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Classics Corner: Leslie Caron on ‘American in Paris’

The French actress remembers dancing with Gene Kelly in the classic 1951 MGM musical

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‘I was a ballerina with Les Ballets des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Gene Kelly came to see an evening where I was dancing the principal. He tried to meet me that night, opening night, but like a good little girl, I’d gone home. A year later, when he needed a partner for “An American in Paris”, he remembered me. He came to Paris, and said, “I know you can dance, but I don’t know what your voice sounds like or how you photograph. I’d like to make a test with you.” I did not see myself in Hollywood, making films. But we made the test and I promptly forgot about it. Several days later I received a phone call telling me I’d be leaving for Hollywood in three days.

‘Going to America was extremely exciting. I was 18, I knew nothing about acting, I couldn’t speak English and I didn’t know modern dancing. I was taught the lines phonetically, but you must notice, I don’t have all that many.

Leslie Caron dances with Gene Kelly in MGM’s classic musical

‘Gene was extremely precise as a [dance] partner, absolutely wonderful, very skilful in the pas de deux. He was fantastically gifted and had wonderful muscles. I really enjoyed dancing with him and I think he enjoyed dancing with me. He was quite demanding, it’s true, but I’ve never met a choreographer who wasn’t. I became quite ill after a while, because the regime was very tough, and Gene was the one who defended me. He said to the studio, “She’s got to rest one day and work the next.” We rehearsed everything for three months before starting to film. Shooting the long ballet sequence at the end must have taken over a month. It was a big, big thing.

‘I’m amazed by the continuous life of our film. It’s absolutely wonderful to think that 60-something years later Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli’s work is still alive, still admired, and inspires new performers. The stage musical is great. They’ve enriched the story and given it more meat.’

‘An American in Paris – The Musical’ is in cinemas on May 16 for one night only. Tickets are on sale at anamericaninpariscinema.com 

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