b. 1 July 1931, Paris, France. An elegant, captivating actress and dancer. Caron’s mother was Margaret Petit, an American ballet dancer, and her father, Claude Caron, a wealthy chemist with his own pharmacy in Paris. The good life continued until France was occupied during World War II when the Caron family, like so many others, lost their fortune. Even so, Leslie Caron took ballet lessons, and had a ballet called La Rencontre written especially for her. She was 17 and dancing professionally with the Ballet des Champs Elysées when she was seen by Gene Kelly who returned to Paris a year later to test her for the film An American In Paris. She accepted the ingenue role opposite him in Vincente Minnelli’s charming film which won six Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. She followed her enchanting performance in that film with others equally appealing in Lili (in which she and Mel Ferrer introduced the charming ‘Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo’), The Glass Slipper, Daddy Long Legs, and Gigi. By the time she made the latter multi-Oscar winner, Caron was 27 and a mother, but she still managed to retain her fresh, gamine image. Two years after her first marriage to George Hormel, heir to the American Span fortune, was dissolved in 1954, she married the British stage director Peter Hall. He discouraged her from acting, although having developed into a serious actress on the stage and screen in between her musical films, she did manage to do some work, including Jean Giraudoux’s play Ondine for the RSC in 1961. A romantic relationship with the actor Warren Beatty precipitated her divorce from Hall in 1965, and she and Beatty lived together in the USA for two years. Her third marriage to the much younger American film producer Michael Laughlin lasted for seven years. During the 60s Caron returned to films, and although there were no musicals among them, she was acclaimed in the 60s for her dramatic performance in The L-Shaped Room, and teamed with Cary Grant for the amusing Father Goose.
Caron lives chiefly in Paris and New York, and continues to perform on stage, sometimes in her own plays. In 1982, she published a collection of short stories under the title of Vengeance, and in 1991 learnt to speak German so that she could play the role of the fading ballerina Grushinskaya in a stage production of the musical Grand Hotel. Two years later Caron opened her own restaurant in the Burgundy town of Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, 75 miles from Paris, having painstakingly converted a group of dilapidated thirteenth-century houses over a period of five years. Towards the end of the 90s she spent some time in Britain, and in 1997 played the female French writer, who adopted the male name of George Sand, in the nineteenth-century play Nocturne For Lovers at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. She was also the voice of Saint-Sébastien narrating ‘Le Martyre De Saint Sébastien’ by Debussy which was performed at the Barbican by the London Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas. A year later, Caron joined a host of other former MGM stars in a salute to those Magnificent Golden Years Of Musicals at the London Palladium, and was awarded the Order du Merite to add to the Legion d’Honneur she received from President Mitterand five years earlier.