PARIS -- Movie director Rene Clair, who championed liberty and disdained money through a 42-year career that made him the first filmmaker elected to France's prestigious Academie Francaise, died in his sleep. He was 82.
Clair, who died Saturday, was a leader in French cinema through such films as 'Sous les Toits de Paris' (Beneath the Roofs of Paris) and 'Le Million' (The Million). He made 'The Ghost Goes West' in the United States but preferred France.
'I am only a showman of shades, which only bring illusions,' he said at his inauguration in 1962 as the first filmmaker to the Academie Francaise -- the distinguished circle of French intellectuals.
Although he made films in England and America, work in Hollywood did not attract Clair because 'in the United States, the individual does not count -- the director is only a cog.
'One day the producer, to whom I suggested an idea, answered, 'You are the director. We are not asking you to have ideas,'' he commented.
He greatly admired Charlie Chaplin, who was a Hollywood star but later lived in Europe, and described him as 'the master to us all.'
Clair often mingled gaiety with tenderness and melancholy in films centered around the struggle for liberty and contempt for money and power. He was influenced also by European modern art, including surrealism.
Born Rene Chomette in Paris Nov. 11, 1898, he wrote short stories about World War I, in which he served in the Red Cross and 'entered movie-making by chance -- I preferred to become a writer, poet or novelist.'
He took the name Clair when he began acting after the war, but he quickly shifted to directing, screening his first film 'Paris qui Dort' (Paris which Sleeps) in 1923.
A year later he made 'Entr'acte,' (Interval), in which his image of a camel pulling a hearse showed the influence of surrealism. It shocked many people but entertained others.
Although he regarded talking movies with suspicion, he enjoyed his greatest success in the 1930s. 'Sous Les Toits de Paris' released in 1930 was widely viewed on both sides of the Atlantic.
'Le Million' was made a year later, 'A nous la Liberte' (To us Liberty) in 1932, 'Le Dernier Milliardaire' (The Last Billionaire) in 1934.
He then worked in England and the United States, where he completed 'The Ghost Goes West,' 'I Married a Witch', and 'It Happened Tomorrow.'
Clair returned to Paris in 1946 when he made a homage to silent movies, titled 'Le Silence est d'or' (Silence is Golden).
He continued to write and direct films until 1965 when he completed 'Les Fetes Galantes' (The Happy Parties). He divided his life between in St. Tropez, on the Riviera, and the Bois de Boulogne apartment in Paris, where he died.