From the Archives: Charles Boyer, Epitome of Suave Leading Man, Dies

Charles Boyer, the suave, French-born actor who courted a bevy of leading ladies in films during the 1930s and 1940s and became one of Warner Bros.’ top stars, died Saturday at a local hospital.

His death came just two days after the death of his wife of 44 years, Pat.

Boyer, who would have turned 79 on Monday, had been found unconscious at his home and was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital by paramedics. He died a short time later, a spokesman said.

Dr. Thomas Jarvis, Maricopa County coroner, said he would conduct an autopsy today. A hospital spokesman said a heart attack was suspected.

Boyer became the top-salaried star at Warner Bros. in 1945.

During the 1930s and 1940s, he epitomized the Continental gallant-suave, impeccable of manner and dress. He played the polished lover to many of the movies’ leading ladies, yet had the strength and authority to be convincing also as a man of action.

Unlike many a romantic star, he moved easily into character parts with middle age. In one film, he portrayed the father of Leslie Caron. He had no vanity about his appearance and willingly played roles in which he looked older than he was, even at times appearing without his toupee if the character called for it.

Perhaps he is best remembered for his role as the thief Pepe le Moko in “Algiers.”

Among his later films were “Is Paris Burning?,” “How to Steal a Million,” “Casino Royale” and “Barefoot in the Park.”

Boyer, who was born in Figeac, France, found himself at the age of 7, when he began getting major parts in school plays. The son of a farm machinery dealer, Boyer used his father’s granary as a theater, and, at age 12, learned passages of long plays and rehearsed with self-written scripts.

After studying at the Sorbonne and the Paris Conservatory, Boyer made his stage debut in Paris’ Theatre Antoine in “La Bataille” and soon became a leading stage star. He made his film debut in 1920.

Although French producers did not consider him photogenic, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer brought him to Hollywood to do French versions of successful English-language films when dubbing was unknown.

Not until 1931 did he make his first major picture with an English-speaking role, “The Man From Yesterday,” with Claudette Colbert.

He also signed to do “The Red-Headed Woman” with Jean Harlow, but thought his imperfect English would hamper him, so he returned to France to polish it.

He was brought back to Hollywood in 1934 and kept a date with success and the woman who later became his wife, British actress Pat Paterson. He met her on a studio lot and they were married that year.

Leading ladies he courted in films as he rose to fame included Greta Garbo, Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Ingrid Bergman, Jennifer Jones and Hedy Lamarr, as well as Miss Colbert.

The films that brought him fame in his early career were “Caravan” in 1934; “Le bonheur,” “Private Worlds,” “Break of Hearts” and “Shanghai” in 1935; “Mayerling” and “The Garden of Allah” in 1936; then “History Is Made at Night,” “Conquest,” “Tovarich” and “Algiers.”

During these years he kept in touch with France, later returned and served in the French army until December, 1939, when he was released and he returned to Hollywood. There, he became a rallying point for the Free French movement in America.

He proved himself an artist of stature in the Broadway production “Don Juan in Hell” in 1951, two years later in “Kind Sir” and in “Lord Pengo” in 1962.

Aware that his Broadway roles required constant readiness, Boyer took care to diet, rest well and stay out of drafts. There was no standby for Boyer. Without him, the performance would be canceled.

In 1951, he entered partnership with actors Dick Powell and David Niven and actress Ida Lupino. Their first effort was the Four Star Playhouse anthology of television. It grew into Four Star Television.

In 1964, he began appearing on “The Rogues,” a Four Star series dwelling on the exploits of jet-set jewel thieves and con men moving through worlds of intrigue and opulence.

As of the mid-1950s, he reserved two months of the year  in which he became unavailable to those seeking his services as an actor. “I made up my mind that I would not work during the summer months, but spend that time with my family,” he said.

Boyer and his wife had lived in Paradise Valley, a suburb of Phoenix, for the last year. Mrs. Boyer, who died of cancer, was buried in Los Angeles.

Their only child, Michael, died of a self-inflicted gunshot would in 1965 at the age of 21.

Graveside services for Boyer, who had no survivors, will be held this week at the Inglewood Cemetery in Inglewood, Calif. The date has not been set yet.

news.obits@latimes.com

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