Nationality: French. Born: Neuilly-sur-Seine, 29 February 1920. Education: Studied acting under René Simon. Family: Married 1) William Marshall, 1942 (divorced 1949), one son; 2) Henri Vidal, 1950 (died 1959). Career: 1936—film debut in bit part in Mademoiselle Mozart; also worked on stage; 1937—contract with the director Marc Allégret; 1942–46—made several films in the United States under contract to RKO; 1966—exhibition of her paintings at Galerie Dina Vierny; 1978–80—on stage in Le Tout pour le tout, and in Chéri, 1982–83. Awards: Best Actress, Cannes Festival, for La Symphonie pastorale, 1946. Chevalier, Legion of Honor, 1969. Address: 5 rue Jacques Dulud, 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
Films as Actress:
Mademoiselle Mozart (Noé) (bit role); La Vie parisienne (Siodmak) (bit role); Mes tantes et moi (Noé) (as Michèle); Le Mioche (Forty Little Mothers) (Moguy) (as student); Une Fille à papa (Guissart) (bit role)
Gigolette (Noé) (bit role); Gribouille (Heart of Paris) (Marc Allégret) (as Natalie Roguin); Orage (Marc Allégret) (as Pascaud)
Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows) (Carné) (as Nelly); Le Récif de corail (Gleize) (as Lilian White)
L'Entraîneuse (Valentin) (as Suzy); Les Musiciens du ciel (Lacombe) (as Lte. Saulnier)
Remorques (Stormy Waters) (Grémillon) (as Catherine)
La Loi du nord (Feyder) (as Jacqueline Bert); Joan of Paris (Stevenson) (title role)
Untel Père et Fils (The Heart of a Nation) (Duvivier—produced in 1939) (as Marie Froment-Léonard); Two Tickets to London (Marin) (as Jeanne); Higher and Higher (Whelan) (as Millie)
Passage to Marseilles (Curtiz) (as Paula)
La Symphonie pastorale (Delannoy) (as Gertrude); The Chase (Ripley) (as Lorna Roman)
The Fallen Idol (The Lost Illusion) (Reed) (as Julie); Fabiola (Blasetti) (title role); Aux yeux du souvenir (Souvenir) (Delannoy) (as Claire Magny)
Maria Chapdelaine (The Naked Heart) (Marc Allégret—released in U.S. in 1955) (title role); La Belle que voilà (Le Chanois) (as Jeanne Morel); Le Château de verre (Clément) (as Evelyne Bertal)
L'Etrange Madame X (Grémillon) (as Irène)
"L'Orgueil" ("Pride") ep. of Les Sept Péchés Capitaux (The Seven Deadly Sins) (Autant-Lara) (as Anne-Marie de Pallières); La Minute de vérité (The Moment of Truth) (Delannoy) (as Madeleine Richard)
Les Orgueilleux (The Proud and the Beautiful) (Yves Allégret) (as Nellie)
"Jeanne" ep. of Destinées (Daughters of Destiny; Love, Soldiers and Women; Lysistrata) (Yves Allégret) (as Jeanne d'Arc); Obsession (Delannoy) (as Helene Giovanni)
Napoléon (Guitry) (as Joséphine); Oasis (Yves Allégret) (as Francoise Lignières); Les Grandes Manoeuvres (The Grand Maneuver; Summer Manoeuvres) (Clair) (as Marie-Louise Rivière); Si Paris nous était conté (If Paris Were Told to Us) (Guitry) (as Gabrielle d'Estrées)
Marguerite de la nuit (Autant-Lara) (as Marguerite); Marie-Antoinette (Delannoy) (title role)
The Vintage (Hayden) (as Léonne Morel); Retour de Manivelle (There's Always a Price Tag) (de la Patellière) (as Hélène Freminger)
Le Miroir à deux faces (The Mirror Has Two Faces) (Cayatte) (as Marie-José); Maxime (Verneuil) (as Jacqueline Monneron); Racconti d'estate (Love on the Riviera; Summer Tales; Femmes d'un été) (Francolini) (as Micheline)
Pourquoi viens-tu si tard? (Decoin) (as Catherine Ferrer); Vacanze d'inverno (Mastrocinque) (as Steffa Tardier)
Menschen im Hotel (Grand Hotel) (Reinhardt) (as La Grusinskaya); Les Scélérats (Hossein) (as Thelma Roland); Fortunat (Joffé) (as Juliette Valecourt)
Le Puits aux trois vérités (Three Faces of Sin) (Villiers) (as Renée Plèges); Les Lions sont lachés (Verneuil) (as Cecile)
Un Coeur gros comme ça (Reichenbach) (as herself); Rencontres (Agostini) (as Bella Krasner); "The Hugues Case" ep. of Le Crime ne paie pas (Crime Does Not Pay; The Gentle Art of Murder) (Oury) (as Jeanne Hugues 2)
Landru (Bluebeard) (Chabrol) (as Célestine Buisson); Méfiezvous mesdames (Hunebelle) (as Gisèle Duparc)
Il fornaretto di Venezia (Tessari) (as Comtesse Sofia Zeno); Constance aux enfers (Web of Fear) (Villiers) (as Constance Brunel); Les Pas perdus (Robin) (as Yolande Simonnet); Les Yeux cernés (Hossein) (as Florence Vollmer)
Dis-moi qui tuer (Périer) (as Geneviève Monthannet)
Lost Command (Not for Honor and Glory) (Robson) (as Comtesse Nathalie de Clairefons)
La Bien-aimée (Doniol-Valcroze—for TV) (as Fanny)
Benjamin ou Les mémoires d'un puceau (Benjamin; The Diary of an Innocent Boy) (Deville) (as Comtesse Gabrielle de Valandry)
Le Chat et la souris (Cat and Mouse) (Lelouch) (as Mme. Richard)
Robert et Robert (Lelouch) (as herself)
Chéri (Hubert—for TV)
Un Homme et une femme: vingt ans déjà (A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later) (Lelouch); Le Tiroir secret (Molinaro—for TV)
Stanno tutti bene (Everybody's Fine) (Tornatore) (as woman on train)
La Veuve de l'architecte (Monnier—for TV) (as Helena Kramp)
Des gens si bien élevés (Nahum) (as Geneviéve)
La Rivale (Nahum) (as Judith)
By MORGAN: books—
Avec ces yeux, with Marcelle Routier, Paris, 1977, as With Those Eyes, London, 1978.
