Nationality: Swiss. Born: François Simon in Geneva, 9 April 1895. Education: Attended the École Evangeliste de la rue Calvin; Collège du Genève. Family: Married; son: François. Career: Worked as photographer and boxer; debut in music hall as an acrobat-clowndancer; 1920—legitimate stage debut in Measure for Measure in Paris; 1922–25—member of Pitoëff troupe, Paris; 1925—film debut in La Puissance du travail; 1929—first big stage success in Jean de la Lune, and in film version, 1931; later stage roles in Hamlet, Siegfried, and Pygmalion; also a singer. Awards: Best Actor, Berlin Festival, for Le Vieil Homme et l'enfant, 1967. Died: In Bry-sur-Marne, 30 May 1975.
Films as Actor:
La Puissance du travail (La Vocation d'André Carrel) (Choux) (as Marius Duret); Feu Mathias Pascal (The Late Matthew Pascal) (L'Herbier) (as Pomino)
L'Inconnue des six jours (Sti) (as servant)
La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) (Dreyer) (as Judge Lemaitre); Tire au flanc (Renoir) (as Joseph)
Pivoine (Sauvage) (title role); L'Enfant de l'amour (L'Herbier) (as Loredan)
Jean de la Lune (Choux) (as Clotaire); On purge Bébé (Renoir) (as Chouilloux); La Chienne (Renoir) (as Maurice Legrand); Baleydier (Mamy) (title role)
Boudu sauvé des eaux (Boudu Saved from Drowning) (Renoir) (title role)
Miquette et sa mère (Maurice) (as Monchablon); Du haut en bas (Pabst) (as Bodoletz); Leopold le bien-aimé (Brun) (as Ponce)
L'Atalante (Vigo) (as Le Père Jules); Lac aux Dames (Marc Allégret) (as Oscar Lissenhop); Le Bonheur (L'Herbier) (as Noël Malpias)
Quand la vie était belle (Le Bébé de l'Escadron) (Sti) (as Perrot-Joly); Ademat au Moyen-Age (de Marguenat) (as Lord Pickwickdam); Amants et voleurs (Bernard) (as Doizeau)
Sous les yeux d'occident (Razumov) (Marc Allégret) (as Lespera); Moutonnet (Moutonnet à Paris; Une Aventure de Moutonnet) (Sti) (as Frecheville); Les Jumeaux de Brighton (Heymann) (as La Brosse); Le Mort en fuite (Berthomieu) (as Achille Baluchet); Jeunes filles de Paris (Vermorel) (as Milord et Baron de Beaupoil); Faisons un rêve (Guitry) (as himself)
La Bataille silencieuse (Le Poisson Chinois) (Billon) (as Captain Sauvin); Naples au baiser de feu (The Kiss of Fire) (Genina) (as Michel); Boulot aviateur (Fripons, voleurs, et cie) (de Canonge) (as Baron Bobeche); Drôle de drame (Bizarre Bizarre) (Carné) (as Félix Chapel/Irwin Molyneux); Si tu m'aimes (Mirages) (Ryder) (as Michel); Le Choc en retour (Monca and Keroul) (as Laverdac)
Les Disparus de Saint-Agil (Boys School) (Christian-Jaque) (as Lemel); Le Quai des brumes (Port of Shadows) (Carné) (as Zabel); Les Nouveaux Riches (Berthomieu) (as Martinet); La Chaleur du sein (Boyer) (as Michel Quercy); Le Ruisseau (Autant-Lara) (as Comte Edouard de Bourgogne); Belle étoile (de Baroncelli) (as Leon)
Eusèbe Deputé (Berthomieu) (as Eusèbe Bonbonneau); Le Dernier Tournant (Chenal) (as Nick Marino); Noix de Coco (Boyer) (as Josserand); Le Fin de jour (The End of a Day) (Duvivier) (as Cabrissade); Cavalcade d'amour (Bernard) (as Diogene); Circonstances attenuantes (Extenuating Circumstances) (Boyer) (as the lawyer); Fric-Frac (Autant-Lara) (as Jo-les-bras-coupés); Derrière la façade (32 Rue Montmartre) (Lacombe) (as Picking); Les Musiciens du ciel (Lacombe) (as Captain Simon); Paris New York (Mirande and Heymann) (as Boucheron)
