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With Charles Boyer in The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)


With James Mason in 5 Fingers (1952)


Danielle Darrieux, 
French film star and alleged collaborator The Times 20 October, 2017 Danielle Darrieux always denied that she was a collaborator during the war. Yet in 1941 the French actress had starred in a film produced by Continental, a company set up by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s head of propaganda. “As I’d often filmed in Germany, I didn’t have a very clear idea of the significance of that particular company or what it represented,” she later claimed. When the film opened in Berlin, Darrieux flew there with a delegation of French performers and was introduced to Goebbels’s wife, Magda, who turned out be a fan of hers. Darrieux took the opportunity to do some lobbying on behalf of a would-be suitor. The previous year she had been introduced at a party to a handsome young polo-playing Dominican diplomat, Porfirio Rubirosa, who escorted her home in his chauffeur-driven limousine. In the run-up to the German invasion of France he had been moonlighting by selling visas to wealthy Jews. Darrieux fell for him; he was, she later said, “charm incarnate”. However, their romance was complicated by the fact that she continued to live and work in Paris, in the occupied north of the country, while his embassy was in Vichy France, in the south. When Germany declared war on the US, the Dominican Republic proclaimed its American allegiance and imprisoned the German embassy’s staff. The Germans responded by arresting Rubirosa and interning him at Bad Neuheim, a German spa town. Not long after this Darrieux had her discreet word with Magda Goebbels, and Rubirosa was released. Darrieux was in the process of divorcing her first husband, the director Henri Decoin, and she married Rubirosa in 1942. But thanks to her work for Continental — not to mention singing for German troops — she was soon on a French Resistance hitlist, and the couple lay low for the rest of the war. They moved to Megève, a ski resort in the Italianoccupied zone, where they went under the names of Mr and Mrs Rubira. Unsurprisingly, the film star was recognised and they decamped to a farm near Paris; Rubirosa bought cattle, while Darrieux tended chickens. After the liberation of Paris, the Rubirosas drove to the city. Flagged down by armed civilians at a checkpoint, they kept going and the car was riddled with bullets. Rubirosa survived an operation to remove a bullet from one of his kidneys, but their marriage did not last. With James Mason in 5 Fingers (1952) They parted amicably, however, and she retained a lingering affection for him: there were rumours that the American tobacco heiress Doris Duke had “bought” him from Darrieux for $1 million. Because of her wartime contract with Continental, Darrieux had to surrender herself for “purification”. Her rehabilitation was a formality and her glittering career resumed. She thrived when partnered with a director of distinctive vision and style, such as the German-born Max Ophüls, who cast her in La Ronde (1950). “What a sublime actress,” Ophüls said. “Look at that dainty shoulder movement . . . and that smile, which doesn’t smile, but which cries. Or which makes others cry. I adore her.” The last of her three films with him was arguably his masterpiece, and Darrieux’s finest performance — The Earrings of Madame de . . . (1953), described by the critic Andrew Sarris as “the most perfect film ever made”. Danielle Yvonne Marie Antoinette Darrieux was born in Bordeaux in 1917. Her father was an ophthalmologist who died serving as a medic in the First World War. When Danielle was two, her mother took her and her two siblings to live in Paris. She supported the family by giving singing lessons. Danielle’s film break came when she was 13 and was cast in the comedy- drama Le bal (1931). Work began to pour in, and in 1934 she was in no fewer than eight films. While she was often cast as an ingenue, her own education was not neglected, and she studied design at L’École Commerciale, and cello and piano at the Paris Conservatory. In 1935 she met Decoin on a film set. Although he was 27 years older, they were married later that year. Decoin was her mentor. “I always believed in him and obeyed him in everything,” she said. “Without his advice I would have remained a pretty young thing singing and playing in minor films.” Her first film of nine with Decoin was a psychological thriller, Le domino vert (The Green Domino, 1935). Decoin encouraged her to seek fame in Hollywood and there she made the sublime 1938 screwball comedy The Rage of Paris, in which she starred opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr. “Fifty million Frenchmen can’t be wrong!” the posters proclaimed. When her film career resumed after the war she became known as DD, long before that other French screen great Brigitte Bardot became known as BB. She met the screenwriter Georges Mitsinkidès and married a couple of years later, in 1948, remaining together until his death in 1991. They adopted a son, Mathieu, who died in 1998. In the last years of her life Darrieux had a much younger companion, Jacques Jenvrin. There was another Hollywood assignment, as James Mason’s spying accomplice in Joseph L Mankiewicz’s war thriller 5 Fingers (1952), then in 1955 she starred in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was initially banned in the US for promoting adultery. The year after she made her last Hollywood film, Alexander the Great, alongside Richard Burton. In the 1960s she turned to concert singing: she had sung on screen many times and had been making records since the early 1930s. She took to the stage with relish. In 1970 she took over the role of Coco Chanel from Katharine Hepburn in the Broadway musical Coco. She was also one of the best things about Jacques Demy’s 1967 musical Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, alongside Gene Kelly and Catherine Deneuve, who once said that Darrieux was the only actress who was not afraid of growing old. Certainly she did not fret as the star parts dwindled. Her husband Georges used to comfort her with the words: “What is inevitable is not important.” By the end of her long career she had appeared in more than 100 films over eight decades, playing everything from femmes fatales to grandes dames. She especially embraced character roles, notably in François Ozon’s 8 Women (2002). In 2016 she appeared in the documentary short Tournons ensemble, Mademoiselle Darrieux. Before that, Quentin Tarantino had paid homage in his 2009 war film Inglourious Basterds. As the piece approaches its climax and the heroine is about to wipe out the Nazis, her assistant, seeing her radiant in a red dress and black veil, exclaims: “Ooh la la, Danielle Darrieux!” Tarantino chose Darrieux, he said, not because of her wartime history, but “as an absolute female icon of the French cinema of the time”. Danielle Darrieux, actress, was born on May 1, 1917. She died after a fall on October 17, 2017, aged 100



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