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Chevalier Biographer Takes Up Defense

A NEW biography of Maurice Chevalier refutes accusations that the French actor-singer collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

Biographer Edward Behr says that his book "The Good Frenchman" (Random House, 400 pp, $27.50) attempts to put into perspective Chevalier's relations with the Nazis during the occupation of France.

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"He's supposed to have collaborated with the Germans, performed for them, provided his services as a propagandist for Franco-German reconciliation," Behr says.

"The extent of his collaboration, if you can call it that, is that he went to Germany to give two concerts in French prisoner-of-war camps there. He gave an interview in a French literary magazine in which he said he venerated Marshal Petain, the ex-general and World War I hero, who was leader of Vichy France [the German-controlled government of France]. I think one can be a Petainist without being a collaborator."

While some other entertainers and artists went to parties given by the German embassy and Nazi officers, Behr says, "Chevalier did not do that.

"Paris from 1940 to '44, under German occupation, was a boom time for every form of entertainment. All the major music-hall stars performed uninterrupted to packed houses. Audiences were French and German.

"Chevalier was the star in 1941 and '42 of the Casino de Paris. He was a workaholic. All he lived for really was going out on the stage in the evening to the acclaim of beloved audiences.

"But he didn't go on in 1943 and '44. He got feedback from America that he was being considered an arch collaborator."

Chevalier was arrested by the underground French Resistance, Behr says, but, "He was able to justify himself. A resistance court later exonerated him."

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Previously, there had been only two books about Chevalier. Both, Behr says, "glossed over" the collaborationist allegations.

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