La Comédie du bonheur (L'Herbier) (as Jourdain); La Tosca (The Story of Tosca) (Koch) (as Scarpia)
Il re sè diverte (The King's Jester) (Bonnard) (as Triboulet); La Dame de l'ouest (Koch) (as Carras)
Au bonheur des Dames (Shop-Girls of Paris) (Cayatte) (as Baudu); Vautrin (Vautrin the Thief) (Billon) (title role)
Un Ami viendra ce soir (A Friend Will Come Tonight) (Bernard) (as Michel Lemaret)
Panique (Panic) (Duvivier) (as Hire); La Taverne de poisson couronne (Chanas) (as Captain Palmer)
Non coupable (Not Guilty) (Decoin) (as Dr. Ancelin); Les Amants du Pont Saint-Jean (Decoin) (as Garonne); La Carcasse et le Tord-Cou (Chanas) (as Le Tord-Cou)
Fabiola (Blasetti) (as Fabian Sévère)
La Beauté du diable (Beauty and the Devil) (Clair) (as Faust/Mephistopheles); Women in Prison (Radvanyi)
Les Deux Verités (Leonviola) (as Maitre Simoni)
La Poisson (Guitry) (as Paul Braconier)
La Fille au fouet (Dreville); Brelan d'As (Verneuil) (as Maigret); Monsieur Taxi (Hunebelle) (as Pierre Verger); Le Rideau rouge (Barsacq) (as Lucien Bertal); Le Chemin de Damas (Glass) (as Caiphe); La Vie d'un honnête homme (The Virtuous Scoundrel) (Guitry) (as Alain/Albert); Il mercante de Venezia (The Merchant of Venice) (Billon) (as Shylock); Femmes de Paris (Boyer) (as Buisson)
L'Etrange Désir de M. Bard (Radvanyi) (as Bard); Saadia (Lewin) (as Bou Rezza); Par ordre du Tsar (Haguet) (as Général Witgenstein); Quelques pas dans la vie (Blasetti)
L'Impossible M. Pipelet (Hunebelle) (as Maurice Martin); Les Mémoires d'un flic (Foucaud) (as Inspector Dominique)
La Joyeuse Prison (Berthomieu) (as Benoit)
Les Trois font la paire (Duhour) (as Commissar Bernard); Un Certain M. Jo (Jolivet) (title role)
Es geschah am hellichten Tag (It Happened in Broad Daylight) (Vajda); La Femme nue et Satan (The Head) (Trivas) (as Professor Abel); Austerlitz (Gance)
Pierrot la tendresse (Villiers) (title role); Candide (Carbonnaux) (as Colonel Nanar)
Le Bateau d'Emile (Le Homard flambé) (de la Patellière) (as Charles-Edmond Larmentiel)
Le Diable et les dix commandments (The Devil and the Ten Commandments) (Duvivier) (as Jerome Chambard); Cyrano et D'Artagnan (Gance) (as Mauvieres)
The Train (Frankenheimer) (as Papa Boule); Mondo di notte (Ecco) (Proia—doc)
Deux heures à tuer (Govar) (as Nénette)
Le Vieil Homme et l'enfant (The Two of Us) (Berri) (as Pépé); Ce sacre grand-père (The Marriage Came Tumbling Down) (Poitrenaud) (as Jéricho)
Contestation Generale (Zampa); La Maison (Brach) (as Jacques Compiegne)
Blanche (Borowczyk) (as the lawyer)
La più bella serata della mia vita (Scola) (as Zorn)
Evlalie quitte les champs (The Star, The Orphan, and the Butcher) (Savary)
L'Ibis rouge (Mocky) (as Zizi)
By SIMON: articles—
Interview in Entr'acte (Brussels), October 1960.
Télé Ciné (Paris), February-March 1962.
Plexus (Paris), October-November 1968.
Cinéma (Paris), November 1974.
On SIMON: books—
Guth, Paul, Michel Simon, Paris, 1951.
Buache, Freddy, Michel Simon: Un Acteur et ses personnages, Bienne, 1962.
Fernand Sequin rencontre Michel Simon, Ottowa, 1969.
Fansten, Jacques, Michel Simon, Paris, 1970.
Gauteur, Claude, and André Bernard, Michel Simon, Paris, 1975.
