Madeleine Lebeau, Last Surviving Casablanca Star, Dies

At the age of 92, the French actress Madeleine Lebeau has died. The Chicago Tribune reports Lebeau passed away on May 1 in Estepona, Spain, which is sad news for any film buff. The gorgeous French actress was best known for her role in the classic Casablanca where she played the unhappily scorned Yvonne, the would-be lover of Rick Blaine. Blaine was of course played by the legendary Humphrey Bogart. Madeleine was no stranger to scorn and troubles. According to People magazine, Lebeau only began her career after fleeing for Hollywood during the opening stages of the Second World War.

Before her death, the Casablanca actress was suffering from severe medical complications following another unrelated injury. LeBeau had broken a bone in her thigh, and complications from this injury eventually resulted in her death. Madeleine’s stepson, Carlo Alberto Pinelli, told the Hollywood Reporter about LeBeau’s death. Alberto, an accomplished mountaineer, followed in LeBeau’s footsteps and began a career as a documentary filmmaker. There are few better ways for a child to show he loves his parents than to take up their hobbies and career choice, that’s for sure.

LeBeau, who is also sometimes known as “Lebeau” in the credits, was the last living cast member of the 1942 classic Casablanca, until she passed away this May. The other actors and actresses, including the legendary stars Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, had all previously passed. The death of LeBeau marks the end of an era in filmmaking. Casablanca is one of the most influential movies to date, and the American Film Institute places Casablanca a close second to Citizen Kane in the running for the category of the greatest movie ever made. Classic indeed.

Though intended as little more than a pro-war propaganda piece, Casablanca proved itself to be an exquisitely crafted work of nearly incomparable quality. The riveting wartime romantic drama won several awards and the Oscars piled up as Casablanca won no less than Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. It’s not often that a stroke of genius is rewarded both in its own era and much later, but in the case of 1942’s iconic propaganda-piece turned heart-melting romance, that’s exactly what happened.

Humphrey Bogart and his iconic co-star Ingrid Bergman certainly deserve endless praise for their performances, and they were far from the only things that made the film so good. Casablanca featured some of the biggest names in the industry at the time, and some of the most lauded actors of all time. The list include Madeleine’s own husband, Marcel Dalio, who amazed audiences with his performance of Emil the croupier.

In one of the more memorable and praised scenes of Casablanca, Dalio joins Claude Rains as on set. Rains played the corrupt police officer Louis Renault. The officer receives a stack of winnings from Emil, and is “shocked, shocked” to see that gambling is taking place on the premises. We often think of old films as vanilla and relatively safe compared to today’s gratuitous action fiestas and violent stomach-churning dramas, but classics like Casablanca had a level of sarcastic, cynical subtext that spoke volumes more about the human condition than any blood filled gangland scene ever could. Though Casablanca was intended by LeBeau to be her breakout, it turned out, at least for LeBeau, to be a bit of a disappointment.

“It wasn’t that I was cut out, it was that they kept changing the script and, each time they changed it, I had less of a part. It wasn’t personal, but I was so disappointed.”

Though her own role in Casablanca may have been disappointing for LeBeau, the world thanks Madeleine for her subtle and effective performance. Without LeBeau behind the part to sell the role of a scorned, unhappy wife, we’re not sure Casablanca would have been the icon it became. Film buffs and movie lovers everywhere are heartbroken at the death of an amazing, if underappreciated, actress, and at the passing of a last living piece of a legacy of one of the foundations of the modern art of film.

Fans everywhere offer sympathy to family members after the news of Madeleine LeBeau’s death, and can only assure her loved ones that although LeBeau never became a household name, she certainly helped build something that changed the world.

[Photo by neftali / Shutterstock.com]