Simone Signoret

1921-1985

Biography

Simone Signoret photo
In an exceptional film career that spanned four decades and more than 60 films, Simone Signoret achieved a level of fame, critical acclaim and genuine public admiration that falls only to actors of rare talent and character. Most of her work was in French cinema, where she starred along such icons as Jean Gabin, Alain Delon, Philippe Noiret and Yves Montand, although she made notable appearances in some American and British films. In her early career, she is best remembered as the cold but beautiful femme fatale in such dramas such as Yves Allégret's Dédée d'Anvers (1952). In later years, she distinguished herself with her portrayals of hard matriarchal women, parts in which she showed great humanity and an extraordinary talent for pathos.

Simone Signoret's real name is Simone-Henriette-Charlotte Kaminker . She was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1921 to French parents, and had two younger brothers. Her father, a linguist, took the family to Neuilly, just outside Paris, where the girl Simone enjoyed a comfortable, happy childhood. Her first work was as a tutor of English and she worked as a typist for a newspaper. It was during the Nazi occupation of France in the early 1940s that Simone took up acting, encouraged by her then lover Daniel Gélin. Taking minor parts in films, she adopted her mother's maiden name Signoret to avoid awkward questions (her father was a Jew who had fled to England in 1940).

With the support of her first husband, the director Yves Allégret, Signoret's profile as a film actress received a welcome boost, and she soon gained fame for her small part as a prostitute in Max Ophüls's La Ronde. She achieved international celebrity for her role of the lead character in Jacques Becker's 1952 film Casque d'Or, for which she won the British Film Industry award. The actress' celebrity was assured with her notorious part in H.G. Clouzot's 1955 suspense thriller Les Diaboliques. By this time she had acquired a reputation as a stunningly beautiful actress capable of portraying sensuous and tough-minded women. In 1951, she married the famous actor-singer Yves Montand, who shared her strong left-wing views and with whom she would take a role promoting left-wing politics in France.

The pinnacle of Simone Signoret's career came in 1959 when she was awarded an Oscar for her part in Jack Clayton's British social drama, Room at the Top. The following years were less glorious but she remained a popular actress, winning critical acclaim for her parts in such films as Jean-Pierre Melville's L'Armée des ombres (1969), Pierre Granier-Deferre's Le Chat (1969)
and Moshé Mizrahi's La Vie devant soi (1977). She continued acting in films until 1982 whilst pursing a writing career, her 1976 autobiography Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be becoming a bestseller in France. Her novel Adieu Volodya was published in 1985.

After a long cancer illness, Simone Signoret died in 1985 and is buried in the cemetery Père-Lachaise in Paris. She is survived by her daughter, Catherine Allégret, who also pursued a successful career as an actress. Today, Simone Signoret is fondly remembered as one of French cinema's most talented performers, a generous and  greatly loved individual whose incisive portrayals of complex women showed not just the allure of her sex, but also that resilience and generosity of spirit that is uniquely feminine.
© James Travers 2007
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.

Filmography

Key: a = actor

Boléro (1942) [a]

Le Prince charmant (1942) [a]

Les Visiteurs du soir (1942) [a]

Béatrice devant le désir (1944) [a]

L'Ange de la nuit (1944) [a]

Le Mort ne reçoit plus (1944) [a]

Service de nuit (1944) [a]

Le Couple idéal (1946) [a]

Les Démons de l'aube (1946) [a]

Macadam (1946) [a]

Fantômas (1947) [a]

Against the Wind (1948) [a]

Dédée d'Anvers (1948) [a]

Impasse des deux anges (1948) [a]

Gunman in the Streets (1950) [a]

La Ronde (1950) [a]

Le Traqué (1950) [a]

Manèges (1950) [a]

Swiss Tour (1950) [a]

Ombre et lumière (1951) [a]

Casque d'or (1952) [a]

Thérèse Raquin (1953) [a]

Les Diaboliques (1955) [a]

La Mort en ce jardin (1956) [a]

Die Windrose (1957) [a]

Les Sorcières de Salem (1957) [a]

Room at the Top (1959) [a]

Adua e le compagne (1960) [a]

Amours célèbres (1961) [a]

Les Mauvais coups (1961) [a]

Il Giorno più corto (1962) [a]

Term of Trial (1962) [a]

Dragées au poivre (1963) [a]

Le Joli mai (1963) [a]

Le Jour et l'heure (1963) [a]

Compartiment tueurs (1965) [a]

Ship of Fools (1965) [a]

Paris brûle-t-il? (1966) [a]

The Deadly Affair (1966) [a]

Games (1967) [a]

The Sea Gull (1968) [a]

L'Américain (1969) [a]

L'Armée des ombres (1969) [a]

Mr. Freedom (1969) [a]

L'Aveu (1970) [a]

Langlois (1970) [a]

Comptes à rebours (1971) [a]

La Veuve Couderc (1971) [a]

Le Chat (1971) [a]

Les Granges brulées (1973) [a]

Rude journée pour la reine (1973) [a]

La Chair de l'orchidée (1975) [a]

Police Python 357 (1976) [a]

La Vie devant soi (1977) [a]

Le Fond de l'air est rouge (1977) [a]

Judith Therpauve (1978) [a]

L'Adolescente (1979) [a]

Chère inconnue (1980) [a]

Guy de Maupassant (1982) [a]

L'Étoile du Nord (1982) [a]

Mémoires pour Simone (1986) [a]




Awards

Simone Signoret won 1 Academy Award for: Room at the Top (1960, Best Actress in a Leading Role). She received a further Oscar nomination for: Ship of Fools (1966, Best Actress in a Leading Role).

She was also the recipient of 1 César for: La vie devant soi (1978, Best Actress). She received a further César nomination for: L'étoile du Nord (1983, Best Actress).

She also received 1 Festival de Cannes award for: Room at the Top (1959, Best Actress).

She also won 1 Berlin International Film Festival award for: Le chat (1971, Silver Berlin Bear: Best Actress).

She was also the recipient of 3 BAFTAs for: Casque d'Or (1953, Best Foreign Actress); Les sorcières de Salem (1958, Best Foreign Actress); and Room at the Top (1959, Best Foreign Actress).

Quotes

“I suspect there isn't an actor alive who was able to truthfully answer his family's questions after his first day's activity in his future profession.”

“I was an extra for four years. I lived in a seedy hotel in Paris. The first floor was occupied by successful tarts and the third by out-of-work actors. We used to borrow the tarts' shoes whenever we went for important auditions.”

“I've played bad women, wicked women - and they don't pay. If you play them too well, people hate you.”

“There are two sorts [of actress]: the ones who cheat and the ones who feel more confident as they get older. I think I'm one of the latter.”

“When you're asked to explain it, words become inadequate. You shouldn't try to explain this mystery inside you. You have it or you haven't.”

“I collect all the reviews of the films I turned down. And when they're bad, I have to smile.”

“If Marilyn is in love with my husband it proves she has good taste, for I am in love with him too.”

“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years.”

“If I'd been a Communist, I'd tell you to mind your own business. As I, and my husband, have never been Communist, I will tell you that.”




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