Christiane Tourneur in Grains de beauté

Christiane Tourneur played Snow White in the first French version, released in 1938. She played the speaking part. But who is she?


Born on July 13, 1905 (1906?) in Pessac, Gironde, France, Marguerite Christiane Virideau was, in the late ’20s, the epitome of the American flapper. Like Colleen Moore or Louise Brooks, she adopted the squared hairstyle typical of the period, and her little-girl voice contrasted with her advantageous figure, which soon attracted the famous actor Charles Vanel. Although he was at the dawn of a very long career, Vanel had already played dozens of roles over the past ten years, but he decided to direct what was to be his only feature film, Dans la nuit (In the Night).

An extra

In this film, released in 1930, although not credited in the credits, Christiane, who had become Vanel’s girlfriend, was clearly the most prominent extra on the bride and groom’s carriage. This was not her first screen appearance: she had apparently debuted in a Robert Saidreau comedy entitled Monsieur le Directeur in 1925!

But by 1930, talking pictures were gaining ground in France.

Christiane Tourneur in Dans la Nuit
Christiane Tourneur in Accusée, levez-vous !

Tourneur Sr.

Charles Vanel takes her on board the set of his next film, Accusée levez-vous! where he plays the bad boy in this first talking picture by the highly acclaimed director Maurice Tourneur, then fresh from a brilliant career in the United States. From the very first scene of the film, the soundtrack gave Christiane unprecedented ease of recognition, thanks to her trademark childlike voice, accompanied by a sulky pout as she complained that her lily costume wasn’t ready, a pretext for appearing quite undressed on stage.

Much to Vanel’s dismay, Christiane became Maurice’s lover, and he gave her increasingly important roles in his films.

She went on to play one of her most talkative role with Jean Gabin: Gaby Basset’s salesgirl friend in Everyone Has Their Chance. She is credited only by her first name and appears in the press under the name Christiane Veridean.

Tourneur Jr.

Tourneur’s next film was Maison de danses, and in third place in Comœdia magazine, which announced the film’s release in February 1931, was the actress “Christine Virideau” [sic]. Christiane is also featured in the next film, Partir. In both these films, she appears prominently in the credits as Christiane Virido, despite her lackluster roles. During these shoots, she became increasingly close to one of Maurice’s collaborators: his own son Jacques, who alternated between positions as assistant director, editor and so on.

She eventually left Maurice for his son, who had already directed his first feature film and released his second, Toto, starring Albert Préjean, in 1933. In the meantime, Christiane took on a few more roles. First she appears with Annabella as a shop clerck in Companion Wanted, and then gets more substantial roles in Pierre Caron’s Grains de Beauté, and, still under the name Christiane Virido, Cognasse, where she played the daughter of the famous Tramel.

According to Maurice Bessy, she played in Jean de Létraz’s play “Bichon” but her name is not mentioned in the paper.

André Roanne and Christiane Tourneur in Cognasse
Christiane Tourneur in Going Highbrow


In 1934, at a time when the father-son relationship had probably suffered as a result of their relationship with Christiane, Jacques set off with his film Toto to conquer America, as his father had done before him. He leaves Le Havre harbor on the SS French Oregon on September 4, 1934 and ends his journey in Los Angeles on September 29, 1934. He had been naturalized on January 28, 1921. Christiane obtained her passport in Paris on September 2, and boarded the SS Gerolstein. She reached New York on October 1, and the pair lived at 610 Pacific Mutual Building, 523 West Sixth Street, Los Angeles, California. They married on April 22, 1935. That same year, Christiane played (in French) a French actress at the beginning of Going Highbrow, and went on to play a number of French roles (Society Smugglers) while her husband was hired at MGM to make short films, including Romance of Radium, in which the role of Becquerel was played by André Cheron, future French voice of Grumpy and the Huntsman.

Snow White

With the French version of Snow White in the works, French-speaking actresses in Hollywood were approached to lend their voices to the heroine. The exuberant wife of director Jacques Tourneur was an excellent choice. Her tone perfectly matched the youthfulness and good humor of the little princess.

But even more than the American artist (who took part in the re-release festivities), the French artist remained away from the public eye. Firstly, because Walt Disney wanted to preserve the magic behind the scenes and give his characters a life of their own, but also, it seems, because the quality of the French recording didn’t completely satisfy the studio. So, unlike the English and Spanish versions, no disc of the French soundtrack was ever released.

As a result, apart from the odd press clipping, Christiane’s name was never mentioned. Worse still, other more fashionable names were circulated, such as Lily Pons, Sim Viva, or singers who recorded albums of songs from the film, like Lucienne Dugard or Élyane Célis. And these have supplanted the real performer in the minds of anyone who has ever bothered to ask who played Snow White. It’s worth noting that the sung role is performed by another artist, Beatrice Hagen.

Walt Disney and the Tourneurs
Christiane Tourneur in Paris After Dark

After Snow White

After applying for American naturalization in 1939 and obtaining it in 1940, Christiane went on to play several small roles in wartime feature films, where the demand for French-speaking actors kept her busy for some time. These included Tonight We Raid Calais and Paris After Dark. By then, Jack and Christiane had moved to 4238 Beeman Street, North Hollywood, California.

These were to be her last appearances. In 1942, Jacques Tourneur directed Cat People, bringing him out of his relative obscurity. From then on, his career largely eclipsed that of his wife, who was almost forgotten as an actress. On his retirement, they both returned to France and settled in Bergerac, where they spent the rest of their lives. Christiane outlived her illustrious husband and died on August 11, 1993 in Lamonzie-Saint-Martin, Dordogne.