MAURICE CHEVALIER by Michael Freedland

MAURICE CHEVALIER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Despite one or two unexplored references to Chevalier's life-long ""inferiority complex,"" this is a totally superficial celebrity bio--and a surprisingly drab one. Freedland (Gregory Peck, Jerome Kern, etc.) follows poor, fatherless little Maurice from amateurish first appearances in the cafÉs-concerts of Paris (singing vulgar songs, off-key, at age twelve) to early, erratic success by age 20: triumphs in minor revues, initial failure at the Folies-Bergere (""he tried hard to stifle his sobs""), then Folies stardom along with partner-lover Mistinguett, ""a woman who oozed sexuality."" Freedland notes Chevalier's fierce attachment to his mother, his use of drugs (""managing to keep himself on the right side of addiction""), his desire to be a truly international star (borrowing much from English music-hall). But there's no drama or psychological shape--or even much show-biz pizazz--as Chevalier learns English (in a WW I POW camp), makes an unhappy marriage, continues his casual affairs, develops his straw-hat persona, and branches out into Hollywood musicals with Lubitsch, Mamoulian, and Jeanette MacDonald. On the question of Chevalier's perhaps-unfair reputation as a WW II collaborator, the treatment is effortfully balanced but less than convincing: ""Was he a collaborator? . . . There is substantial evidence that he was not. It is also equally clear that he was no hero."" The relationship with Romanian-Jewish Nita Rayer remains enigmatic. And the legendary Chevalier stinginess is likewise unilluminated, glossed over with downplaying platitudes (""although nightclub hatcheck girls knew that they wouldn't get a tip from him, the handshake and smile he did give them seemed to have greater value""). Finally, then, there are the robust last decades--Gigi, touring, TV --and the last few sad years devoted to writing, with a suicide attempt and (Freedland alleges) full-scale manipulation by his secretary, a would-be heir who tried to alienate Chevalier from his real friends (Freedland's sources). A few pleasant anecdotes, the mildest of gossip, and a fairly industrious (if not persuasively' authoritative) gathering of interview-research: even Chevalier fans will probably find little here to enhance their memories of a great performer who was, it seems, a shadowy offstage personality.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1981
Publisher: Morrow