Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Actor Colbert dead at 92

Claudette Colbert, whose trademark bangs and radiant smile graced such beloved 1930s films as Midnight, Cleopatra and the classic It Happened One Night, died Tuesday. She was 92.

Ms. Colbert, who also kept an apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, died in Barbados, where she had an oceanfront home, said Peter Griffith, director of Lyndhurst Funeral Home in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The actor appeared in more than 60 films, including I Met Him in Paris, Midnight, Tovarich, The Smiling Lieutenant, The Palm Beach Story, Since You Went Away and Three Came Home.

Her lilting, velvet voice was heard in three-hankie weepers, melodramas and epics but her forte was comedy, such as It Happened One Night which co-starred Clark Gable and was directed by Frank Capra. She shared in its then-unprecedented sweep at the Oscars.

"It made audiences happy in a way that only a few films in each era do," film critic Pauline Kael once wrote. "In the mid-'30s, the Colbert and Gable of this film became Americans' idealized view of themselves _ breezy, likable, sexy, gallant, and maybe just a little harebrained. It was the Annie Hall of its day _ before the invention of anxiety."

"I love to play comedy and I can say immodestly that I'm a very good comedienne," Ms. Colbert said in a 1981 Time interview. "But I was always fighting that image, too. I just never had the luck to play b----es."

Ms. Colbert was born in Paris on Sept. 13, 1903. Three years later her father brought the family to New York City. Her passport listed birth date as 1905, a mistake she did not correct until she was 75.

She was christened Lily Chauchoin. But after she graduated from high school, she got a bit part on Broadway and two years later her new name _ Claudette Colbert _ was up in lights.

Ms. Colbert was married in 1928 to actor Norman Foster. They eventually divorced. Her second marriage, to surgeon Dr. Joel Pressman in 1935, endured until his death in 1968. They had no children.

At the peak of her popularity in the late 1930s Ms. Colbert earned $150,000 a picture _ a truly substantial sum at the time. But for all her success, she never was obsessed with acting.

"I never thought of my career as the primary thing in my life. I looked upon acting as a job, and now, frankly, I regret it," she said at age 77. "I think of all the things I could have done. I just let parts come to me. I never went after them."

In addition to the Oscar, her honors included a Golden Globe award for The Two Mrs. Grenvilles and a Life Achievement award from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in 1989.