Moreau, Jeanne (1928—)

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Moreau, Jeanne (1928—)

Internationally renowned French actress. Born January 23, 1928, in Paris, France; daughter of French father Anatole Moreau (a restaurateur) and English mother Kathleen (Buckley) Moreau (an erstwhile entertainer); had one younger sister, Michelle; trained at the Paris Conservatory of Dramatic Art; married Jean-Louis Richard (an actor), in 1949 (divorced 1951); married William Friedkin (a director) in 1977 (divorced 1978); children: (first marriage) one son, Jérôme.

Made professional stage debut (1947); appeared in first film (1948); known mainly for work in legitimate theater until directed by Louis Malle in L'Ascenseur pour l'Echafaud (1957) and Les Amants (1958), the latter establishing her international reputation as a sensuous symbol of French womanhood; has since appeared in more than 80 films, in addition to television and stage work, in Europe and the United States.

Selected filmography:

Dernier Amour (1948); Meurtres (1950); Pigalle-St. Germain-des-Prés (1950); L'Homme de ma Vie (1952); Il est Minuit Docteur Schweitzer (1952); Secrets d'Alcove (1953); Dortoir des Grandes (1953); Julietta (1953); Touches pas au Grisbi (1954); La Reine Margot (1954); Les Intrigantes (1954); Les Hommes en Blanc (1955); M'sieur la Caille (1955); Gas-Oil (1955); Le Salaire du Péché (1956); Jusq'au Dernier (1956); Echec au Porteur (1957); L'Etrange M. Stève (1957); Trois Jours à Vivre (1957); Les Louves (1957); Ascenseur pour L'Echafaud (Frantic, 1957); Le Dos au Mur (1958); Les Amants (1958); Les Liaisons dangereuses (1959); Moderato Cantabile (1960); Jovanka e le Altre (1960); Le Dialogue des Carmélites (1961); La Notte (1961); Une Femme est une Femme (1961); Jules et Jim (1961); Le Baie des Anges (1962); Eva (1962); Le Procès (1962); Le Feu Follet (1963); The Victors (1963); Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre (1964); Le Train (1964); Peau de Banane (1964); The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964); Mata Hari (1965); Viva Maria (1965); Falstaff (1966); Mademoiselle (1966); The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967); Le plus vieux Métier du Monde (1967); La Mariée était à Noir (1968); Histoire Immortelle (1968); Great Catherine (1968); Le Corps de Diane (1969); Le Petit Théâtre de Jean Renoir (1969); Monte Walsh (1970); Alex in Wonderland (1970); Comtes à Rebours (1970); L'Humeur vagabonde (1972); Chére Louise (1972); Nathalie Granger (1972); Joanna Francesca (1973); Je t'aime (1974); Les Valseuses (1974); La Race des Seigneurs (1974); Le Jardin qui bascule (1974); Hu-Man (1975); Souvenirs d'en France (1975); (also writer and director) Lumière (1976); Mr. Klein (1976); The Last Tycoon (1976); (director and co-writer only) L'Adolescente (1979); Au-dela de cette Limite votre Ticket n'est plus valable (1980); Plein Sud (1981); Mille Milliards de Dollars (1982); Querelle (1982); La Truite (1982); Der Bauer von Babylon (1983); La Paltoquet (1986); Sauve-toi Lola (1986); Le Miraculé (1987); La Nuit d'Ocean (1988); La Femme Nikita (1990); Alberto Express (1990); La Femme fardée (1991); Anna Karamazoya (1991); The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991); Until the End of the World (1992); Map of the Human Heart (1992); La Vielle qui Marchait dans la Mer (The Old Woman Who Walked in the Sea, 1992); The Summer House (1994); The Proprietor (1996).

Anyone strolling along Rue Mansart in the Montmartre section of Paris during the early 1930s might have seen a gangly young girl carrying a steaming bowl of potage à legumes and a crusty baguette disappear into a tiny movie theater.

