Charles Boyer, born August 28, 1899, appeared in more than 80 films and received 4 Academy Award nominations. He got his start as a stage actor in Paris. Boyer’s film career picked up once sound film started, as his resonant voice made him a natural to play suave ladies’ men. He was successful on both sides of the Atlantic and starred with the leading actresses of the day, such as Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. Boyer became world famous for his role as Pepe Le Moko, which led to him being parodied as Pepe Le Pew, the amorous French skunk in the Chuck Jones cartoon. Out of makeup, he wasn’t nearly so seductive; he lost his hair young, had a pot-belly, and was shorter than most of the women he wooed so successfully on film. Of his 4 Oscar nominations, Gaslight, with Ingrid Bergman, is the one I am most familiar with. Here, Boyer plays an evil villain rather than his usual romantic role.
As his luster began to fade at the box office, the ever resourceful Boyer made another switch to television production where he made a fortune as one of the early players. He made successful guest appearances on 50s TV programs such as I Love Lucy and What’s My Line. He was also nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy, and won a Tony for his performance as Don Juan. Some of his roles in his later career were in Fanny, with Leslie Caron, and Barefoot in the Park with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, where he played the eccentric neighbor. He continued his professional career until 1976. He was married for 44 years to British actress Pat Paterson. Two days after his wife died of cancer, Boyer took an overdose of pills and died on August 26, 1978, two days before his 79th birthday.
The expression, se foutre en l’air (suh footruh ohn lair), means “to put onself in the air” or to commit suicide. I’m not advocating suicide as the ultimate romantic gesture, but it does speak to a very deep attachment between Boyer and his wife. It’s good to know that his role as her leading man wasn’t just acting.