Gene Kelly spotted 17-year-old Leslie Caron performing in Paris. “He saw me on the stage dancing at the premiere of a ballet about Oedipus and the Sphinx. I was the Sphinx,” she tells Closer. A fleeting 18 months later, the ballerina found herself on the set of the beloved musical An American in Paris. “I had never spoken in my life on the stage,” she confesses. “Having to act out loud was a nightmare!”
At 90, Leslie lives a quiet life in London, where her days center around her grandchildren, friends and her elegant garden. Her constant companion is a rescue dog named Jack. “I keep fit. I owe it to my little dog to keep him fit,” says the still slender dancer.
Upon her wall, she’s hung photos of old friends, including Warren Beatty, 84, with whom she carried on a torrid romance in the 1960s. She recalls Warren waking her up worried that she was not thinking about him as she slept. “I thought it was funny!” she says. “It’s romantic when you’re young and somebody is thinking obsessively about you in the middle of the night. You are quite flattered.” But, ultimately, Leslie realized it was a sign of Warren’s narcissism and his desire to control her — even when she was asleep! “He considered himself my tutor and told me how to dress and wear makeup and how to behave,” she reveals.
Leslie also felt troubled by her similarities to Warren’s sister, Shirley MacLaine. “Warren always had girlfriends who resembled his sister, and I had many of her qualities,” Leslie notes. “I was a dancer, I had a very good figure, I was independent. Until he was a fully grown man, his sister was the center point of his life.”
Warren, Leslie confides, asked her to marry him several times, but the actress, who never became comfortable in the spotlight, said no. “He loved to be trailed around by journalists and to have everything you did photographed,” she explains. “I’m not somebody who likes public life.”
Yet after her debut in 1951’s An American in Paris, Leslie became a leading lady and received two Oscar nominations, for 1958’s Gigi and 1962’s The L-Shaped Room. She is also one of only six women to have danced in a film with both Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire — although she has never revealed which of the men was her favorite dance partner. “For 70 years, I’ve refused to answer that. A great dancer is a great dancer,” she says, adding that she enjoyed performing with them both.
Leslie does, however, believe that Cary Grant, her co-star in 1964’s Father Goose, was the most talented actor she ever worked with. “He was a remarkable performer. He was very instinctive, seductive, intelligent,” she says, confiding that despite his charm and success, Cary, who grew up in poverty, “worried about money” and was “complicated.”
Since her youth, the three-times divorced star has acted on and off, but gave it up last year. “During the first lockdown, I decided I was retiring,” she says. “I don’t have to get up tomorrow morning to do something. I can oversleep, I can stay up and watch the end of the film. That liberty is wonderful!” After such a long, eventful life and career, Leslie has earned it!