Film icon Danielle Darrieux turns 100: Longest ‘star career’ in movie history?
Screen legend Danielle Darrieux is turning 100 today, May 1. In all likelihood, the Bordeaux-born (1917) Darrieux has enjoyed the longest “movie star” career ever: eight decades, from Wilhelm Thiele’s comedy-drama Le Bal (1931) to Denys Granier-Deferre’s The Wedding Cake / Pièce montée (2010).
For comparison’s sake, Katharine Hepburn had about four decades of film stardom, in addition to another decade as a TV-movie star. Bette Davis’ film (and TV-movie) stardom lasted a few years short of six decades. John Wayne had lead roles from The Big Trail (1930) to The Shootist (1976), or about four and a half decades. Jane Fonda and Robert Redford (soon to be seen together in Ritesh Batra’s Our Souls at Night) have been around for nearly six decades.
Although Mickey Rooney had a longer film career than Danielle Darrieux – nine decades, from the Colleen Moore silent Orchids and Ermine (1927) to B. Luciano Barsuglia’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2016) – before 1935 and after 1955, Rooney was mostly cast in minor supporting roles and bit parts/cameos.
Lillian Gish was around from nearly the dawn of cinema – working for D.W. Griffith in a series of 1912 shorts – all the way to a lead role in Lindsay Anderson’s The Whales of August (1987). That would put Gish on a par with Darrieux – except that Gish’s post-1930 movie appearances were quite sporadic (two movies in the 1930s, five in the 1940s, three in the 1950s, and so on) and for the most part (Portrait of Jennie, The Cobweb, A Wedding, Sweet Liberty) in supporting roles.
Note: This Danielle Darrieux article is an expanded and revised version of a post first published in May 2014. It’s still being expanded and revised. Please check back later.
A movie star for eight decades
Danielle Darrieux was a star for eight decades. Even her supporting roles were usually “stellar” ones – e.g., The Young Girls of Rochefort, Scene of the Crime. Besides, she was a busy star: a total of 110 movies, in addition to nearly three dozen TV roles.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Darrieux could be seen in no less than eight big-screen releases, notably François Ozon’s outstanding psychological-socially conscious mystery-melodrama-musical-comedy 8 Women / 8 femmes (2002), in which she gets to sing the plaintive “Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux” (“There’s No Such Thing as Happy Love”) at the film’s climax.
And she could also be heard as the Grand-mère in Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s widely acclaimed Persepolis (2007), winner of two Prix César (Best First Film and Best Adapted Screenplay) and an Oscar nominee in the Best Animated Feature category.
Absurdly, despite a prestigious career consisting of more than 100 movie roles, Danielle Darrieux – delightful in Club de femmes, superb in The Earrings of Madame De…, alternately hilarious and heartbreaking in 8 Women – has never won an Honorary Oscar. But then again, very few women have. At least, the French Academy did award her an Honorary César back in 1985; additionally, in 2002 Darrieux and her fellow 8 Women / 8 femmes co-stars shared Best Actress honors at both the Berlin Film Festival and the European Film Awards.
Perspectives on star longevity
Once again, putting the longevity of Danielle Darrieux’s film stardom in perspective: That would be like Meryl Streep, whose first big-screen appearance was in a small role in the Jane Fonda-Vanessa Redgrave drama Julia in 1977, getting lead roles in movies all the way to 2,056. Or Jodie Foster (first movie: Napoleon and Samantha in 1972) toplining movies until 2,051. Or Julia Roberts (first credited roles in 1988, Satisfaction and Mystic Pizza) landing starring or co-starring roles up to 2,067.
Or, more recently, Natalie Portman (first movies: Léon: The Professional and Developing in 1994), Kristen Stewart (first credited role in The Safety of Objects in 2001), and Jennifer Lawrence (first year in movies: 2008, in Garden Party, The Burning Plain, and The Poker House) remaining movie stars until, respectively, 2,073, 2,080, and 2,087.
Danielle Darrieux has been directed by many of the world’s top filmmakers, among them Max Ophüls (La Ronde, The Earrings of Madame de… / Madame de…, Le Plaisir), Billy Wilder (Mauvaise graine, at the beginning of his career), François Ozon (the aforementioned 8 Women), Anatole Litvak (Mayerling, which made her an international star), Christian-Jaque (Adorable creatures / Adorables créatures), Sacha Guitry (Napoléon), and Henri Decoin (Beating Heart / Battement de coeur, Her First Affair / Premier rendez-vous, The Case of Poisons / L’affaire des poisons).
Also: Claude Autant-Lara (Occupe-toi d’Amelie, Rouge et noir / Red and Black / Le Rouge et le noir), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (5 Fingers), Julien Duvivier (Marie-Octobre, Lovers of Paris / Pot Bouille), Marc Allégret (Lady Chatterley’s Lover / L’amant de lady Chatterley), Jacques Demy (The Young Girls of Rochefort / Les demoiselles de Rochefort, Une chambre en ville), Lewis Gilbert (The Greengage Summer / The Loss of Innocence), and André Téchiné (Scene of the Crime / Le lieu du crime, which earned Darrieux a Best Supporting Actress César nomination).
