Charles Boyer — Master of Charm (1936) 🇺🇸
Women succumb to his charm, his powerful personality without being able to help themselves...
by Dena Reed
Charles Boyer is the impossible come true. He is — or easily might become — every woman’s ideal, yet he is completely honest, sincere, unegotistical. Popularity has not changed him.
His performances in “Private Worlds”, “Break of Hearts” and “Shanghai” have made ten million women Boyer-conscious. Pure luck, you say? He would be the first to agree with you. Laughing genially, he would even call to your attention the fact that this is the third time he has come up to bat. Twice he struck out. But no alibis, you understand.
The first time he saw Hollywood he was scheduled to make French versions of M-G-M films. Boyer (pronounced Bwah-yay) could not then speak English. And no sooner had he arrived in America than French versions took a slump, and he found himself with a contract for six months, a salary and no work.
Now, Boyer was no parboiled French actor who was down on his francs and leapt at the sound of Hollywood.
As a matter of exact fact, this same incredible charmer had been a delight for years in Paris, where his fame was as great as Chevalier’s. He did, however, have that inexcusable talent — a conscience. Resolved to give work for pay, he played small, inconsequential parts that did not require him to speak. One of them was the role of the chauffeur in Red-Headed Woman, starring Jean Harlow. No one ever noticed him, but he was there, however fleetingly, working for his pay.
M-G-M did kindly agree to delete the chauffeur from the picture, if and when it was shown in France, where a crisis undoubtedly would have been precipitated if fifty million Frenchwomen had seen their favorite playing so small a role.
It isn’t every day that a star jeopardizes his fame just to salve his conscience. But it isn’t every day that you will meet a man like Charles Boyer.
The second time he accepted a Hollywood offer, he found himself scheduled to play the romantic gypsy hero of Caravan, which was intended to be something new in musical comedies. After trying to persuade the Powers-That-Be that he was not a musical comedy hero, but a dramatic actor, he shrugged his broad shoulders, pocketed his professional pride, made the picture — and then bought up his contract, charging the item to experience.
Boyer might be called eccentric, temperamental and arty. But no one ever has used those adjectives in describing him — and I doubt if anyone ever will. Meet him and speak with him for only a short space of time and he is your friend. Know him longer and he holds an enduring place in your regard.
Why? For one thing, with all his charm, he is extremely modest. He refuses to discuss the possible reasons for his sudden and extravagant popularity with the fair sex.
At a recent press reception, for example, someone asked him: “Do great movie love scenes result from real, if temporary, love between the actor and actress involved?” That may be a fair question to ask a star, but I found myself wanting to flee for air — until I heard his calm, sane, smiling answer:
“The man who can love and act at the same time should be placed in a museum.”
He has a habit of walking miles on the set, oblivious of everyone, between the scenes of a picture — a habit that was considered “a little unusual” until Hollywood learned that only in that manner could he study his parts. While he paces to and fro, he practices gestures and expressions, talking to himself. Other actors have been known to live certain roles, but Boyer lives all of his.
According to Parisians, he became a familiar figure on the boulevards doing the same sort of thing. Yet no one there doubted his sincerity; everyone accepted his theory that good performances are possible only through complete subjugation of self. Now Hollywood is taking Boyer as he is — and liking him.
He shuns most Hollywood parties — not because he is high-hat or antisocial, but because he detests cliques, which are to be found at most of the movie parties, discussing nothing but their own particular screen achievements. That is all right for them, he supposes, but as for himself, he refuses to talk shop. He believes that keeping in touch with the rest of the world prevents stereotyped performances. And besides, he prides himself on being kin, socially, to the butcher, baker and candlestick-maker, any one of whom he would like to portray. And could portray, realistically. Realism is a fetish with him.
“Always living in the same place and always doing the same things,” lie told me very seriously, “are detrimental to acting. I find my new contracts, which provide for six months in Hollywood and six months in Paris, ideal. Each time I return to one or the other, I bring a new prospective and fresh ideas. Thus I am not permitted to grow stale.”
There are two widely divergent stories about him that reveal the true man and the artist, too.
The first concerns the visit of Princess Katherine of Greece to the sound stage where he was working.
Living his roles, Boyer understandably resents mood-shattering intrusions while he is at work. And long before the royal visit, this particular day had developed into a trying one, with continual interruptions during a tender love scene.
Boyer, who is extremely sensitive, could feel the Princess’ eyes focused on him. He tried the scene several times, and realized that his work was suffering by the experience. Analyzing the situation clearly in the light that this was his business and that it must not be interfered with, he politely, but firmly, had her leave the set.
It made absolutely no difference to him that she had been feted, wined, and dined by every other major studio and studio official in Hollywood. It was not the Princess to whom he objected, but her steady gaze, which rendered his most conscientious efforts worthless.
The second concerns an interview that he had agreed to give to a newspaper woman. She did not arrive. Boyer waited for a reasonable time after work was finished. Then he gave up and went home. The next afternoon he did not have to report for work, and he was delighted at the prospect of a brief rest.
The following morning he read that the newspaper woman had been injured in an automobile accident. Boyer called up to find out the extent of her injuries and gave up his few hours of rest to call upon her.
Ask Boyer to whom he credits his American success and his immediate answer is: “Walter Wanger, the producer. He is the man who understands the miracle of casting, probably the one greatest stumbling block to any promising Hollywood career.”
I have noticed each time I have talked with him the seriousness with which he has weighed each question, the earnestness with which he has framed his replies. Have you ever studied Boyer’s face and the large vein that traces itself from hairline to brow? It is one of his most fascinating features and gives to his clear brown eyes, his straight nose and his full mouth a most compelling and restrained charm. Queer how a trick of physiognomy can lend importance and credence to strong features and furnish women with an added clue to smoldering cross-currents which, they suspect, underlie his charm.
A well-known character-analyst recently told me, “Whereas many so-called Continentals find it necessary to advertise their knightly tendencies, Boyer, without effort or ostentation, causes women to know that within him is every desired romantic virtue. He is courtly in a quiet way.”
Born at Figeac, in the center of France, in August, 1899, the son of a respected business man, who, in turn, had been the son of a respected business man, and so on for centuries, he suggests a throw-back to some unsuspected ancestry. As a critic in a French magazine said: “Women succumb to his great charm, his powerful personality, without being able to help themselves. He leaves them stunned and astonished.”
Just between us, I don’t credit that. I simply don’t believe they want to help themselves.
The man who can love and act at the same time should be placed in a museum.
Portrait by Will Walling, Jr.
Source: Movie Classic, January 1936