Obituary: Corinne Calvet

By Vallance, Tom | The Independent (London, England), June 3, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Obituary: Corinne Calvet

Vallance, Tom, The Independent (London, England)

JUST AFTER the Second World War, most of the major Hollywood studios were importing female talent from Europe in the hopes of finding another Garbo, Dietrich or Bergman to lend exoticism to their product. Alida Valli, Hildegarde Knef and Denise Darcel were among those who had varying success during the period, and Corinne Calvet was the choice of Paramount, who imported her from France although she had played small parts in only four films.

The studio promoted her as a combination of Dietrich and Rita Hayworth, but her persona failed to live up to this description, though the fault lay as much with a string of mediocre films as with a lack of a compelling talent, for Calvet's sultry looks and flashing eyes were allied with an impish sense of humour. She eventually became better known for her fiery private life (she had affairs with several famous stars and was married five times) and some well-publicised legal battles. In 1952 she filed a $1m slander suit against Zsa Zsa Gabor, charging that Gabor told several people, including a prominent Hollywood columnist, that Calvet was not actually French. Gabor countered that Calvet's suit was without merit, and the court agreed with her.

It was just one of a number of court appearances by Calvet, the most notorious being her battle in 1967 with her former millionaire boyfriend Donald P. Scott, heir to the Scott Paper Company fortune. When their six- year liaison came to an end, he sued to recover $750,000 in assets he said he had put under her name in an effort to hide them from his wife in a divorce battle. He claimed Calvet had used voodoo to control him, and the ensuing battle was settled after two weeks of bitter wrangling.

Born Corinne Dibos in the Passy district of Paris in 1925, she was the daughter of a French count who was also the inventor of Pyrex heat- resistant glass. She was studying criminal law at the Sorbonne when she decided on an acting career. "A lawyer needs exactly what an actor needs," she stated later. "A strong personality, persuasive powers and a good voice." She attributed her change of ambition to the company she kept while studying - she regularly frequented the Deux Magots cafe where her group of friends included Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau. It was Cocteau's friend the actor Jean Marais who advised her to join Charles Dullin's acting school, where he had trained, and which included Simone Signoret and Gerard Philipe among its graduates.

She then studied at L'Ecole du Cinema, and obtained work in films as an extra and as the French voice of Rita Hayworth in dubbed versions of American movies. Her first major opportunity came when she telephoned the director Marc Allegret in the middle of the night to ask for work. Allegret asked her to an interview and gave her small roles in Nous ne sommes par maries (We Are Not Married, 1946), La part de l'ombre (1946), Petrus (1947) and Le chateau de la derniere chance (1947). Since her father did not want her to use the family name, she chose "Calvet" from the vintner's name on a bottle of wine, feeling that alliteration had been lucky for Simone Signoret, Dannielle Darrieux, Michele Morgan and others.

Signed by Paramount in 1947, she did not make her first Hollywood film until almost two years later - at one point her visa was nearly rescinded because her association with the existentialist element in France had been reported to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Paramount dropped her and she did a test for MGM which was seen by the producer Hal Wallis who took her back to Paramount to play the female lead in his tough thriller Rope of Sand (1949), starring Burt Lancaster and directed by William Dieterle. "Dieterle was an autocrat," Calvet wrote later. "He ran the movie set more like the Fuhrer's headquarters than a Hollywood production company." Just before shooting started, Calvet, who had ended a stormy affair with the actor Rory Calhoun, married John Bromfield, a muscular former tuna fisherman also under contract to Hal Wallis.

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