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Overview

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).

In her lifetime she also received two Csars, three BAFTAs, an Emmy, a Cannes Film Festival Award, the Silver Bear for Best Actress awards, a NBR Award and a Golden Globe nomination.

 

Early life

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.

Career

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.

Simone Signoret with Laurence Harvey in Room at the Top; the film established her as an international actress.

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 PicturesShip 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 (fr) (1980).

Personal life

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.

Signoret died of pancreatic cancer in Autheuil-Authouillet, France, aged 64. She was buried in Pre Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Yves Montand was later buried next to her.

Filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1942 Visiteurs du Soir, LesLes Visiteurs du Soir Extra (uncredited)
1943 Adieu Lonard (fr) gitane, LaLa gitane (uncredited)
voyageur de la Toussaint, LeLe voyageur de la Toussaint Extra (uncredited)
1944 L’Ange de la nuit (fr) Une tudiante (uncredited)
Le mort ne reoit plus (fr) La maitresse de Firmin
Service de nuit danseuse la taverne, LaLa danseuse la taverne
1945 La Bote aux rves (fr) femme, UneUne femme (uncredited)
1946 Back Streets of Paris Gisle
The Ideal Couple Annette
Les Dmons de l’aube (fr) Lily, la cabaretire
1947 Fantmas Hlne
1948 Dilemma of Two Angels Marianne
Dde d’Anvers Dde
Against the Wind Michele Dennis
1950 Manges Dora
Gunman in the Streets Denise Vernon (also released as Le Traqu)
Ronde, LaLa Ronde Leocadie, the Prostitute
Swiss Tour Yvonne
1951 Shadow and Light Isabelle Leritz
…Sans laisser d’adresse journaliste, UneUne journaliste (uncredited)
1952 Casque d’or Marie ‘Casque d’Or’ BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
1953 Thrse Raquin Thrse Raquin
1955 Mother Courage and Her Children Yvette, Lagerhure (unfinished)
Diaboliques, LesLes Diaboliques Nicole Horner
1956 Death in the Garden Djin
1957 Crucible, TheThe Crucible Elisabeth Procter BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Award for Best Actress
1958 Room at the Top Alice Aisgill
1960 Adua and Friends Adua Giovannetti (also released as Hungry for Love)
General Electric Theater Woman episode: Don’t You Remember?
1961 Mauvais Coups, LesLes Mauvais Coups Roberte
Famous Love Affairs Jenny segment: Jenny de Lacour
1962 Term of Trial Anna
1963 Sweet and Sour Genevieve
The Day and the Hour Therese Dutheil
1965 Sleeping Car Murders, TheThe Sleeping Car Murders Eliane Dars
Ship of Fools Contessa, LaLa Contessa
1966 Is Paris Burning? patronne du bistrot/Cafe Owner, LaLa patronne du bistrot/Cafe Owner
Deadly Affair, TheThe Deadly Affair Elsa Fennan Nominated BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Sara Lescault episode: A Small Rebellion
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama
1967 Games Lisa Schindler Nominated BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1968 Sea Gull, TheThe Sea Gull Arkadina, an actress
1969 L’Amricain (fr) Lone
Army of Shadows Mathilde
1970 Confession, TheThe Confession Mme L.
Lise London
A Hostage Meg (TV movie)
1971 La Veuve Couderc (fr) Veuve Couderc Tati
Chat, LeLe Chat Clmence Bouin Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 21st Berlin International Film Festival
Comptes rebours (fr) La
1973 Rude journe pour la reine (fr) Jeanne
Les Granges brles (fr) Rose
1975 Chair de l’orchide, LaLa Chair de l’orchide Lady Vamos
1976 Police Python 357 Thrse Ganay
1977 Madame Rosa Madame Rosa
1978 Judith Therpauve Judith Therpauve
Madame le juge (TV series) Elisabeth Massot 6 episodes
1979 Adolescent, TheThe Adolescent Mamie
1980 Chre inconnue (fr) Louise Martin
1982 Guy de Maupassant (fr) Maupassant’s mother
L’toile du nord Mme Louise Baron Nominated Csar Award for Best Actress

Television award

Emmy Awards

Popular culture

  • 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.