Actor, singer. (b. Sept. 12, 1888, Paris; d. Jan. 1, 1972.) The epitome of French charm and sophistication, this legendary performerinstantly recognizable by his dancing eyes, slick hair, and thick lower lip-had the good fortune to be in America at the dawn of the talkie age, and helped revolutionize movie musicals by freeing them from the constraints of corny backstage plots and settings. Chevalier, an acrobat who turned to singing after being sidelined in a severe accident, made several short films in France (beginning with 1908's Trop credule). He served in the French army during World War 1, was wounded, captured, and imprisoned by the Germans. (He learned English from a fellow prisoner.) After the war, he returned to entertaining and became the toast of Parisian music halls. Chevalier came to America in 1928, and after making a short subject Bonjour New York! on the East Coast he went to Hollywood. He worked for Paramount, which designed airy, sophisticated (and often naughty) vehicles that would emphasize his continental charm. The Love Parade (1929) teamed him with debuting Jeanette MacDonald in a suave musical directed by Ernst Lubitsch; Chevalier was Oscar-nominated for his performance. (He also starred in the foreign-language version of this and several subsequent films as well.) He sang a couple of songs in the all-star revue Paramount on Parade (1930), and went to the company's Astoria, Long Island, studio that same year to make The Big Pond which earned him another Oscar nomination.

Chevalier's insouciant manner and blithe delivery of juicy dialogue (often of the double entendre variety) endeared him to sophisticated audiences, although theaters in rural areas eventually rebelled against the Lubitsch-Chevalier type of picture, complaining that they were too continental for their audiences. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931) and One Hour With You (1932) were both delightful, but Chevalier's collaboration with director Rouben Mamoulian, 1932's Love Me Tonight was even more effective. Supported by Jeanette MacDonald and Myrna Loy, blessed with some of the best songs written by Rodgers and Hart, Chevalier delivered one of his finest performances as a tailor mistaken for royalty. It was the high point of his screen career and, in fact, marked a turning point for the singer. His later vehicles, including A Bedtime Story, The Way to Love (both 1933), The Merry Widow (1934), and Folies Bergère (1935) all had their points, but didn't reach, much less surpass, the plateau reached by Love Me Tonight. Then, too, the Production Code had defanged the kind of tart scripts he'd been given, and American musicals had become more sophisticated.

Returning to Europe, Chevalier starred or costarred in several English and French films during the late 1930s, including The Beloved Vagabond (1936), Man of the Hour (1937), and Break the News (1938, with another veteran song-and-dance man, Jack Buchanan). World War 2 interrupted Chevalier's film career, and he was accused-but later vindicated-of being a Nazi collaborator. He went to Hollywood in the mid 1950s just in time for the waning years of the American movie musical's golden age. Now gray-haired and jowly, but still a twinkly-eyed rake, he appeared in Love in the Afternoon (1957, wittily cast by Billy Wilder as a dour private eye), Gigi (1958, which gave him several new signature songs, "I Remember It Well" and "Thank Heaven for Little Girls"), Count Your Blessings (1959), Can-Can (1960), Fanny (1961), In Search of the Castaways (1962), I'd Rather Be Rich (1964), Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), and The Aristocats (1970, singing the title song). He won a special Oscar in 1958.

From - - Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia: