Nationality: French. Born: Simone-Herniette-Charlotte Kaminker in Wiesbaden, Germany, to French parents, 25 March 1921. Education: Attended schools in Paris; teaching degree. Family: Married 1) the director Yves Allégret, 1947 (divorced 1950), daughter: Catherine; 2) the actor Yves Montand, 1951. Career: Early 1940s—worked as teacher, then typist for Le Nouveau Temps newspaper; 1942—film debut in Le Prince charmant; 1946—leading role in Macadam; 1954—in stage version of French version of Miller's The Crucible in Paris with Montand, and in later film version, 1957; 1958—English-language role in Room at the Top; also appeared in Macbeth in London, and on television in the U.S. Awards: Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for Casque d'or, 1952; Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, for Witches of Salem, 1957; Best Foreign Actress, British Academy, Best Actress Academy Award, and Best Actress, Cannes Festival, for Room at the Top, 1959; French César for Best Actress, for La Vie devant soi, 1977. Died: 30 September 1985.
Films as Actress:
Le Prince charmant (Boyer); Les Visiteurs du soir (The Devil's Envoy) (Carné); Bolero (Boyer)
La Bôite aux rêves (Yves Allégret); Adieu Léonard (Prévert); L'Ange de la nuit (Berthomieu); Beatrice devant le désir (de Marguenat)
Les Démons de l'Aube (Yves Allégret); Le Couple idéal (Roland)
Macadam (Back Streets of Paris) (Blistène)
Dédée d'Anvers (Yves Allégret) (title role); Against the Wind (Crichton) (as Michele); L'Impasse de deux anges (Tourneur)
Manèges (The Cheat) (Yves Allégret) (as Dora); Four Days Leave (Swiss Tour) (Lindtberg) (as Yvonne)
Le Traqué (Gunman in the Streets) (Tuttle); Ombre et lumière (Calef) (as Isabell); La Ronde (Circle of Love) (Ophüls) (as the Whore)
Casque d'or (The Golden Helmet) (Becker) (as Marie)
Thérèse Raquin (The Adultress) (Carné) (title role)
Les Diaboliques (Diabolique; The Fiends) (Clouzot) (as Nicole Horner)
La Mort en ce jardin (Death in the Garden; Evil Eden; Gina) (Buñuel) (as Djin); Die Wind Rose (Bellon)
Les Sorcières de Salem (Witches of Salem) (Rouleau) (as Elizabeth Proctor)
Room at the Top (Clayton) (as Alice Aisgill)
Les Mauvais Coups (Naked Autumn) (Leterrier) (as Roberte); Adua e le compagne (Love à la Carte) (Pietrangeli) (as Adua)
"Jenny de Lacours" ep. of Les Amours célébrés (Girod) (title role)
Term of Trial (Glenville) (as Anna Weir)
Le Jour et l'heure (The Day and the Hour) (Clément) (as Thérèse Dutheil); Dragées au poivre (Sweet and Sour) (Baratier) (as Geneviève); Le Joli Mai (Marker—doc) (as narrator)
Ship of Fools (Kramer) (as La Condesa); Compartiment tueurs (The Sleeping Car Murders) (Costa-Gavras) (as Elaine Darrès)
Paris, brûle-t-il? (Is Paris Burning?) (Clément) (as cafe owner)
The Deadly Affair (Lumet) (as Elsa Fennan); Games (Harrington) (as Lisa Schindler)
The Sea Gull (Lumet) (as Arkadina)
L'Armée des ombres (The Shadow Army) (Melville) (as Mathilde); Mister Freedom (Klein)
L'Aveu (The Confession) (Costa-Gavras) (as Lise); Comptes à rebours (Countdown) (Pigaut); L'Américain (Bozzuffi) (as Leone)
Le Chat (The Cat) (Granier-Deferre) (as Clemence); La Veuve Couderc (The Widow Couderc) (Granier-Deferre) (title role)
Rude journée pour la reine (Rough Day for the Queen) (Allio) (as Jeanne); Les Granges brulées (The Investigator) (Chapot) (as Rose)
La Chair de l'orchidée (Flesh and the Orchid; Flesh of the Orchid) (Chereau) (as Lady Vamos)
The Case against Ferro (Corneau) (as Térèse Ganay)
Madame Rosa (La Vie devant soi) (Mizrahi) (title role)
Judith Therpauve (Chereau) (title role)
Cher Inconnu (I Sent a Letter to My Love) (Mizrahi) (as Louise)
L'Adolescente (The Adolescent) (Moreau) (as Mamie)
L'Etoile du nord (Granier-Deferre) (as Madame Baron)
By SIGNORET: books—
La Nostalgie n'est plus ce qu'elle etait, Paris, 1976, as Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be, New York, 1976.
Le Lendemain, cela était souriante?, Paris, 1979.
Adieu, Volodia (novel), Paris, 1985.
On SIGNORET: books—
Sandre, Didier, Simone Signoret, Paris, 1981.