Le fil bleu: le roman de ma famille, Paris, 1993.
On MORGAN: book—
Bouniq-Mercier, Claude, Michèle Morgan, Paris, 1983.
On MORGAN: articles—
Ecran (Paris), February 1979.
Ciné Revue (Paris), 7 January 1982.
Stars (Mariembourg, Belgium), December 1989, June 1990, December 1990, and June 1992.
Baker, B., "Michèle Morgan," in Film Dope (Nottingham, England), September 1990.
* * *
After a successful debut in the 1930s as an affecting, ill-fated heroine, Michèle Morgan survived a disappointing wartime period in Hollywood to become France's most acclaimed actress of the 1950s. With her honest expression, serene open face, and fine features, she possessed an almost unworldly beauty which seemed the outward manifestation of untainted virtue and intrinsic moral strength. In the bleak mood of pre-war Europe she came to represent the contemporary romantic heroine doomed through implacable adversity to unhappiness.
Morgan's first triumph came in Gribouille as the fetchingly innocent Natalie, unjustly accused of murdering her lover. Pathetic, self-sacrificing roles followed. In Orage an impossible affair leads to suicide; in L'Entraîneuse, revelation of her dubious past destroys her happiness, while in La Loi du nord and Les Musiciens du ciel a martyr's death is her reward for loyalty and devotion. It was with Jean Gabin as a romantic partner, however, that she achieved distinction. If in La Récif de corail misfortune is conquered, in Quai des brumes and Remorques their chance encounter secures only fleeting happiness. As the hapless heroine, Morgan gave outstanding performances, particularly for Carné as Nelly, the precociously mature young woman trapped in a corrupt society and experiencing love with the fugitive Gabin. Her assorted and indifferent Hollywood performances included that of a servant masquerading as a debutante in Whelan's comedy-musical Higher and Higher, a romanticized Resistance heroine in Joan of Paris, and in Two Tickets to London a widow romantically involved with a serviceman.
Critical acclaim marked Morgan's return to French cinema in a sensitive and restrained performance as the blind girl Gertrude in La Symphonie pastorale. Reestablishing herself as the romantic heroine, she now assumed professional roles as an air hostess dogged by memories in Aux yeux du souvenir and as a terminally ill ballerina in La Belle que voilà. The postwar era brought co-productions and historical roles, notably as a haughty aristocrat in Fabiola, a spirited Joan of Arc in Destinées, as Joséphine de Beauharnais in Napoléon, the beautiful leading lady in Marie-Antoinette, and in Si Paris nous était conté as mistress to Henri IV. European directors cast her successively as the tearful mistress of The Fallen Idol, the fading, suicidal ballerina of Menschen im Hotel, and as a seductive thief in Racconti d'estate.
Invariably elegant and wealthy, in her 1950s roles she remained the victim, now bored and frustrated in her stifling ease. Escape is sought in adultery, as in Le Château de verre, L'Etrange Madame X, with a proletarian lover, and with an artist in La Minute de vérité. An alternative solution to personal unhappiness is found in alcohol in Les Scélérats, Oasis, and, most powerfully, as the unhappily married hard-drinking lawyer of Pourquoi viens-tu si tard? Distinguishing this era were roles as Gérard Philipe's courageous medical helper in Les Orgueilleux and, particularly, as the sincere, sophisticated, and suffering divorcée he seeks to seduce in Les Grandes Manoeuvres.
Rarely convincing as a wicked woman, Morgan was nevertheless cast as a defrauding vamp in Retour de Manivelle, a murderess in Les Yeux cernés, and in Le Puits aux trois vérités as a negligent, jealous mother. Lighter roles saw her as a witty partner to Bourvil in Fortunat, a would-be murderess in Méfiez-vous mesdames, an adventuress in Dis-moi qui tuer, and a murder suspect in Le Chat et la souris.
As a traditional star closely identified with established directors such as Yves Allégret and Delannoy, Michèle Morgan was all but ignored by the New Wave iconoclasts. Extending over five decades, her largely distinguished, if uneven, film career survived indifferent roles in nonindigenous productions. Eight years after her last screen appearance, as herself in Robert et Robert, she made a triumphant return to the stage in Colette's Chéri. More recently, she has enjoyed a popular following in the television serial Le Tiroir secret as a psychologist delving into her dead husband's past. She will be remembered for her exceptional beauty, her discreet, composed acting as the desirable young heroine, and her intelligent, sensitive performances as the sophisticated lady of later years.
—R. F. Cousins