For more than half a century, Cinecon has been a must-attend classic film festival for cinephiles. Kicking off an extended Labor Day weekend (Aug. 29 to Sept. 2), the five-day event will feature movie screenings at the historic Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles.
The program also includes movie memorabilia shows, and actresses Barbara Rush, Ann Robinson and Gigi Perreau will be in attendance to receive Cinecon Legacy Awards. (See www.cinecon.org.)
“It’s especially exciting to be recognized at this stage in my career,” said Perreau from her home in Los Angeles. “Most of my film appearances were as a child.”
Perreau has no memory of her earliest screen roles as an infant in early '40s films such as “Madame Curie” when she accompanied her mother who took her older brother Gerald for an audition. Little Gigi ended up snagging the brief spotlight playing Curie’s daughter and her parents were delighted.
“My mother was pregnant with me in France then my parents moved to the U.S where I was born, so none of my dad’s French relatives had seen me,” she explained. “So my parents thought appearing in ‘Madame Curie’ would be like a big home movie and their relations in France would get to see me!”
Perreau would go on to appear in some three dozen films throughout the 1940s and '50s, as well as numerous TV shows.
During the upcoming Cinecon event, famous for showing lesser-known film gems, Perreau’s 1950 “For Heaven's Sake” will be screened and the actress will do a Q&A session afterward.
While the film also starred Joan Bennett and Bob Cummings, Perreau mostly interacts on-screen with Clifton Webb and Edmund Gwenn who play angels sent to assist two unborn children to find suitable parents.
“I remember thinking how funny they were as angels — one was so tall and lean (Webb) and the other so short and chubby (Gwenn),” said Perreau.
She also vividly remembers Webb, noted for playing hilarious priggish condescending characters, being reduced to a panic during production when it was revealed that young Gigi had contracted an illness.
“I got the mumps during filming and he just about came unglued when he found out,” she recalled. “He insisted the whole production shut down for several days — because he was afraid of catching them, saying mumps can make a man sterile — until a doctor was able to assure him I was not contagious anymore. I don’t think he was very comfortable around children — we sneeze and cough and carry on — but he was a lovely man and very professional. Making the film was a wonderful experience for me.”
It’s been close to 70 years since the film’s release and Perreau says she’ll be viewing it during the Cinecon event with the audience for the first time since then.
“The studio may have had a screening when it was finished, but I don’t remember ever seeing it at the theater or on TV,” she said. “So I might be in for some surprises. As a spirit, I had to walk through solid objects so it’s going to be very amusing to see the special effects of the time.”
Although she took the occasional role in the 1960s and '70s, Perreau turned to education later in her career, teaching drama at Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles for 23 years. Many of her students went on to find work in all aspects of the entertainment industry with several becoming very well-known.
“I taught Tyra Banks and Meghan Markle,” she said. “Meghan just sparkled on the stage and would light it up. It was quite an amazing thing to see. Tyra also has that same spark and I remember thinking she would become a big model, which she did, but she’s also an amazing businesswoman.”
Perreau retired from teaching in 2006 but still takes the occasional voice-over role and has been working on her memoir over the years.
“I’m also raising two teenage girls — my 16-year-old granddaughter and a 14-year-old child I’m fostering who was the daughter of a dear friend who passed away a year-and-a-half ago and wanted me to take care of her. So I’ve had to put the book on hold.”
But, she says, she’s looking forward to the Cinecon event, seeing her old film, and answering questions about her career.
“Yes, it’s been a while since I did ‘For Heaven's Sake,’ so I'll just wing it when it comes to the questions — it'll be great fun!”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns and interviews for more than 750 magazines and newspapers. Visit www.getnickt.org.