LILY CLAUDETTE CHAUCHOIN was born on September 13, 1903 in Paris, France and in 1910 moved with her family to New York. While studying fashion design at the Art Students League in New York, she met a Broadway playwright at a party and landed a small role in his 1923 production The Wild Wescotts.
After a few more roles on the stage, Colbert made her film debut in Frank Capra's FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE (1927) and by Cecil B. De Mille's THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932), she had established herself as a screen beauty-- by bathing in asses' milk, no less. As the thirties rolled on however, Colbert proved her talents as an actress-- most notably in comedies but later several successful dramas as well. In 1934 she won her only Academy Award as Best Actress for her portrayal of runaway rich-girl Ellie Andrews opposite Clark Gable in Capra's IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, the Best Picture of 1934. Other memorable comedic performances included THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), and several romantic comedies co-starring Fred MacMurray, like THE GILDED LADY (1935), NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943) and THE EGG AND I (1947).
The second two of Colbert's three Oscar nominations came for her dramatic performances however. In 1935 she was nominated for her role as a doctor in a mental institution opposite Charles Boyer in PRIVATE WORLDS (1935) and in 1944 received her third and final Best Actress nomination for her performance as Anne Hilton in the World War II homefront drama SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) with Joseph Cotten, Shirley Temple, Jennifer Jones and Hattie McDaniel. Other notable dramatic roles included that of the title character in De Mille's CLEOPATRA (1934), Bea Pullman in IMITATION OF LIFE (1934), and Agnes Keith in THREE CAME HOME (1950).
Although Colbert's last film was PARRISH (1961), she had returned to the stage in 1951 with Noël Coward's Island Fling and later returned to Broadway in 1956 with Janus. Other notable stage productions included The Marriage-Go-Round (1958), The Kingfisher (1978) and Aren't We All? (1985). Having made a few television appearances in the 1950s, Colbert's last major project was the 1987 mini-series "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles." In 1989, the Kennedy Center honored her for lifetime achievement, and on July 30, 1996 Colbert died in Cobblers Cove, Barbados.
Biographical information from Cinemania '95 and Encyclopedia Britannica Online.