Simone Signoret



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
Legal notice: The above article was written for and is protected by copyright. No part of it should be reproduced in any medium without the author's prior consent in writing.

Related articles

2015 films
2015 film releases

Read more about the French films to be released in 2015...

1920s films
The Silent Era

Before the advent of sound France was a world leader in cinema. Find out more about this overlooked era.

1930s films
The Golden Age

Discover the best French films of the 1930s, a decade of cinematic delights...

For books and DVDs

Visit our on-line stores to browse the latest films out on DVD and books relating to cinema.
Any purchases will allow us to maintain and grow