Micheline Presle, French actress who starred in Hollywood with Errol Flynn and Paul Newman – obituary

Micheline Presle, photographed in Paris in 1940: she played a vengeful Creole girl opposite Errol Flynn in Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951)
Micheline Presle, photographed in Paris in 1940 - Roger Viollet

Micheline Presle, the French actress who has died aged 101, enjoyed a brief Hollywood career in films such as Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951), a soggy sea yarn directed by her husband William Marshall in which she played a vengeful Creole girl opposite a fading Errol Flynn, who wrote the screenplay.

She later appeared in Joseph Losey’s British murder-mystery Blind Date (1959) with Hardy Kruger and Sir Stanley Baker about a boorish young Dutch painter who becomes the prime suspect when his elegant but ice-cold mistress is found dead. Critics complained that Blind Date portrayed the London police in a bad light, but it has since been described as “a daring and sophisticated investigation into British attitudes towards sex, class and the establishment in the late 1950s”.

Small and slender with grey-green eyes, Micheline Presle was Tyrone Power’s love interest in Fritz Lang’s war drama American Guerrilla in the Philippines (1950). She was also the co-editor (with Louis Jordan) of a magazine that puts Brigitte Bardot’s Chouchou and her feminine charms on its cover in the romantic comedy The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful (1956) and was a Nobel-winning scientist who seeks to regain her husband’s attentions by asking Paul Newman to pretend to have an affair with her in the spy comedy The Prize (1963).

She played a vengeful Creole girl opposite Errol Flynn in Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951)
She played a vengeful Creole girl opposite Errol Flynn in Adventures of Captain Fabian (1951) - Alamy

Previously she had offended moralists by playing an impulsive but married First World War nurse who succumbs to the attentions of a 17-year-old student (Gérard Philipe) in Claude Autant-Lara’s Le diable au corps (Devil in the Flesh, 1947). Although the sex scenes were unusually explicit for the time and the subject matter was regarded as unpatriotic, it was nevertheless voted one of the 10 best films of the year by France’s National Review Board.

While Micheline Presle was embarrassed to be watched by 60 technicians while filming her love scenes, she also enjoyed male attention. “I like to hear men whistle after me,” she once said. “It’s like hooters on tugboats. One likes to hear them even if one has no intention of making the trip.”

Micheline Nicole Julia Emilienne Chassagne was born on the Left Bank in Paris on August 22 1922, the daughter of Robert Chassagne, a French banker who fled to the US to avoid a financial scandal, and his wife Julie (née Bachelier), an artist.

Micheline Presle in New York in 1947, after her international breakthrough, Angel and Sinner (1945)
Micheline Presle in New York in 1947, after her international breakthrough, Angel and Sinner (1945) - STF

Despite being educated at a convent school, she had the freedom to take acting classes with the Belgian actor Raymond Rouleau. They later appeared together in Falbalas (Paris Frills, 1945), about a famous French dressmaker who seduces his friend’s fiancée, a film that Jean-Paul Gaultier said inspired him to go into fashion.

Her film debut was in Pierre Carson’s comedy La Fessée (1937), where she was billed as Micheline Michel. She took the name Presle from her character Jacqueline Presle, the leader of a group of girls distressed by their parents’ divorces in Georg Pabst’s Young Girls in Trouble (1939), which won her the Prix Suzanne Bianchetti (sometimes described as a French Oscar) for most promising young actress.

Micheline Presle continued to make movies during the wartime occupation of Paris before coming to international attention as a prostitute who confronts a Prussian occupier in Boule de Suif (Angel and Sinner, 1945). In 1949 she was signed to 20th Century Fox, which changed her name to Prell because Presle was being mispronounced in the US as Pretzel and cast her as a café owner who falls in love with a crooked jockey (John Garfield) in Jean Negulesco’s Ernest Hemingway adaptation Under My Skin (1950). The producer Darryl F Zanuck later billed her as Micheline Prelle to avoid confusion with a shampoo brand.

Micheline Presle in 1959
Micheline Presle in 1959 - Lipnitzki

Her Hollywood career proved disappointing and after The Prize she did not appear in any more English-language films, though she was seen in more than 50 French productions, including as an understanding Mother Superior in Claude Lelouch’s Les Misérables (1995). She won a César for best supporting actress as Gérard Depardieu’s mother in the bilingual I Want to Go Home (1989), about a cartoonist observing the difference between American and French cultural values, and in 2004 was awarded an honorary César.

In 1971 Micheline Presle was one of the signatories of Simone de Beauvoir’s Manifeste de 343, a petition in which 343 prominent women declared that they had undergone an illegal abortion and called for the procedure to be decriminalised in France.

She was briefly married in 1945 to Michel Lefort, a tennis player and wine merchant. After moving to Hollywood she married the American actor and band leader William Marshall, who had earlier been married to another French film star, Michèle Morgan. That was dissolved in 1954 and he later married the Oscar-winning actress Ginger Rogers. Her daughter, the actress Tonie Marshall, who directed the romantic comedy Venus Beauty Institute (1999), in which Micheline Presle made a brief appearance, died in 2020.

Micheline Presle, born August 22 1922, died February 21 2024