The classic film Casablanca is often regarded as one of the greatest romances to ever dazzle the silver screen. The wartime drama, directed by Michael Curtiz, has only grown in popularity since its 1942 release. In addition to a stellar script, score, and nostalgic, dream-like tone, the film features a first-rate cast of actors.
Among them was French actress and last surviving Casablanca star, Madeleine LeBeau, who died on May 1 in Spain following a thigh-bone fracture. She was 92. Despite her smaller role, LeBeau is known for her passionate performance singing “Le Marseillaise” during one of the film’s more pivotal scenes: in an attempt to drown out a group of singing German soldiers (and in an act of revolutionary defiance), patrons of Rick’s Café Américain, a nightclub in the eponymous city, stand and sing “Le Marseillaise,” the national anthem of France. As the song draws to a close, LeBeau, her face wet with tears, shouts “Vive la France!” (You can watch her performance here).
LeBeau was born in the southern suburbs of Paris in 1923, appearing on screen in the 1939 French film, Young Girls in Trouble. By the following year, she fled to the United States, escaping the Nazi invasion with her husband, actor Marcel Dalio. There, LeBeau received a contract with Warner Bros., appearing in films like Hold Back the Dawn and Gentleman Jim, starring Errol Flynn. In Casablanca, LeBeau’s third film, the 19-year-old actress appeared alongside Hollywood notables Humphrey Bogart (as Rick Blaine), Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa Lund), and Paul Henreid (as Victor Laszlo). Well received by critics and audiences alike, the film would go on to receive eight Academy Award nominations and win three, including Outstanding Motion Picture.
During the film’s production, however, LeBeau’s husband, Dalio, filed for divorce, and the young starlet’s contract with Warner Bros. was terminated just before the film’s release. LeBeau went on to appear in two other Hollywood movies (Paris after Dark and Music for Millions) before returning to France after World War II where she would continue to appear in national films, such as Cage of Gold and Une Parisienne, until the 1960s. LeBeau also landed a small role in Federico Fellini’s avant-garde classic, 8 ½. She married the film’s co-writer, Tullio Pinelli, whose death preceded LeBeau’s in 2009.
According to reports, LeBeau was cremated. Her ashes will be brought to Italy and placed in the family tomb within the coming months.
R.I.P. Madeleine Lebeau, June 10, 1923 – May 1, 2016