Leslie Caron: Hollywood's Parisienne Ballerina

leslie caron
Leslie Caron Dances with Brigitte Bardot, Impresses Gene Kelly, Plays Cinderella, and Finds Inspiration from Marlon Brando.
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Leslie Caron is a living legend. 

One of six women to have danced with both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly on film, Leslie brought unrivaled style, strength, and grace to her dancing. 

leslie caron

She’s also one of the most underrated actresses of her era.

leslie caron

Leslie Caron: A Living Legend

To celebrate her July 1st birthday, here are a few things about Leslie Caron, Hollywood’s Parisienne ballerina, you didn’t know.

leslie caron

The Parisienne Ballerina

To the trained and untrained eye alike, it’s clear that Leslie Caron was an incredibly gifted dancer.

Even when not dancing, Leslie carries herself with an innate grace.  It’s apparent in every one of her films, appearances, and photos.

But Leslie worked hard to develop that natural talent: before her break in films with 1951’s An American in Paris, Leslie Caron was a ballerina in Roland Petit’s prestigious ballet company, the Ballets des Champs-Elysees. 

(Interesting side note, Roland Petit is the son of Rose Repetto, founder of the dancewear and luxury brand, Repetto.)

In her autobiography, [aff. link], Leslie shares the enchantment surrounding this time in her life as one of the most promising young ballerinas of post-WWII Paris:

“It was the Renaissance of Paris.  It was September 1947, I was sixteen years old, and I felt on top of the world!”

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With Gene Kelly in An American in Paris (1951).

Gene Kelly Discovers Leslie Caron

It was while dancing with Roland Petit’s ballet company that Leslie was discovered by Gene Kelly.  Kelly, impressed with Leslie’s skill, charisma, and diminutive height, offered her the lead opposite him in An American in Paris (1951).

It was Leslie’s first film, and it made her a star.

Leslie's Former Classmate

Interestingly, Leslie wasn’t the only ballerina in Roland Petit’s Ballets des Champs-Elysees who went on to achieve international film stardom. 

See if you can recognize Leslie’s famous classmate in the photo below.  Leslie is on the right, and our mystery dancer is on the left:

leslie caron

Did you guess who it is?

I’ll let Leslie tell us in her own words:

“Another very young dancer…very promising, with a pretty face and slim figure, joined the company for the 1947 Paris season…[Eventually] She chose another road and did quite well.  We called her “Bichette” (Little Doe), but her name was Brigitte Bardot.”

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Young Leslie Caron and Brigitte Bardot danced together in the same ballet company, before either began making films. 

Roland Petit apparently had a gift for priming charismatic and talented young ballerinas for international super stardom.

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Leslie's "Ella" was a charming, unconventional Cinderella with spunk and a pixie cut.

Leslie Caron & The Glass Slipper

One of Leslie’s most charming films is 1955’s The Glass Slipper.

The Glass Slipper is full of gorgeous ballet sequences.  Thanks to Leslie’s loyalty and star power, it was Roland Petit’s company that was asked to choreograph and perform the ballet sequences with Leslie in the film.

Leslie does some of the best technical dancing of her career in The Glass Slipper.  We get a glimpse of what it must have been like watching her perform with Petit’s company in post-WWII Paris. 

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But it’s not just Leslie’s dancing in the film that’s impressive.  Her unique take on the Cinderella character was trailblazing.

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An Unconventional Cinderella

Leslie Caron was the first actress to make Cinderella a rebel.

Her “Ella” is spunky, scrappy, and sports the pixie cut that became a quintessential component of Leslie’s iconic look.

In her autobiography, Leslie shares the unlikely muse behind her decision to make Ella such an angsty rebel:

“One amusing note on my creation of the character of Cinderella: I was, like everyone else in Hollywood, under the influence of Marlon Brando’s performance in On the Waterfront, which had just come out. His modern style of acting created such a revolution in Hollywood.  Yes, I admit it, ridiculous as it may be, my inspiration for Cinderella was…Marlon Brando.”

Note the brooding similarities between Leslie above, and Brando below.

Marlon Brando and Cinderella.

An unlikely pairing, but it worked for Leslie Caron.

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Leslie at age 88, truly a beauty at every age.

Happy Birthday, Leslie Caron!

Happy Birthday, Ms. Caron. 

Thank you for your beautiful dance and film legacy.  You’re a living legend we’re lucky to have.

10 Responses

  1. Thanks Shannon. What a sweetheart she is. Gorgeous photos and informed copy. Saw An American in Paris in Sydney last night, which I knew little about – such a fabulous, inspiring show…so was wandering the internet and found Leslie and you. x
    Dusting off my dancing shoes and singing voice for sure

    1. That’s wonderful to hear, thanks for reading Rosalie! An American in Paris is such a classic. Leslie’s dancing in the film is, as always, superb. I love that she’s inspired you! How lucky we are that Leslie is still with us.

      1. Thankyou SOOO much for your life time of work my gifted musician son and I are just watching the “Daddy long legs” movie ! We love it ! I raised him on all the classic musicals Watching live music performed if all kinds and WaLa he loves ALL kinds of great music. Which influences his compositions he writes. He’s a gorgeous virtuoso guitar player and composer and with piano too and sings . From classic music to metal he loves it all. Many are prompting him to make a CD.
        This summer In hospital for 3 weeks I watched a clip of you singing “Hi Lili Hi Lili Hi Lo. I love to sing also and as I was singing this in my hospital room the different nurses and aides coming in and out of my room got introduced to you and had fun singing your dear Hi Lili song with me !!! Thankyou !! For your infectious loveliness !!!
        God Bless You!!!
        Merry Christmas!
        Marguerite and son Ryan ❤️😘

        1. Hi Marguerite, thanks for reading my article! Leslie Caron’s musicals are absolute classics, I’m so happy to hear they’ve been an inspiration to you and your talented son. Daddy Long Legs and Lili are two of the best. That’s great that you’re sharing Leslie’s films and extraordinary talents!

  2. Just finished watching Fanny and now starting An American In Paris (have seen most of her films multiple times)
    So graceful

    1. Hi Lil, thanks for reading! Fanny and An American in Paris are great films. Fanny is one of my all time favorites. Leslie was such a talented actress, and I agree, she’s always so graceful!

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