Also worth noting, in 2007 Danielle Darrieux voiced the Grandmother in Marjane Satrapi and Vincente Paronnaud’s Academy Award-nominated animated feature Persepolis.
Danielle Darrieux & co-stars
And finally, Danielle Darrieux’s dozens of co-stars have ranged from Gérard Philipe (Rouge et Noir, Lovers of Paris) and Bernard Blier (Marie-Octobre) to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (The Rage of Paris) and James Mason (5 Fingers). From Jean Gabin (Le Plaisir, The Night Affair / Le désordre et la nuit) to Jane Powell and Wendell Corey (Rich, Young and Pretty). From Claude Dauphin (Jean de la lune) and Jean Marais (Ruy Blas, Typhoon Over Nagasaki / Typhon sur Nagasaki) to Vittorio De Sica (The Earrings of Madame de…) and Gene Kelly (The Young Girls of Rochefort).
More: from Albert Préjean (Dédé) to Kenneth More (The Greengage Summer). From Charles Boyer (Mayerling, The Earrings of Madame de…) to Françoise Dorleác (The Young Girls of Rochefort). Not to mention Darrieux’s 8 Women co-stars: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Ludivine Sagnier, Virginie Ledoyen, and Firmine Richard.
Cinema’s nonagenarians & centenarians
Initially posted in 2014, the following were listed among Danielle Darrieux’s fellow film nonagenarians: Michèle Morgan, Micheline Presle, Eli Wallach, Olivia de Havilland, Kirk Douglas, Louis Jourdan, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marsha Hunt, Glynis Johns, Lizabeth Scott, Valentina Cortese, and Maureen O’Hara, and Doris Day. In addition to nonagenarian-to-be Oscar winner Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront) and centenarian/two-time Oscar winner Luise Rainer (The Great Ziegfeld, The Good Earth). (Check out: “Surviving Movie Stars of the 1930s.”)
Of these, Presle, de Havilland, Douglas, Hunt, Johns, Cortese, Day, and Saint are still around. Both de Havilland and Douglas are now centenarians. Hunt will become one in October.
TCM honors Danielle Darrieux
In honor of Danielle Darrieux’s 100th birthday, Turner Classic Movies is showing six Darrieux movies tonight, including two TCM premieres: Henry Koster’s romantic comedy The Rage of Paris (1938), notable as the her first Hollywood film, and Jacques Demy’s musical A Room in Town / Une chambre en ville (1992).
The highlights of the evening, however, are two French productions of the early 1950s, both directed by Max Ophüls: La Ronde (1950) and The Earrings of Madame De… / Madame De… (1952).
Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play, the former is an all-star mix of sex, romance, and humor, featuring several vignettes linked by individuals involved in love/lust affairs in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century.
Adapted by Ophüls, Marcel Achard, and Annette Wademant from Louise de Vilmorin’s novel, the latter is one of the grandest and greatest romantic dramas ever made. Danielle Darrieux is nothing short of superb as the lovestruck, surname-less Madame of the title, while Charles Boyer delivers what is surely one of the best – if not the best – performance of his career as Monsieur De… Vittorio De Sica, taking time away from his neo-realist classics, completes the tragic love triangle.
8:00 PM THE RAGE OF PARIS (1938). Director: Henry Koster. Cast: Danielle Darrieux. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Mischa Auer. B&W. 78 mins.
9:30 PM LA RONDE (1950). Director: Max Ophüls. Cast: Anton Walbrook. Danielle Darrieux. Simone Signoret. Simone Simon. Serge Reggiani. Daniel Gélin. Fernand Gravey. Odette Joyeux. Jean-Louis Barrault. Isa Miranda. Gérard Philipe. B&W. 93 mins.
11:15 PM THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… / MADAME DE… (1953). Director: Max Ophüls. Cast: Charles Boyer. Danielle Darrieux. Vittorio De Sica. B&W. 100 mins.
1:15 AM THE GREENGAGE SUMMER / LOSS OF INNOCENCE (1961). Director: Lewis Gilbert. Cast: Kenneth More. Danielle Darrieux. Susannah York. Claude Nollier. Jane Asher. Maurice Denham. Bessie Love. Color. 100 mins.
3:15 AM A ROOM IN TOWN / UNE CHAMBRE EN VILLE (1982). Director: Jacques Demy. Cast: Dominique Sanda. Richard Berry. Danielle Darrieux. Color. 94 mins.
5:00 AM RICH, YOUNG AND PRETTY (1951). Director: Norman Taurog. Cast: Jane Powell. Danielle Darrieux. Wendell Corey. Vic Damone. Fernando Lamas. Marcel Dalio. Una Merkel. Richard Anderson. Jean Murat. Hans Conried. Color. 95 mins.
Danielle Darrieux La Ronde photo: Films Sacha Gordine.