The last living performer from Casablanca is gone, as French actress Madeleine Lebeau, who played Yvonne in the 1942 Academy Award winning classic, and in real life lived through experiences as harrowing as those of the film’s lead character, died following a hip injury on May 1. She was 92.
Born in 1923 in Antony, Hauts-de-Seine, France, Lebeau began her career in film immediately before the start of World War II with the 1939 French drama Jeunes filles en détresse (Girls in Distress). The following year, in a scene right out of the film for which she would become best known, Lebeau, who was Jewish, was forced to flee Paris with her then-husband Marcel Dalio ahead of the advancing German invasion. The couple ended up in Lisbon, Portugal and from there attempted to travel to the Americas on a Chilean visa. Their transit across the Atlantic was stopped in Mexico when it was discovered their visas were forgeries, but were eventually able to secure temporary Canadian passports which they used to make their way to the United States.
In the U.S. Lebeau resumed her film career making her American debut with a small part in the 1941 drama Hold Back the Dawn. The first of her movies with certain parallels to her own life, the film stars Charles Boyer as a Romanian gigolo who finds himself stuck in Mexico and marries an American woman in order obtain entry to the United States. She followed that up the next year with a turn as Polish-French entertainer Anna Held in Gentleman Jim, the biopic of Boxer “Gentleman” Jim Corbett starring Errol Flynn in the title role.
It was for her third American film however that she is most remembered. Signed to a Warner Bros contract in 1942, she was quickly cast in Casablanca as Yvonne. Introduced as yet another spurned conquest by main character Rick Blaine, she is next seen as a collaborator on the arm of a German soldier. However, during the iconic cast performance of “La Marseillaise,” Yvonne tears up as she sings along and then shouts “Viva la France!” Like many of the film’s cast who were also refugees from Nazi terror, Lebeau’s tears, and her shout, were absolutely genuine.
She appeared in two more films in the United States, and returned to France after the war where she continued her acting career. Among her other credits, she portrayed a singer in Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. She also appeared in 1947’s The Royalists, 1950’s Cage of Gold, and the 1957 film La Parisienne, alongside Brigitte Bardot.
Lebeau and Dalio, who also appeared in Casablanca, divorced in 1942. Later in life she married Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tullio Pinelli, who died at age 100 in 2009. She lived in Estepona, Spain, a the time of her death.