The Kennedy Center

Claudette Colbert


Claudette Colbert

Of actress Claudette Colbert it has been written, "[Her] glamour is the sort that women attain for themselves by using their intelligence to create a timeless personal style" (Jeanie Basinger in The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers).

Best known for her stylish portrayals in a series of screwball comedies in the late 1930s and '40s, Colbert's fine comic timing and her unique ability to portray characters who thrived in whatever situation they found themselves made her a model for other actresses. One such resourceful character was runaway heiress Ellie Andrews in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934), a surprise hit that earned Colbert and her costar Clark Gable that year's Oscar for Best Actress and Best Actor.

Also known in Hollywood for her shrewd business sense, Colbert fashioned for herself a significant screen career, the range of which is reflected in her other two Best Actress nominations--as a psychiatrist in Private Worlds (1935) and as a wartime wife in Since You Went Away (1944).

Born Claudette Lily Chauchoin in Paris, she moved with her family to New York as a child of 6. She was educated in the New York City schools and planned a career as a fashion designer, but her appearance in several 1920s Broadway shows led to a contract with Paramount, where she had her first big success in Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932). After her last film in 1961, she returned to leading roles in the theater, most recently performing opposite Rex Harrison in The Kingfisher and, in 1986, Aren't We All?, which was seen in London, New York, and throughout the United States.

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