The more curious passerby, following this odd apparition, would have seen her scurry upstairs into the projection booth to watch whatever film was playing while the projectionist consumed the meal provided by the girl's father, who ran a café down the street. Crouching in the dark room with its flickering square of light, Jeanne Moreau felt strangely drawn to the characters she saw on screen, some of them more real to her than her own friends and family. "Acting is not a profession," she would say many years later, "it's a way of life. One completes the other."

Despite this almost daily exposure to the cinema, Moreau could not have imagined herself growing up to become an icon of the French cinema's postwar renaissance, even though her English mother had been in show business. Kathleen Buckley had first come to Paris in 1927 as a "Tiller Girl"—one of a troupe of British chorines hired to appear for several months at the Folies Bergères. Jeanne's father Anatole Moreau was a restaurateur from a small town near Vichy in central France, a pragmatic provincial who frowned on the frivolous lifestyle of people in show business. But even Anatole was unable to resist the attractions of Kathleen, who would take her meals between shows at La Cloche d'Or, which Anatole ran with his brother Arsène. Two months after their meeting, Kathleen discovered she was pregnant. Unable to hide the fact from her employers, she was dismissed from the chorus line and married Anatole shortly thereafter. "It was a big scandal because, of course, it was known she was pregnant," Moreau once recalled, "and worse than that, my father had been engaged to the daughter of the boulangère across the road." Her uncle Arsène paid for the wedding, and the couple settled down to await the boy child they planned to name Pierre. Anatole was so distraught at the birth of a daughter that he had to be fetched, drunk, from a local bar to register the birth; and it was only through the efforts of the registrar that Jeanne avoided being named Pierrette. Kathleen, meanwhile, mourned the loss of a career she was sure would have made her a star, often mentioning that she had been considering an offer to appear in America when she became pregnant.

Moreau's most formative years were spent, not in Paris, but near Vichy, where Anatole took his earnings from his partnership with his brother and opened the Hôtel l'Entente, installing his small family in his ancestral village nearby. It was in Mazirat that Jeanne attended a convent school and grew up a roughhouser, she said, "always with big scabs on both knees." She delighted in telling stories to relatives and friends with great dramatic flourish, acting all the parts, using appropriate gestures and accents. But with the death of her best friend from a childhood illness when Jeanne was seven years old, the sunny world of a country girl began to dim. "I started to feel there was an incredible sadness to things around me," Moreau recalled. She began to notice the darker elements caused by the isolation of village life—the resigned fatalism of the peasant women and her own parents' whispered arguments that reached her through thin bedroom walls. Kathleen confided to Jeanne that she had a plan for the two of them to escape to England, leaving Anatole behind. The scheme only added to Moreau's sense of betrayal when a sister, Michelle Moreau , was born in 1937. Nine-yearold Jeanne hated the attention given to the new arrival and retreated into the secrecy and fantasies of adolescence.

Matters did not improve when France's prewar economic depression forced Anatole to close his hotel and move back to Paris, where the Moreaus lived in a tiny, airless tenement not far from Montmartre's Sacre Coeur while Anatole took odd jobs in hotels and restaurants. Most of the other rooms in the building were rented to prostitutes who would openly do business on the street outside and in the corridors. Moreau's most persistent memories of the time are of the fleas and bedbugs that infested the decrepit building, and her mother's deepening depression. Though Kathleen, by this time, had been living in France for nearly 20 years and spoke fluent French, she remained a foreigner and longed for her native Lancashire. Just before war broke out in 1939, Kathleen left Anatole and took her two daughters back to England, where Jeanne learned to take her tea with milk and sugar and dote on crumpets. She also became as familiar with English as she was with French—a talent that would stand her in good stead in coming years. "I'm very proud of being half English," she says, "and I think that as time passes my best English qualities are more and more visible."

