Another in the long line of dramatically handsome foreign imports who made an immediate impact on WWII Hollywood was debonair French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont. The epitome of grace and sophistication, the stylish leading man went on to have a long and respectful career on stage, film and TV, both here and abroad.
Aumont was born Jean-Pierre Philippe Salomons on January 5, 1911 (some sources list 1909) in Paris, France, to Suzanne (Cahen), an actress, and Alexandre Abraham Salomons, a well-to-do department store executive. His brother, François Villiers (né Francois Salomons), went on to become a film writer/director. His father was a Dutch Jew and his mother was from a French Jewish family; he was of both Ashkenazi and Sephardi ancestry. Jean-Pierre was transferred from various prep schools before enrolling at the Paris Conservatory of Dramatic Art at the age of 16. Run by the renowned Louis Jouvet, young Aumont's first two film roles were prime roles in "Jean de la Lune" and "Échec et mat". He then went on to appear strongly in a number of Gallic films. He also made an impressive theater debut playing the role of Oedipus in Jean Cocteau's "La Machine Infernale" at the Comedie Champs-Elysees in 1934, which set up a long and lucrative tenure on the stage. Splitting his time between live performances and film-making opposite such lovelies as Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux and Annabella), Aumont served with the French Third Mechanized Division for nearly a year (1939-1940) and earned a medal of distinction for his valour (Croix de Guerre). Two of his finest screen roles came just prior to this: 'Marcel Carne''s farcical comedy "Bizarre, Bizarre" starring mentor Louis Jouvet, and the romantic drama "Hotel du Nord" opposite the lovely Annabella and co-starring Jouvet again.
Aumont arrived in America barely speaking English in 1942 and only a few days later was "discovered" by stage legend Katharine Cornell, making his American debut in her production of "Rose Burke". During the play's Los Angeles engagement, he was signed by MGM for films and made a noticeable debut as Captain Pierre Matard in the espionage war picture "Assignment in Brittany" co-starring the tragic Susan Peters. Classily promoted as an up-and-coming Jean Gabin, the lithe, handsome, blue-eyed blond captured the admiration of the American public with his Charles Boyer-like charm and charisma. His second American film was the equally successful "The Cross of Lorraine", a dramatic Stalag 17-like story of French POW's held in a German war camp.
The lovely Technicolor siren Maria Montez, known for her popular (and campy) WWII escapism films at Universal, quickly caught his eye and the couple married in 1943 after only a three-month courtship. An earlier marriage to French's Blanche Montel had ended in divorce in 1940, well before his arrival in America. Aumont again interrupted his burgeoning acting career by serving with the Free French forces in North Africa and was again awarded a medal (Legion of Honor) for his bravery. He was twice wounded during his active years of service.
The French actor returned to Hollywood films after the war co-starring with Ginger Rogers in the comedy "Heartbeat" and appearing as composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov in Universal's "Song of Scheherazade". The reception to both were lukewarm and Aumont decided to return to France with his wife (whose career was now in decline), and his daughter (who was born in 1946 and grew up to become the actress Tina Aumont). Seeking to rediscover his earlier glory in European films and the theatre, he also began writing plays. Now and then he would return to the American soil and appeared on Broadway in 1949 with his work "Figure of a Girl," which was retitled "My Name Is Aquilon" by the time it arrived on the Great White Way. While it co-starred the embraceable Lilli Palmer, who was also making her Broadway debut, the play itself was not as embraced.
On the international film scene, Aumont appeared with wife Maria in such uninspired offerings as the United Artist escapist fare "Siren of Atlantis", the French crime drama "Wicked City" [Wicked City] and the Italian adventure La vendetta del corsaro (1951)_ [The Revenge of the Pirates], the last-mentioned proving to be the last for the fetching Ms. Montez. The 39-year-old star tragically drowned in September of 1951 after her hot mineral salt bath triggered a heart seizure.
After a period of grieving, Aumont continued transcontinentally, but rather unspectacularly, with acting parts that seemed hardly challenging. He cavorted with Paulette Goddard in the mediocre action adventure "Charge of the Lancers"; appeared among an international cast in the spectacle "Napoleon"; co-starred rather stiffly opposite Jean Simmons in the glossy "sudspenser" "Hilda Crane"; was overshadowed by Eleanor Parker, who paled next to Garbo in the remake of Garbo's "The Painted Veil" entitled "The Seventh Sin"; and, played a cameo as the doomed Louis XVI in the US-based "John Paul Jones" co-starring wife Marisa. On a more positive note, he, Mel Ferrer and the ever-enchanting Leslie Caron were wonderful in MGM's touching musical "Lili". Aumont also fared much better in his 1950s televised appearances of classic works, notably "Arms and the Man" and "Crime and Punishment".
Following a torrid 1955 romance with Grace Kelly (whom, as we all know, went on to marry her Prince), the actor met and married lovely Italian actress Marisa Pavan, the sister of the late Pier Angeli, in 1956, and had two sons, Jean-Claude and Patrick, by her. Troubled by his erratic output and the uneventful film roles offered, which included those in "The Enemy General", "The Devil at 4 O'Clock" and "Five Miles to Midnight" [Five Miles to Midnight], Aumont wisely refocused on the theatre and his playwriting skills. Stage performances included "The Heavenly Twins" and "A Second String" (both on Broadway), the title role in "The Affairs of Anatol", "Murderous Angels" and appearances in the musicals "Tovarich" with Vivien Leigh (on Broadway), "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris," "South Pacific" (as the debonair Emile DeBecque), and "Gigi" with wife Marisa. The couple also went on to form a warmly-received nightclub act in New York.
For the remainder of his career, Aumont remained the ever-charming and worldly continental, vacillating between the stage ("Camino Real," "Private Lives," "The Sound of Music" and "Tiger at the Gates"); international films ("Castle Keep", "Catherine & Co.", "Mahogany", "Nana", "Sweet Country", "Becoming Colette" and a pair of Merchant/Ivory films "Jefferson in Paris" and "The Proprietor"): and classy TV fare ("The Memory of Eva Ryker", "Melba", "A Tale of Two Cities"). Some of the actor's finest movie roles in years occurred in the 1970s with the excellent "Day for Night" [Day for Night] and "Cat and Mouse" [Cat and Mouse].
The distinguished actor/playwright went awardless throughout his cinematic career but this glaring oversight was finally rectified in the form of the cross of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 1991 and an honorary César Award in 1992. He died in his native country of a heart attack a few weeks after his 90th birthday in 2001.
Name: Jean-Pierre Aumont
Known for: Day for Night
BirthDay: 05, Jan ,1911