Childhood & Early Life
She was born on July 1, 1931, in Boulogne-sur-Seine, Seine in France (presently Boulogne-Billancourt, Hauts-de-Seine) to Claude Caron and his American-born wife Margaret (née Petit).
Her father was a French chemist and owner of a boutique and her mother was Franco-American dancer who briefly performed in the ‘Broadway’ during the 1920s but ended her career for marriage and later committed suicide.
It was her mother who pushed Caron for a dancing career and in this pursuit prepared her from an early age.
Caron attended the Convent of the Assumption in Paris where she began her ballet training. She also studied at the ‘National Conservatory of Dance’ and there she performed as a little boy in the children’ show ‘The Pearl Diver’ when she was 14 years of age.
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By the time she was 16, Caron was selected by noted French ballet company director, choreographer and dancer Roland Petit and inducted in the prestigious ‘Ballet de Champs Elysees’ where she was soon doing solo performances and also became a ballerina.
While Gene Kelly was in search of his co-star for the musical ‘An American in Paris’ (1951), he spotted Caron in ‘Ballet de Champs Elysees’. She was finalised for the part. The eventual success of the film, which till present remains one of the most revered musical classics, led Caron to sign a long term contract with ‘Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.’ (MGM), one of the most renowned media companies of America.
Films like ‘The Man with a Cloak’ (1951) and ‘Glory Alley’ (1952) followed, but her next notable film was the March 10, 1953 released musical ‘Lili’ where she also proved her mettle in acting apart from her dancing prowess. It fetched her BAFTA Award for Best actress in a Leading Role. The film was screened at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. It earned several Oscar nominations, including Best Actress nomination for Caron for her outstanding performance as Lili Daurier, and finally won the Best Music award.
Many of her initial films were musicals where her expertise in ballet were brilliantly utilised. Two other successful musicals of Caron during the 1950s were ‘Daddy Long Legs’ (1955) and ‘Gigi’ (1958), of which the latter earned her the ‘Laurel Award for Top Female Musical Performance’ and a nomination for a ‘Golden Globe Award’ for Best Actress.
She made her television debut in the late 1950s and performed in several series like ‘ITV Play of the Week’ (1959), ‘QB VII’ (1974), ‘Falcon Crest’ (1987) and ‘The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century’ (1996). Her outstanding performance as Lorraine Delmas in the episode ‘Recall’ of the 2006 TV series ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’ earned her Primetime Emmy Award in 2007. Recently in 2016 she essayed the part of a Countess in the third episode of the ITV television series ‘The Durrells’.
Her notable TV movies included ‘The Man Who Lived at the Ritz’ (1988) and ‘The Last of the Blonde Bombshells’ (2000).
The 1950s also marked her presence in the world of theatres. For over five decades she performed in several plays continuing alongside her film and TV commitments. She mesmerised the audience with her theatrical performances in plays like ‘Gigi’ (1955), ‘Ondine’ (1961), ‘Carola’ (1965), ‘Can-Can’ (1978), ‘L'inaccessible’ (1985) and ‘A Little Night Music’ (2009).
She essayed the title role in the 1961 classic film ‘Fanny’ directed by Joshua Logan that received five ‘Oscar’ and four ‘Golden Globe Award’ nominations. The film also gave her a chance to share screen with veterans like Horst Buchholz, Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier.
The 1962 British drama film ‘The L-Shaped Room’ where she portrayed the character of Jane Fosset won her the Best Actress award from ‘BAFTA’ and ‘Golden Globe’ and an Oscar nomination. She also worked in many European films during the 1960s and thereafter.
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Her other notable films included ‘Father Goose’ (1964), ‘Il padre di famiglia’ (1967) ‘Valentino’ (1977), ‘Damage’ (1992), ‘Funny Bones’ (1995), ‘Chocolat’ (2000) and ‘The Divorce’ (2003).
She remained a jury member at the 5th Moscow International Film Festival in 1967.
In 1989 she was a jury member at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.
She ventured into a totally new business of owning and running ‘Auberge La Lucarne aux Chouettes’ (‘The Owls' Nest’), a hotel and restaurant in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, a commune in north-central France. She was engaged in the business from June 1993 to September 2009.
She has also penned down several articles that included ‘Current Biography’ (1954), ‘Film Dope’ (1982), ‘Enfin Star!’ (1983) and ‘Stars’ (1994). Her autobiography ‘Thank Heaven: A Memoir’ was published in 2009.
Personal Life & Legacy
She has married thrice. She first got married to meat packing heir and composer George Hormel II in September 1951 but the couple separated in 1954.
Thereafter she was married to British theatre director Peter Hall from 1956 to 1965.
Her third marriage was with film producer Michael Laughlin from 1969 to 1980.
She has two children from her marriage with Hall, son Christopher Hall, born on March 30, 1957, who became a television producer; and daughter Jennifer Caron Hall, born on September 21, 1958, who became an actress, singer, songwriter, painter and journalist.
Caron was in a relationship with Warren Beatty, her co-star from her 1965 film ‘Promise Her Anything’. During her divorce case with Hall in 1965, Beatty was named as a co-respondent. The London court ordered Beatty to pay "the costs of the case.
During 1994-95 she had an affair with TV actor Robert Wolders.