Caron (Vengeance, 1982) recounts her life and career as Hollywood’s “little French girl” in chatty, charming style, revealing an often troubled woman behind the glamorous image of an international movie star.
The author writes movingly of her childhood in occupied France, peppering her memories of rationing and shortages with surprising insights into the psychology of the situation. She avers that the French grew increasingly savage under the yoke of their oppressors while the German soldiers took pains to be polite and courteous to their charges. Malnourished and high strung, Caron would have lifelong difficulties with food, her general health and crippling depression—an unhappy legacy from her eccentric, selfish mother, an American dancer who ultimately committed suicide. On the sunnier side, Caron triumphed in such international hits as An American in Paris (1951), Lili (1953) and Gigi (1958), and her orbit included many significant participants in the global arts scene. Director Jean Renoir and writer Christopher Isherwood were devoted mentors, and Caron alternately enjoyed and endured a complicated romance with Warren Beatty. The author is a diplomatic memoirist, with mostly good things to say about co-stars such as Cary Grant, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, and she is frustratingly oblique about her displeasure with the likes of Kirk Douglas and David Niven. With her tumultuous marriages and chronic physical and mental-health problems, Caron can come off a bit like a Gallic Elizabeth Taylor, but her melodramatic personal life is tempered by good humor and a refreshing lack of pretension. The actress’s fortunes fell when she aged out of leading-lady status, and her attempt to reinvent herself as a rustic Burgundy innkeeper reads like a perversely funny distaff Peter Mayle travelogue. Her spirits were revived, however, by a burgeoning writing career and late-in-the-day acting successes in films such as Chocolat (2000) and Le Divorce (2003), and an Emmy-winning turn on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Curiously, this famous dancer has more to say about camera angles than the mechanics of her Terpsichorean art.
The little French girl spins an engrossing yarn.