Madeleine Lebeau, believed to be the last surviving actor from the 1942 classic Casablanca, died May 1 in Estepona, Spain after breaking her thigh bone. Her step son, documentary filmmaker Carlo Alberto Pinelli made the announcement to the Hollywood Reporter yesterday. She was 92.
Lebeau is best known for her roll as Yvonne, the jilted lover of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine. After a one night stand, Rick spurs her so she takes up with a member of German Major Strasser’ entourage. When a group of German soldiers begin belting out “Die Wacht am Rhein” In Rick’s Cafe American, she joins a group of French patriots led by Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), in singing “La Marseillaise,” drowning out the Nazi anthem. The close up of Lebeaus’ tear-streamed face is one of the most powerful images of the film.
Born in 1923 in Antony, Hauts-de-Seine, France, Lebeau’s film career was just starting as war was breaking out across Europe. Mirroring their character’s own refugee status, many of the supporting cast of the film were actors who had fled Europe during the rise of Nazi Germany and the early days of World War II. Lebeau and her husband actor Marcel Dalio, who played croupier Emil in the film, had only recently arrived in Hollywood after escaping Nazi-occupied France when they were cast in Casablanca. Her emotions, like those of her fellow actors in that scene, were raw and real, and her cry of “Vive la France!” not a performance.
Casablanca was not Lebeau’s first Hollywood film. She also appeared in Hold Back the Dawn (1941) with Olivia de Havilland and Frenchman Charles Boyer and Gentleman Jim (1942) with Errol Flynn. She also appeared in the French resistance film Paris After Dark (1943) and Music for Millions (1944) during her Hollywood exile.
Following the war, and a divorce from Dalio, Lebeau returned to France where she appeared in such films as The Royalists (1947), Sins Of Madeleine (1951), La Parisienne (1957), which saw her reunited onscreen with Boyer, and Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), in which she played an actress named Madeleine.