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.
She’s also one of the most underrated actresses of her era.
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.
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!”
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:
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.”
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 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.
But it’s not just Leslie’s dancing in the film that’s impressive. Her unique take on the Cinderella character was trailblazing.
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.
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.