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"Get in here and tell me all about it."

by Jason Adams

Why not celebrate the 115th anniversary of the birth of Claudette Colbert today by taking a warm milk bath and then watching Cecille B Demille's infamously lascivious 1932 film The Sign of the Cross? The whole thing is online right here. One of my favorite things about this movie - besides Colbert, and besides Fredric March in short skirts, and besides Charles Laughton as a leering bisexual Nero (that's a lot of besides!), is this story about how Colbert got cast:

“On my way out of the executive offices at Paramount one day,” said DeMille, “I met a young actress named Claudette Colbert. She’d not done much, just playing pansy roles.” Colbert’s most recent part was as George M. Cohan’s daughter in The Phantom President. “I was bored with these roles,” recalled Colbert. “Because I happened to look like a lady, that’s all they wanted me to play.”

“I think they’ve got you wrong,” DeMille told her. “You should not be playing these little girls. To me you look like the wickedest woman in the world. Would you like to play her?” “I’d love to!” replied Colbert. “Claudette’s test was the shortest on record,” said DeMille. He brought her and Fredric March to a soundstage. “You harlot!” said March. “I love you,” said Colbert with a half-smile and a shrug. “That’s enough,” said DeMille from the camera. “You have the part.”

Colbert of course went and became a huge star after this - I just caught some of the 1934 version of Imitation of Life on TV the other day and while I vastly prefer Sirk's 1959 version with Lana Turner (not to mention Peak Hotness John Gavin) Colbert is always worth watching.  

What are your favorite Claudette Colbert moments?

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Reader Comments (17)

I can't believe no one has answered this?! My head is too jumbled at the moment for specific moments but I love Colbert in so many things. I too think the Sirk version of Imitation of Life is superior but she's really good in the original and she's perfect/perfect/perfect in her Oscar winning role and just lovely in Since You Went Away.

September 13, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

OK then. *takes off clothes and dives into bathtub*

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

The Palm Beach Story (dir. Preston Sturges/1942)
Colbert at her most confident, comedic, sexy best!

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

Co-sign the Palm Beach story

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commentermatt

Nathaniel - I was waiting for others, I swear!

It Happened One Night, of course. I can watch that movie at any time.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

I love the zany screwball antics of Bluebeard's Eighth Wife!

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

Many many movies. One of the Queens of comedy. And good in drama too. The two last movies I saw with her are Midnight(39) an insane Billy Wilder script where you can't say who's better in the cast (Colbert, John Barrymore, Don Ameche or Mary Astor) and Arise My Love(40) comedy/drama/adventure/war/romance with Ray Milland again a Billy Wilder crazy script. Claudette is one of my favourites and my personal Cleopatra.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

Ah, yes! The nip-slip that brought us the Hayes Code. If decades of self-censorship is what cinema would have to endure, deMille could've at least given us full tit.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

Cleopatra introduced me to Claudette and the Golden age of Cinema. It remains my favorite Colbert film but Remember the Day is a close second. Happy Birthday Claudette. There will never be another you.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

Yes, Midnight, The Palm Beach Story, and The Egg and I are probably my favorite non-It Happened One Night movies with Claudette Colbert. She mad light comedy look easy.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Hollywood

That this movie made it past the censors is shocking, it's so wildly salacious.

I'm a fan of her better known films (IHON, Midnight, Cleopatra etc.) but like some of her more obscure stuff just as well.

She is decked out to the nines in Zaza. She and Fred MacMurray made many films together of which the Egg and I is probably the best known but I prefer No Time for Love where Fred is at his peak hunkiness. Their Family Honeymoon is also a pleasant trifle. She's enchanting in Tovarich teaming superbly with Charles Boyer and she's very strong in the somber Three Came Home.

A facile comedienne and a fine dramatic actress the one thing she couldn't do was a certain type of historical drama, she's woefully out of place in Drums Along the Mohawk and especially the ridiculous Maid of Salem.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

😱!! The nip slip tt lauched the Hay Codes!! Colbert hated this scene! DeMile keeps reshooting this scene in the hope of catching a full glimpse o Colbert's boobs n the ass milk turns skanky n stenchy under the heat of the lights! Poor Claudette enduring hours naked in sour milk!

I much prefer her iconic comedic turns in M8dnight n The Palm Beach Story, than IHON. Metink she shld've won for Cleopatra tt yr instead! That said, she really makes comedies seem like a breeze (the true fact is tt it's harder than melodrama).

Trivia : Claudette was a triple threat back in 1934! w IHON, Cleopatra n Imitation of Life dominating the box office! She was enormously popular, so her win over Bette was kinda expected.

Ano lesser known trivia: she was a well known member in the notorious Sewing Circle!! Her one marriage is Lavendar.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I Love the part in IHONight where Gable and her hiding in the camp-someone comes-then they pretend to be bickering newlyweds to throw off the snoop. She puts on a country accent and the back and forth potshots are wonderful...

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

My favourites are Midnight, The Palm Beach Story, It Happened One Night and Since You Went Away.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

Claudette and I share a birthday and she's one of my favourites of the era. Love her in It Happened One Night, Midnight, Three Came Home, and The Egg and I. Midnight is a big favourite of mine. It really should be better known today than it is, not only for Colbert's peerless work, but also for John Barrymore. He delivers most of his performance while reading his lines from cue cards, and still displays flawless comedic timing.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Canada

Other comediennes who, like Claudette Colbert, made the 1930s a funnier era and the world a better place(with omissions):
1 Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler Dinner at Eight 33
2 Jean Arthur Mr Deeds Goes to Town 36
3 Myrna Loy The Thin Man 34
4 Carole Lombard My Man Godfrey 36
5 Constance Bennett Topper 37
6 Deanna Durbin One Hundred Men and A Girl 37
7 Ginger Rogers Vivacious Lady 38
8 Irene Dunne Theodora Goes Wild 36
9 Billie Burke Merrily We Live 38
10 Katharine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby 38
11 Wendy Hiller Pygmalion 38
12 Jeanette McDonald Naughty Marietta 35
13 Greta Garbo Ninotchka 39
14 Marlene Dietrich Destry Rides Again 39
15 Mae West I'm No Angel 33

September 14, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSamuel

@ samuel- everyone was on point in dinner at eight. What a gem of a movie!

September 15, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom G.

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