I want to keep my balance! She insists with a silvery laugh.

It turned out to be more difficult during one of the film’s first premieres, Caron recalls. “When we went out [of the theater], Gene asked, “Well, what do you think of the movie, of yourself? And I said, ‘Oh, Gene, I got the flu … I have a fever. I’ve got a sore throat. I feel bad !’ And he said, “Honey, you’re not sick, you just saw yourself for the first time in a movie!”

Caron didn’t just see himself; she also saw Paris and the life she had left behind. His town was still in tatters from WWII, and its inhabitants, including Caron, still lived in the inevitable shades of gray. It took a while to adjust to Hollywood Technicolor, in every sense of the word. “You’re coming out of a war with the enemy strutting around with guns… and you can’t help but be wary of everyone,” Caron says. “You are locked up. I came to America “locked in”, trusting no one, trusting nothing.

Caron’s word choice seems timely as COVID lockdowns continue around the world. “Turn to others and think: what can I do for someone else? She advises. “That’s what saves you. ”

After all, that’s what saved Caron herself. For nearly seven decades in show business, she has been nurtured by many of the 20th century’s greatest talents, and Caron is no longer the young woman in the pink evening dress. An American in Paris won six of its eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Another success from Caron, Gigi, won nine Oscars, a record for the time, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Caron herself. She finally received her Golden Globe for The L-shaped chamber in 1964, as well as a BAFTA and Oscar nomination for that role.

Her advice as she enters her 10th decade? “Eat well. Exercise. Don’t drink or smoke, I mean, in moderation,” she said. “You have to take care of the machine. I keep telling people, it’s not yours. , it was loaned to you … You have to keep it in good condition, like a car you rented. Do not consider it yours to play with. Do not play with what is loaned to you.

Even at the age of 90, Caron is committed to continuing his life and his work: “I hope that I will have the strength and the health to continue, because I have decided to celebrate my 100th birthday!

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