Leslie Caron: Hollywood's Parisienne Ballerina

July 1, 2019     Updated February 18, 2022

leslie caron

Leslie Caron Dances with Brigitte Bardot, Impresses Gene Kelly, Plays Cinderella, and Finds Inspiration from Marlon Brando.

Listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood , available everywhere you listen to podcasts!

Now streaming

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!”

leslie caron
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.”

leslie caron

YES.

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.

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. 

leslie caron

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

leslie caron

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.

leslie caron
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.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Sylvia

    Great tribute to Leslie Caron! So much I didn’t know, thank you.

    1. Shannon

      Thanks for reading Sylvia!

  2. Thomas

    Watching her in An American in Paris now, really one of a kind isn’t she.

    1. Shannon

      She really is. What a great film, thanks for reading Thomas!

Leave a Reply

Now Streaming

Vanguard of Hollywood Cleanse eBook

Seven days of Curated Recipes
Inspired by the Stars of the Golden Age

Suggested Recipes

Stay Updated

Recipes and Red Carpet, Directly to Your Inbox Weekly!