Leslie Claire Margaret Caron was born 1 July 1931. She is a French film actress and dancer, who appeared in 45 films between 1951 and 2003.
Caron is best known for the musical films An American in Paris (1951), Lili (1953), Daddy Long Legs (1955), Gigi (1958), and for the non-musical films Fanny (1961), The L-Shaped Room (1962), and Father Goose (1964). She received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. In 2006, her performance in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit won her an Emmy for guest actress in a drama series. Her autobiography Thank Heaven, was published in 2010 in the UK and US, and in 2011 in a French version. She speaks French, English, and Italian.
Caron started her career as a ballerina. Gene Kelly discovered her in Roland Petit Company “Ballet des Champs Elysées”, and cast her to appear opposite him in the musical An American in Paris (1951), a role in which a pregnant Cyd Charisse was originally cast. This led to a long-term MGM contract and a sequence of films, which included the musical The Glass Slipper (1955) and the drama Man with a Cloak (1956), with Joseph Cotten and Barbara Stanwyck. Still, she has said of herself: “Unfortunately, Hollywood considers musical dancers as hoofers. Regrettable expression.”
She also starred in the successful musicals Lili (1953), with Mel Ferrer; Daddy Long Legs (1955), with Fred Astaire, and Gigi (1958) with Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier.
Daddy Long Legs (1955) is a Hollywood musical comedy film set in France, New York City, and the fictional college town of “Walston” in Massachusetts. The film was directed by Jean Negulesco, with music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The screenplay was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, and was loosely based on the 1912 novel Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster.
It was one of Astaire’s personal favorites, largely due to the script that, for once, directly addresses the complications inherent in a love affair between a young woman and a man thirty years her senior. However, the making of it was marred by his wife’s death from lung cancer. Deeply traumatized, Astaire offered to pay the production expenses already incurred in order to quit the project, but then changed his mind.
This was the first of three consecutive Astaire films set in France or with a French theme (the others being Funny Face and Silk Stockings), following the fashion for French-themed musicals established by ardent Francophile Gene Kelly with An American in Paris (1951), which also featured Kelly’s protégée Caron.
In 1953, Caron was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in Lili. In 1963, she was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the British drama The L-Shaped Room.
In the 1960s and thereafter, Caron worked in European films as well. Her later film assignments included Father Goose (1964), with Cary Grant; Ken Russell’s Valentino (1977), in the role of silent-screen legend Alla Nazimova; and Louis Malle’s Damage (1992).
In 1967 she was a member of the jury of the 5th Moscow International Film Festival. In 1989 she was a member of the jury at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.
She has continued to act, appearing in the film Chocolat (2000). She is one of the few actors from the classic era of MGM musicals who is still active in film—a group that includes Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Dean Stockwell, Rita Moreno, Margaret O’Brien, June Lockhart. Her other recent credits include Funny Bones (1995) with Jerry Lewis and Oliver Platt, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells (2000) with Judi Dench and Cleo Laine, and Le Divorce (2003) by Merchant/Ivory with Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts.
On 30 June 2003, Caron traveled to San Francisco to appear as the special guest star in The Songs of Alan Jay Lerner: I Remember It Well, a retrospective concert staged by San Francisco’s 42nd Street Moon Company. In 2007, Caron’s guest appearance on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit earned her a 2007 Primetime Emmy Award. On 27 April 2009, Caron traveled to New York as an honored guest at a tribute to Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe at the Paley Center for Media.
On 8 December 2009, Caron received the 2,394th Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In February 2010, she played Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, which also featured Greta Scacchi and Lambert Wilson.
Caron married George Hormel III, a grandson of the founder of Hormel (a meat-packing company) in September 1951. They divorced in 1954. Her second husband was British theater director Peter Hall. They married in 1956 and had two children, Christopher John Hall (TV producer) in 1957 and Jennifer Caron Hall, a writer, painter and actress, in 1958. Caron had an affair with Warren Beatty (1961). When she and Hall divorced in 1965, Beatty was named as a co-respondent and was ordered by the London court to pay “the costs of the case.” In 1969, Caron married Michael Laughlin, best known as producer of the film Two-Lane Blacktop; they divorced in 1980. Her son-in-law is Glenn Wilhide the producer and screenwriter.
Caron was also romantically linked to Dutch television actor Robert Wolders from 1994 to 1995.
From June 1993 until September 2009 Caron owned and operated a hotel and restaurant, Auberge La Lucarne aux Chouettes (The Owls’ Nest), located in Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, located about 130 km (81 mi) south of Paris.