A gifted actor with a suave and mysterious air, Louis Jourdan became one of Hollywood’s most durable Frenchmen after relocating to the U.S. in the wake of World War II, and launching a successful career in film and TV that lasted into the early 1990s. Jourdan—who retired at age 70—died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 93.
Jourdan was born Louis Gendre in Marseille, where his family ran a hotel, and became interested in acting in his teens, taking his mother’s maiden name as his professional surname. (His younger brother, Pierre, who also adopted the Jourdan name, became a notable stage and TV director in France.) The early years of his career was shaped by a close association with director Marc Allégret, who hired Jourdan as an assistant and gave him his first film role in Le Corsaire, production on which was left unfinished because of the outbreak of war. Like Allégret, Jourdan remained in occupied France, where he appeared in a string of comedies and romances and became involved with the Resistance’s leaflet-printing operation.
After the end of the war, Jourdan was invited to Hollywood by producer David O. Selznick, who gave him his first American role in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1947 courtroom drama The Paradine Case. Jourdan’s next project would provide him with one his best roles, as the callow pianist Stefan Brand in Max Ophüls’ masterful Stefan Zweig adaptation Letter From An Unknown Woman.
Jourdan’s Continental good looks and distinctive breathy, delicate delivery made him a popular romantic presence in Hollywood throughout the late ’40s and 1950s. He co-starred in Jacques Tourneur’s Technicolor pirate adventure Anne Of The Indies, Delmer Daves’ remake of Bird Of Paradise, Jean Negulesco’s Three Coins In The Fountain, and, most famously, in two French-set movies directed by the great Vincente Minnelli, Madame Bovary and Gigi. Jourdan made inroads in TV, and, in 1955, he starred starred—along with his Occupation-era co-star Claude Dauphin—in ABC’s one-of-a-kind police procedural Paris Precinct, which was filmed on location in Paris with an English-speaking French cast.
Though Jourdan periodically appeared in French films, his greatest success came in America, where he became Hollywood’s go-to debonair foreigner; one could argue that his willingness to be typecast (”I would rather be called a character actor than a star,” he would later say) tended to obscure his talent and range. He found steady work on TV movies and as a series guest star later in his career, before being cast a James Bond villain—a kind of rite of passage for foreign-born stars—in 1983’s Octopussy. And though Jourdan isn’t exactly convincing as an Afghan prince, his trembling, darting performance is eminently watchable, as is his tendency to mumble the title character’s name, as though he were embarrassed.
Jourdan also played villain Anton Arcane in two ’80s Swamp Thing movies, and played D’Artangan and Dracula in back-to-back TV movies in 1977. His final role was in 1992’s Year Of The Comet, directed by Peter Yates. He married his childhood sweetheart, Berthe Frederique, in 1946; they remained married until her death in 2011.