After nearly a year in England, Kathleen began to regret her decision and determined to rejoin Anatole, who by now had fled the German invasion of Paris by moving to the south of France, where the invaders had not yet penetrated. Kathleen got as far south as Orléans before being stopped by a Nazi roadblock and forced back to Paris, where she and her daughters spent the rest of the war. Moreau would always remember the greed, corruption and cruelty that ruled France during the Nazi occupation, turning her memories into a film which she wrote and directed in 1978, L'Adolescente. She escaped the harsh realities of wartime by reading voraciously, taking ballet lessons, and, one day in 1943, skipping school with two friends to see a performance of Jean Anouilh's Antigone, her first exposure to legitimate theater. Shortly thereafter, at a performance of Racine's Phèdre at France's venerable national theater, the Comédie Française, Moreau knew she had found a way to deal with her grim view of the world. "In the theater," she says, "I found purity and reality existing together." Although Anatole, who rejoined the family in Paris after the city was liberated by the Allies, fiercely resisted his daughter's intention to enter the theater world, Kathleen was more sympathetic. She saw to it that Jeanne was enrolled in the Paris Conservatory of Dramatic Art in 1946 before permanently separating from her husband and relocating with Michelle to England.

From the first time she stepped on a stage before an acting class, it was obvious to many that here was someone special. "She was not very centered, but was already extraordinary," remembered one classmate, Jean-Louis Richard. "I had no doubt about her future as an actress. She just got up on stage and was transformed." Near the end of her first year at the conservatory, Moreau was approached by a young actor named Jean Vilar, who was organizing what would become France's first outdoor arts festival, the Avignon Theater Festival, and would in later years guide Jeanne's career. Vilar cast Moreau in her first stage role, a small part in Maurice Clavel's La Terrasse du Midi, in the summer of 1947. In the fall of that year, just as she was starting her second year at the conservatory, Moreau was offered the part of Veroushka in an upcoming Comédie Française production of Chekhov's A Month in the Country. The play had rarely been performed in France, where relations with Russia had not often been cordial, but Moreau's earthy, naturalistic performance electrified the critics, filling the house every night with theatergoers eager to see this new young sensation. "I was a great success on opening night," Moreau has said, "but all I could think of was that my parents could not be there. I felt so alone." Indeed, Anatole scolded her for coming home so late that opening night, having no idea until reading the papers the next morning that his daughter was the toast of the city. Moreau gave Paris her Veroushka during the next year, after which she was offered a four-year contract with the company, becoming the youngest paid actress in the 300-year history of the Comédie Française.

While rehearsing for the company's 1949 production of Othello, Moreau discovered she was pregnant. The father was Jean-Louis Richard, the same actor who had so admired her during her first year at the conservatory. A day before the birth of their son Jérôme, the couple were married. "It was so stupid to be pushed into it," Moreau later said, in an odd echo of her mother's complaint 20 years earlier. "I had no disposition at all to be a mother." Unlike her mother, however, Moreau went right back to work, leaving her baby in the care of her mother-in-law. Two years later, the couple separated and divorced, blaming conflicting work schedules for the end of their marriage. Jean-Louis went on to become a successful actor and screen-writer, appeared with Moreau in two films, and remained a close friend. "All my bad ideas about marriage came from my parents and their disharmony," Moreau admits. "But all the men I have ever loved, I will love forever."

Jeanne Moreau">

If I hadn't been an actress, I might have been an hysteric.