Monserrat, Joëlle, with Jacques Lorcey, Simone Signoret, Paris, 1983.
Durant, Philippe, Simone Signoret: Une Vie, Paris, 1988.
Périsset, Maurice, Simone Signoret, Paris, 1988.
David, Catherine, Simone Signoret, ou la mémoire par partagée, Paris, 1990; translated as Simone Signoret by Sally Sampson, Woodstock, New York, 1993.
Allégret, Catherine, Les souvenirs—et les regrets aussi, Paris, 1994.
On SIGNORET: articles—
Current Biography 1960, New York, 1960.
Schupp, P., "Simone Signoret: Le courage de la détermination," in Séquences (Montreal), July 1983.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 2 October 1985.
Toubiana, Serge, "Sacré monstre," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1985.
Granier-Deferre, P., obituary in Positif (Paris), February 1986.
Stars (Mariembourg), December 1988.
Monk, Claire, "Star Gazing," in Sight & Sound (London), September 1992.
Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), October 1994.
* * *
Film stars—female ones, at any rate—are not supposed to grow old, and certainly not faster than the rest of us. At worst, they should age gradually and gracefully, retaining slimness and glamour well into their sixties, prompting envious mutters of "She doesn't look a day over. . . ." Simone Signoret broke all these rules, which may be why she inspired so many ungallant comparisons. Writers likened her to an aging boxer, to Brando, Michel Simon, and Margaret Rutherford. Loss of glamour may be condoned, but deliberate rejection of it, Signoret's trademark in her later years, arouses resentment. With characteristic forthrightness she titled her 1976 autobiography Nostalgia Isn't What It Used to Be, as if to call attention to this deliberate rejection of her earlier, glamour days.
The young Signoret radiated beauty and a ripe sensuality which glowed tangibly from the screen. She moved with the indolent languor of a woman supremely confident in her own powers of attraction; the slow, sleepy smile and the heavy-lidded eyes irresistibly evoked thoughts of warm bedrooms and summer meadows. Inevitably, she was cast time and again as a prostitute, a profession amply represented in the postwar French cinema.
So it was as a streetwalker that she first came to international notice, opening and closing the sexual carousel in Ophüls' shimmering La Ronde, and touchingly bemused in her scene with Gérard Philipe's emotionally anesthetized count. A year later, another period piece raised her to the summit of her early years: as Serge Reggiani's lover in Becker's Casque d'or, she brought to the scenes of their brief, doomed idyll an erotic intensity which suffused the whole film with immediacy and warmth.
Signoret was never petite. The breadth of her shoulders and her squarely planted stance suggested a tenacious practicality, a vulnerable strength. As a murderess, she could be both credible and sympathetic: as one of Zola's pair of guilt-ridden lovers in Thérèse Raquin, or as the seemingly vulnerable yet scheming blond bomb-shell accomplice in the homicidal labyrinth of Clouzot's Les Diaboliques, the role that cemented her international renown and became an archetype thereafter in imitation upon ripoff of the Boileau-Narcejac thriller, including three remakes with Tuesday Weld, Kate Vernon, and, most recently, Sharon Stone filling Signoret's shoes.
According to rumor, no British actress could be found with the requisite blend of sophistication and sensuality to play the older woman driven to suicide by her social climbing lover (Laurence Harvey) in Jack Clayton's Room at the Top. True or not, Signoret indisputably lacked neither; feline and exotic amid the bleak Northern terraces of the British New Wave, she picked up an Oscar for her performance in this, her first English-language film, and a string of Hollywood offers, all refused. Politics and her marriage to singerturned-actor Yves Montand (whose international renown was also cemented by an appearance in a Clouzot film, The Wages of Fear) increasingly took precedence in her life. Both of them were banned from French television, radio, and state-run theaters during the 1960s, and at one point were refused entry to the United States for their left-wing views.
Defiantly unconventional, Signoret made no attempt to conceal the growing heaviness of her face and figure, even emphasizing it with drably unglamorous roles. Often she played women oppressed by the past: a survivor of the concentration camps in Lumet's downbeat thriller The Deadly Affair based on a John Le Carré novel; an impressive Arkadina in the same director's The Sea Gull, co-starring Vanessa Redgrave, another actress known and ostracized for her political views; movingly dignified as the fated Resistance fighter in L'Armée des ombres; hiding frustrated love beneath outward bitterness in Le Chat; and vulnerability to her illicit love for doomed Oskar Werner in Ship of Fools. Such roles were never depressing, given the vitality of her presence.
Age could do nothing to lessen the beauty of her smile, which when it came still lit up her face with protective tenderness. Signoret had always said she would go on acting until she could play grandmothers, and now she could, superbly: a surrogate in La Vie devant soi and the real thing in Jeanne Moreau's nostalgically evocative L'Adolescente. From every man's dream mistress to every child's ideal grandmother—there are worse progressions.
—Philip Kemp, updated by John McCarty