Madeleine LeBeau, a French actress who fled Nazi-occupied Europe for Hollywood, where she made the best of a small role as the scorned girlfriend of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in “Casablanca,” died May 1 in Estepona, Spain. She was widely reported to be 92.
The cause was complications from a broken thigh bone, her stepson, documentary filmmaker and mountaineer Carlo Alberto Pinelli, told the Hollywood Reporter.
Ms. LeBeau (sometimes credited as Lebeau) was the last surviving credited cast member of “Casablanca” (1942), which the American Film Institute lists as the second greatest movie of all time. “Citizen Kane” is No. 1, according to the film preservation group.
“Casablanca” was intended as wartime propaganda, but it was also a riveting potboiler of romance and intrigue that won Oscars for best picture, director and screenplay. The stars were Bogart, as a cynical American who runs a saloon in Morocco, and Ingrid Bergman as an old flame from Paris who turns up and stirs his pre-war passion.
The rest of the movie was stuffed with first-rate character actors from around the world, including Ms. LeBeau’s then-husband, Marcel Dalio, as Emil the croupier. In one of the movie’s most indelible scenes, he hands over winnings to the corrupt police official Louis Renault (played by Claude Rains) who is “shocked, shocked” to find gambling on the premises.
For Ms. LeBeau, “Casablanca” was the seminal performance of her career. She played Yvonne, the cast-off lover of Bogart’s worldweary Rick.
“Where were you last night?” Yvonne asks.
Rick: “That’s so long ago, I don’t remember.”
Yvonne: “Will I see you tonight?”
Rick: “I never make plans that far ahead.”
Neglected by Rick, a drunken Yvonne steps out with a German soldier. She regains her moral compass back at the nightclub as she hears patrons sing “La Marseillaise” in an attempt to drown out a German patriotic song. Her close-ups are tearful and defiant.
Ms. LeBeau said she hoped “Casablanca” would catapult her to great demand in Hollywood. It did not.
She told Charlotte Chandler, a Bergman biographer, “It wasn’t that I was cut out, it was because they kept changing the script and, each time they changed it, I had less of a part. It wasn’t personal, but I was so disappointed.”
She later played a temperamental French actress in filmmaker Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning “8 1/2” (1963), which her second husband co-wrote.
Marie Madeleine Berthe LeBeau was born near Paris in the early 1920s — the dates fluctuate between 1921 and 1923. In her teens, she landed a tiny role in a play with Dalio, who was about 20 years her senior and struck by her beauty. They soon married, and Ms. LeBeau made her screen debut in a 1939 drama, “Young Girls in Trouble.”
The next year, they left Paris just hours ahead of the invading German army; Dalio’s image had been used in Nazi posters to identify Jewish-looking features. They made their way to Lisbon and, using what turned out to be forged Chilean visas, booked passage on a Portuguese cargo ship, the Quanza, that was taking more than 300 refugees to the west.
Many of the passengers were not allowed to disembark in New York or the next port-of-call, Vera Cruz, Mexico. However, Dalio and Ms. LeBeau secured temporary Canadian visas in Mexico and made their way to California. (The other passengers received visas through the U.S. State Department when they arrived in Norfolk, Va.)
Dalio, who had prominent roles in filmmaker Jean Renoir’s masterpieces “Grand Illusion” (1937) and “The Rules of the Game” (1939), helped secure work for the couple in Hollywood.
Ms. LeBeau won a contract at Warner Bros. and had minor roles in “Hold Back the Dawn” (1941), a drama starring Charles Boyer and Olivia de Havilland, and “Gentleman Jim” (1942) with Errol Flynn as the boxing champ James J. Corbett.
Ms. LeBeau’s marriage to Dalio disintegrated during the making of “Casablanca” — he filed suit, claiming desertion — and the studio soon terminated her contract. As a freelancer, she earned supporting roles in the French underground drama “Paris After Dark” (1943) and “Music for Millions,” (1944), a musical with Margaret O’Brien and Jimmy Durante.
After the war, Ms. LeBeau returned to Europe. Reviewing her performance as a singer in “Cage of Gold,” a 1950 English drama starring Jean Simmons, a New York Times critic wrote that Ms. LeBeau seemed “undecided whether to imitate Edith Piaf or storm the Bastille.”
She had a rare leading role in “The Sins of Madeleine” (1951), about a prostitute who uses the ruse of pregnancy to end relationships with men, only to find one of her clients is delighted at the prospect of being a father.
Her film career ended by the late 1960s, and she remained in Rome after making “8 1/2.” In 1988, she wed Italian screenwriter Tullio Pinelli. He died in 2009. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."