A Tribute to Claudette Colbert
When Paramount loaned Claudette Colbert to Columbia to make “It Happened One Night” with Clark Gable, she was not happy. For one thing, it was a minor screwball comedy, as opposed to the costume epics she’d been making at Paramount. And she’d had a bad experience with the director, a fellow by the name of Frank Capra, in her first film, the only silent she ever did. She demanded double her normal salary, and reportedly hated the whole thing. She was at the train station when her Oscar was announced.
Colbert’s contradictory experience with “It Happened One Night” — a film that went on to become one of Hollywood’s most beloved romantic comedies, the first film to sweep all the major Academy Awards, and the only role to result in an Oscar win for her — was a microcosm of her career as a whole.
Born September 13, 1903 in Paris as Claudette Lily Chauchoin, Claudette moved with her family to the United States when she was only three. Although studying to be a fashion designer, she switched to acting after appearing in a small part in a Broadway play in 1923. She says she never pursued roles, but when she got them, she made sure she was paid as much as possible, becoming the highest paid star in Hollywood at one point. She was best known as a comedienne, in spite of her decidedly upper class appearance, voice, and demeanor. She was one of America’s top box office stars in the 30s and 40s, but always considered acting a job, and once said she regretted becoming an actress, because there were so many other things she could have done. She preferred the Broadway stage, and she only left New York for Tinseltown when the Great Depression shut down all the theaters. (She later returned after appearing in “Parrish” with Troy Donahue in 1961, and never looked back.)
Her fans, however, are pleased that she stuck with movie acting. After more than 60 films and TV shows and dozens of stage appearances, she was recently voted #12 on the American Film Institute’s list of classic actresses. She probably would have been gracious, but unimpressed; however, she died in 1996, before the program aired on TV, so we’ll never know.
Nominated three times for Academy Awards, Claudette Colbert was a unique talent, and her films demonstrate a wide range, from screwball comedies to costume dramas to “three-hankie weepies.” I hope you enjoy this article, which lists some tribute sites, film reviews, posters, and other goodies in honor of this fine actress.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters