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
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
. 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
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
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