The screening at the Academy on Friday was the start of a Leslie Caron tribute weekend in Los Angeles as events at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at the Motion Picture Academy and the following nights at the American Cinematheque demonstrated the timeless charm of this beloved actress. Leslie Caron was the original Amelie, a Gallic sprite who enchanted the world when Gene Kelly discovered her at 18 and cast her in “American in Paris.” She went on to prove her skill as a dramatic actress in such fare as “The L-Shaped Room“ and even won an Emmy for a recent stint on “Law and Order” but it was in her 50s musicals, “Gigi,” “Daddy Long Legs, “ “American in Paris,” and “Lili,” that she won the hearts of the world.
A sold-out crowd paid tribute to Ms. Caron as she recounted some very funny stories of her time at MGM, and the making of that night’s screening, “Gigi.” Moderated by critic Stephen Farber, the interview was as light as a souffle and when she flashed her trademark smile she had the audience in the palm of her hand. It was pointed out that “Gigi” was the last great original screen created for the screen. With a score by the great Lerner & Lowe and based on story by Colette, it won 9 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Vincente Minnelli, a man legendary for being more concerned with a film’s mis-en-scene than his actors. While shooting the "I Don't Understand the Parisians" number on the backlot near a constructed stream, Minnelli shot take after take. "I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong,” confessed Caron. “After take 18 he said, 'cut, great, print, the swans were great!'" She also spoke of her joy at working with the two great male dancers of the cinema, Kelly and Astaire and confessed her childhood ambition was to be a ballerina, not an actress. But she admitted her greatest thrill came in 1964 when she co-starred in “Father Goose,” with Cary Grant. “I couldn’t believe it,” she marveled, “Me in a film with Cary Grant!” She talked of the film’s shooting in Jamaica as idyllic time, complete with butler who would scurry up a tree every morning to fetch fresh cocoanuts for her. She also commented about working with directors like James Ivory in an amusing anecdote where Ivory asked her if she knew she came off arrogant in a delivery and she said yes, she was intentionally trying to it that way. “Don’t!,” he snapped and that was that. Discussing her upcoming memoirs she admitted she was worried that somebody she had dissed in the book might be in the audience so she had better behave herself. But there was no need to worry, she had us at ‘”bonjour.”