Chansonnier Philippe Clay emerged as one of the most successful French pop stars of the postwar era, popularizing songs from composers including Charles Aznavour, Boris Vian, and Serge Gainsbourg. Among international audiences, he remains best known for his appearances on film, most notably Jean Renoir's 1954 effort French Cancan and the 1958 Hollywood hit Bell, Book and Candle. Born Philippe Mathevet in Paris on March 7, 1927, he quit school at 16 to fight alongside the resistance during the remaining years of World War II, and upon returning to civilian life he enrolled at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Art. Despite majoring in the school's mime program, Clay's romantic baritone impressed his fellow students, who entered him in a local singing contest -- he won, and began appearing at Montmartre's Théâtre des Trois Baudets, performing venerable classics and contemporary hits. Within months Clay boasted a devoted fan following, headlining as many as six 20-minute club gigs per night, often splitting bills with Aznavour, and in 1951 made his celluloid debut with a brief role in the feature Le Crime du Bouif.
In mid-1953, Clay mounted a national tour, with then-unknown Jacques Brel as his opening act. His debut single, the Aznavour-penned "Le Noye Assassine," soon anticipated the release of a self-titled LP, and in the years to follow he enjoyed a series of hits including "Si Vous M'Aviez Connu," "Nous Avons Toujours Habite Cette Maison," and "Au Volant de Ma Valse." After appearing at the acrobatic Valentin in French Cancan, Clay co-starred in 1956's Notre Dame de Paris. As his celebrity grew, he headlined Paris' famed Olympia Theater in 1957, and the following year made his U.S. film debut as a French club entertainer in the feature adaptation of the stage comedy Bell, Book and Candle. With "Les Poinçonneur des Lilas," Clay was one of the first singers to dip into the Gainsbourg songbook, beginning a collaboration that continued off and on for years to come. He also recorded everything from "Hello, Dolly!" to "Mes Universités," a self-penned response to the French student rebellion of 1968. Although he continued recording and touring, Clay focused largely on film and television in the decades to follow, appearing in more than 80 features in all. He died of heart failure on December 13, 2007. ~ Jason Ankeny