Thank Heavens…!

Gus LeClerq Fred Karno
Gus LeClerq in Marseilles (3rd from right)

September is the birth month of famous French entertainer Maurice Chevalier. He was born in Paris on 12 September 1888. He made his name as a star of musical comedy, appearing in public as a singer and dancer at an early age before working in four menial jobs as a teenager.

In 1909, he became the partner of the biggest female star in France at the time, Fréhel. Although their relationship was brief she helped him to his first major engagement, as a mimic and a singer in L’Alcazar in Marseille, for which he received critical acclaim by French theatre critics.

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Taking his stepfather George’s stage name Gus McNaughton went on tour to Europe with a Fred Karno troupe as Gus LeClerq and retained the name until he joined Fred McNaughton. Karno’s troupe included Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, launching their careers, along with many others.

Gus and Maurice met in around 1909/1910 when Karno’s troupe was engaged at the Alczar Leon Doux in Marseilles. They bonded immediately and formed a life-long friendship. It was Gus who taught Chavalier to improve his English.

Karno’s company was touring ‘Mumming Birds’ aka A Night in an English Music Hall. You can get more on Mumming Birds here.

In 1917, Maurice discovered jazz and ragtime and went to London where he found new success at the Palace Theatre before going on to star in English speaking film roles in Hollywood most notably in Gigi.

Maurice Chevalier

Chevalier’s trademark boater was suggested in collaboration with Gus and the pair remained friends throughout their life. Maurice even attended Gus’ 80th birthday at the cottage in Cambridgeshire to where he had retired in the 1940s.

The Alcazar still exists but it has been refurbished and converted into a municipal library.

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