LIZ SMITH: Vive La France!
Madeleine LeBeau Finally Leaves Rick’s Cafe — The Last “Casablanca” Icon Dies. Also: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Ryan Murphy — High Camp or Low Grotesque?
Madeleine LeBeau singing “La Marseillaise” in Casablanca.
“VIVE LA France!” Vive La France!”
The gorgeous young actress who shouted out her support for France (despite dallying with a Nazi officer) in the film “Casablanca” has died at the age of 92, in Spain.
Madeleine LeBeau was the last surviving credited performer from the 1942 classic. Her role as Yvonne was not large — not more than two brief scenes. But like everyone else cast in the movie, from the four leads — Bogart, Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains — down to extras with one line or Corinna Mura, who played the guitar at Rick’s café, the luscious Miss LeBeau was perfect and unforgettable. The actress was a real-life fugitive from Nazi-occupied France, and after the war, she returned to Europe and worked in films and TV until 1970.
LeBeau as the jilted lover of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.”
Her first movie, in France, was titled “Young Girls In Trouble.” This led to an appearance in Errol Flynn’s “Gentleman Jim.” (Madeleine wisely did not fall victim to the title of her debut movie while working with the notorious Errol, who certainly did like ’em young.)
I caught “Casablanca” once again on Turner Classic Movies not long ago, and wrote of watching with the same sense of its beauty and — yes! — perfection. All the more remarkable because nobody thought they were making a classic at the time. It was just another Warner Bros. programmer; Bogart and Bergman were in the early flush of their fame, but not quite superstars. (Bogie had been struggling for a decade to escape one-dimensional gangster roles.)
Bogart and Bergman.
Watching the famous scene when Paul Henreid urges Rick’s orchestra to play France’s anthem, “Le Marseillaise” which propels young LeBeau/Yvonne to rebel — in glowy black-and-white closeup — I wondered if she was still alive? I found out she was, after quite a few of my smart movie-loving readers wrote in. I was going to mention it. But put if off and lost track. Of course now I wish hadn’t put it off.
It would have been nice to have gotten in contact with Miss LeBeau, and let her know how many people still respond to her to dazzling moment, in a movie that doesn’t waste a second of screen time. She likely already knew her status as an icon, but it never hurts to be reminded.
RIP, Madeleine LeBeau. I think France owes you a statue or a holiday or a stamp. That one, emotional, “Vive La France!” probably did as much for the war effort — encouraging wary Americans to think more about the conflict in Europe — than a hundred newspaper editorials.
WONDERING WHAT to think about the latest anthology series from Ryan Murphy of “American Horror Story” fame? His new one is titled “Feud” and will focus on — obviously — famous feuds. The first up will be the supposed rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Ryan has cast his brilliant “AHS” muse, Jessica Lange as Crawford and Susan Sarandon will play Davis. The action takes place around the production of their one and only co-starring movie, “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?”
This has the potential to be grisly or glorious — or gloriously grisly. There’s high-camp and then there’s, well — an American horror story! The problem with such a tale is that the best information we have pretty much undercuts any carrying on during the making of “Baby Jane.”
Neither woman cared much for the other, but they were courteous. Davis, who relished being rude, because it gave her a sense of power, was driven crazy by Crawford’s sweet “good mornings,” “good evenings” and “bless yous.” After Crawford’s death, Bette would refer to Joan as a “completely insincere, artificial person.” But for the most part she demurred over any “Baby Jane” issues, saying that both of them were “too professional” to have indulged in any tricks or uttered grievances.
Of course, she would insist that Crawford had “campaigned” against her, so Davis would lose the “Baby Jane” Oscar, because Joan hadn’t been nominated for her own role as the wheelchair-bound Blanche Hudson. (Anne Bancroft won for “The Miracle Worker.” Davis didn’t care much for that, either — after all, she reasoned, Bancroft had done the role of Annie Sullivan onstage for several years, whereas she, Bette, had created Jane Hudson all on her own. She liked it even less when Joan popped up to accept the absent Bancroft’s Oscar.)
It should be interesting one way or another, I suppose. Although it always surprises me when actors — generally so sensitive about rumors and untruths — agree to portray other actors, often in unflattering ways, long past the point these persons can defend themselves. Odd, yes?
P.S. Speaking of Susan Sarandon, she really needs to learn what the words “I don’t want to go there” mean. After you’ve said, on the red carpet at Cannes: “I think Woody Allen sexually molested … etc.,” you don’t shut down the conversation with: “I don’t want to go there.” You’ve already gone there, Susan! No matter what you think.
ENDQUOTE: “Started watching ‘Grace and Frankie’ last night and I love it. I asked Siri and she told me that none of the protagonists are a day under 75! Love your column!”
That was an e-mail I received from a reader. I was so appreciative, and I thought how terrific that Katie Holmes is letting her daughter watch really good TV, and that Siri knew all about Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
Kidding. That’s Suri, not Siri. Although for a minute I did have to think about who Siri was? It’s the first time I’ve ever actually known somebody, or heard from somebody, who uses the iPhone information voice assistant. It made me laugh. I usually just go to Google.
With Denis Ferrara.