Carré, Jeanne, 728 jours avec Michel Simon, Paris, 1978.
Plume, Christian, and Xavier Pasquini, Michel Simon, Nice, 1981.
Gauteur, Claude, Michel Simon, Paris, 1987.
Loubier, Jean-Marc, Michel Simon, ou le roman d'un jouisseur, Paris, 1989.
On SIMON: articles—
Beylie, C., "Michel Simon l'unique," in Ecran (Paris), July-August 1975.
"La Chienne," in Avant-Scène du cinéma (Paris), October 1975.
Doneux, M., "Hommage à Michel Simon," in APEC—Revue belge du cinéma (Brussels), v. 13, no. 1–2, 1975–76.
Beylie, C., "L'Enfer Simon," in Ecran (Paris), September 1978.
Gauteur, Claude, "Michel Simon" in Anthologie du Cinéma, vol. 10, Paris, 1979.
Gauteur, Claude, "Michel Simon (1895–1975)," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1979.
Sellier, G., "L'inquiétante étrangeté de Michel Simon," in Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1983.
Ostria, V., "Le dernier des hommes," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1987.
Bernink, Mieke, in Skrien (Amsterdam), October-November 1991.
Deriaz, F., in Cine-Bulletin (Zurich), no. 6, 1995.
* * *
Michel Simon shared with a very few other great stars, notably Charles Laughton, a kind of lifelong personal struggle with his physical appearance, an appearance which nevertheless was to be the essence of his very special appeal as an actor. Like Laughton, Simon's homeliness, even ugliness, was in itself a part of his deeply sympathetic personality on the screen. Before going on stage he had been a professional boxer and acrobatic clown, entering the theater in 1918 when in his early twenties. He was already in his thirties before he made any mark in films, though well-established in the theater. There are glimpses of him, however, in notable silent films, such as Marcel L'Herbier's Pirandellian Feu Mathias Pascal and Carl Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, but he achieved film stardom in Jean Choux's Jean de la lune, a film version of the play by Marcel Achard in which he had achieved success on the stage. It was in sound films that he best fulfilled his unique capacity to interpret the more bizarre character roles that matched his massive bulk, his twisted-up facial expression, and his rough, corn-creaky, semiarticulate voice, with which he managed to project extraordinary comic effects. Jean Renoir, who himself had to cope with an ungainly body and a homely, if kindly, face, took to him, and together, with the coming of sound, they created two eccentric comedies, On purge Bébé (after Feydeau) and Boudu sauvé des eaux, and, in total contrast, the tragic La Chienne. Renoir describes with delight the eccentric character of Simon and his pleasure at working with him in his book My Life and My Films.
Simon's output of films was to continue for the next quarter century, led initially by his grotesquely comic performance in the star role of a good-natured mate of a barge plying the Seine in Jean Vigo's film, L'Atalante. His more notable prewar serious parts came in the films of Marcel Carné, Drôle de drame and the poetic Quai des brumes, in Christian-Jaque's film of a boy's school, Les Disparus de Saint-Agil, and in Julien Duvivier's La Fin de jour. He also appeared with Arletty in a farcical film, Fric-Frac, which they had both played on the stage.
With the coming of war and the occupation, Simon, now in his fifties, remained in France, but appeared in fewer films, and those of a kind very different from the predominantly proletarian parts of the past. He worked in costume drama, playing, for example, Scarpia in the film La Tosca and Rigoletto in Il re sè diverte, both Italian films, a genre he was to continue after the war in the Italian Fabiola; he starred as Shylock in Il mercante de Venezia and as Faust/Mephistopheles in Réne Clair's La Beauté du diable. His other principal genre became crime films, including the title role of the thief in Vautrin and the criminal in Duvivier's Panique.
In his private life, apart from a single brief period of marriage, Simon remained virtually a recluse, and in 1957 he suffered near exclusion from his profession through a serious injury to the nervous system caused by a dye he had used for makeup; this brought on partial paralysis from which it took time for him to recover. Nevertheless, he achieved a magnificent performance in 1967 in Le Vieil Homme et l'enfant as a French peasant whose anti-Jewish prejudice is overcome through caring for a small Jewish boy during the period of the occupation. Simon continued to appear in French and Italian productions until 1975, the year of his death.