Simone Signoret (French: ; 25 March 1921 30 September 1985) was a French cinema actress often hailed as one of France’s greatest film stars. She became the first French person to win an Academy Award, for her role in Room at the Top (1959).
Signoret was born Simone Henriette Charlotte Kaminker in Wiesbaden, Germany, to Andr and Georgette (Signoret) Kaminker, as the eldest of three children, with two younger brothers. Her father, a pioneering interpreter who worked in the League of Nations, was a French-born army officer from a Polish Jewish family, who brought the family to Neuilly-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris. Her mother, Georgette, from whom she acquired her stage name, was a French Catholic.
Signoret grew up in Paris in an intellectual atmosphere and studied English, German, and Latin. After completing secondary school during the Nazi Occupation, Simone was responsible for supporting her family and forced to take work as a typist for a French collaborationist newspaper, Les nouveaux temps, run by Jean Luchaire.
During the German occupation of France, Signoret mixed with an artistic group of writers and actors who met at a caf in the Saint-Germain-des-Prs quarter, Caf de Flore. By this time, she had developed an interest in acting and was encouraged by her friends, including her lover, Daniel Glin, to follow her ambition. In 1942, she began appearing in bit parts and was able to earn enough money to support her mother and two brothers as her father, who was a French patriot, had fled the country in 1940 to join General De Gaulle in England. She took her mother’s maiden name for the screen to help hide her Jewish roots.
Signoret’s sensual features and earthy nature led to type-casting and she was often seen in roles as a prostitute. She won considerable attention in La Ronde (1950), a film which was banned briefly in New York as immoral. She won further acclaim, including an acting award from the British Film Academy, for her portrayal of another prostitute in Jacques Becker‘s Casque d’or (1951). She appeared in many notable films in France during the 1950s, including Thrse Raquin (1953), directed by Marcel Carn, Les Diaboliques (1954), and The Crucible (Les Sorcires de Salem; 1956), based on Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible.
In 1958, Signoret acted in the English independent film, Room at the Top (1959), which won her numerous awards including the Best Female Performance Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was the only French cinema actress to receive an Oscar until Juliette Binoche in 1997 (Supporting Actress) and Marion Cotillard in 2008 (Best Actress), and the first woman to win the award appearing in a foreign film. She was offered films in Hollywood, but turned them down, continuing to work in France and Englandnotably opposite Laurence Olivier in Term of Trial (1962)until 1965. Earning another Oscar nomination for her work on what would be Vivien Leigh‘s final filmColumbia Pictures‘ Ship of Fools, also starring Lee MarvinSignoret appeared in a few other Hollywood films before returning to France in 1969.
In 1962, Signoret translated Lillian Hellman’s play The Little Foxes into French for a production in Paris that ran for six months at the Theatre Sarah-Bernhardt. She played the Regina role as well. Hellman was displeased with the production, although the translation was approved by scholars selected by Hellman.
Signoret’s one attempt at Shakespeare, performing Lady Macbeth opposite Alec Guinness at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1966 proved to be ill-advised, with some harsh critics; one referred to her English as “impossibly Gallic”.
Signoret’s overall appearance aged noticeably in early middle-age and she was often criticized for gaining weight and letting her looks go, but she was never concerned with glamour, ignored the insults and continued giving finely etched performances. She won more acclaim for her portrayal of a weary madam in Madame Rosa (1977) and as an unmarried sister who unknowingly falls in love with her paralyzed brother via anonymous correspondence in I Sent a Letter to my Love (1980).
Signoret’s memoirs, Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be, were published in 1978. She also wrote a novel, Adieu Volodya, published in 1985, the year of her death.
Signoret first married filmmaker Yves Allgret (194449), with whom she had a daughter Catherine Allgret, herself an actress. Her second marriage was to the Italian-born French actor Yves Montand in 1951, a union which lasted until her death.
- 1966: Won Emmy Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama for: Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre (1963) for episode A Small Rebellion
- Marilyn (2011) by Sue Glover, premiered at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow on 17 February 2011. The play charted the deteriorating relationship between Signoret and Marilyn Monroe during the filming of Let’s Make Love. Unable to achieve the recognition of Oscar-winning Signoret, Monroe begins an affair with Signoret’s husband, Yves Montand.
- Singer Nina Simone (Born Eunice Waymon) took her last name from Simone Signoret.