—Jeanne Moreau

Part of the reason Jeanne and Jean-Louis were so often apart was that Moreau had begun acting in films during the day to supplement her income from the theater, although she was not considered photogenic enough to become a major movie star. She received third billing in her first film, 1948's Dernier Amour (Last Love), a romantic thriller in which she played the woman who comes between husband and wife. The intimacy of the camera made her feel, she said, "like a butterfly pinned to a piece of paper," but the $300 she received for less than two weeks' work overrode any misgivings. After the upheavals of World War II, French cinema was at a low point, producing only derivative crime dramas and romantic comedies which imitated American films now flooding the European market. From 1948 to 1957, Moreau would play gun molls, prostitutes, and scandalous mistresses while cinematographers complained that her nose was too small and her mouth too big, and directors tried to control the theatrical gestures Moreau carried with her from the stage. Even so, she learned a good deal about filmmaking and acting, especially from leading man Jean Gabin, who taught her how to convey character through subtler gestures and gently indicated personality traits. Audiences soon began to accept her as a favorite character actress, even in her first color film, 1954's La Reine Margot (Queen Margot), a horribly lit and badly directed historical drama. "She looked like Anne Boleyn on a bad day," one biographer has observed, "corseted to the gunwales in an orgy of ruffles and flounces, garish paste jewelry and boned waists." Moreau merely did what she was told, pocketed her paycheck, and redeemed herself on stage each night.

But when the Comédie Française offered her a 20-year contract in 1952, assuring her a virtual life membership in France's most exclusive theater, Moreau balked. In her five years with the company, she had become disillusioned with its internal politics and instead decided to refuse both the theater company's offer and a lucrative seven-year contract offered to her by Paramount in America. In a few short years, she had become a recognized actress on the French stage and screen and had even been the subject of a Paris-Match cover story, but Moreau was looking for new challenges and accepted an offer from her old friend Jean Vilar, who was now directing the Théâtre Nationale Populaire, the best known of the country's many touring repertory companies. Under Vilar's guidance, the TNP transformed French theater by presenting contemporary, controversial works by new young playwrights. Released from the strictures of classical French theater, Moreau blossomed to the extent that after just two years she was appearing in her first play as an independent star, free of any company ties. The play was 1953's L'heure Eblouissante (The Dazzling Hour), a boulevard comedy in which Moreau played two roles—the ingenue and the older wife of her lover, neither of whom appeared on stage at the same time. The actress playing the wife had fallen ill shortly after the play's opening, and Moreau stayed up all night with her father learning the role's dialogue before her first performance as two very different characters. Audiences were amazed at the ease with which she switched from a bubbly, lissome young mistress to a bitter middle-aged woman during the show's entire run of 500 performances.

Although Moreau has always been reluctant to speak of her technique, she once noted that it had been some years after her triumph in The Dazzling Hour that she attended a Method acting class at New York's Actors Studio, with its emphasis on psychological motivation and identity with one's character; and she once complained to director John Frankenheimer during the shooting of 1964's The Train about Burt Lancaster's endless analysis of how he should pick up a prop during a scene together. "What an actor needs is a sense of involvement, of un-conscious familiarity with his role—nothing more than that," she said. Whatever her secrets, Moreau used them to propel herself to the fore-front of French dramatic theater during the mid-1950s with her performances in such plays as Jean Cocteau's La Machine Infernale (which Cocteau directed); as Eliza in Shaw's Pygmalion, directed by Jean Marais; and as Maggie in Peter Brooks' production of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, performed in English at the Thèâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Her work even attracted the transatlantic attention of The New York Times, which reported: "Jeanne Moreau now belongs in the forefront of the young generation of French actors. Her incredible fervor and her attractive appearance have brought her a resounding personal triumph."

Among those mesmerized by Moreau's performance as Maggie was a young film director with a passionate attachment to a script he had just completed but with little money to do anything with it. Louis Malle had graduated two years earlier from the French government's film school and had just won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for co-directing Jacques Cousteau's first documentary film, Le Monde du Silence (Silent World), but Malle's heart was set on turning Noël Calef's thriller Ascenseur pour L'Echafaud (Elevator to the Scaffold) into his first dramatic film. Having followed Moreau's film career, noticing especially how she was able to convey subtle emotional changes on camera, Malle arranged a meeting and presented his idea with hopes that her attachment to the picture would help him complete the financing. Moreau was immediately attracted to the gritty story of a man and his mistress who conspire to murder the mistress' husband, and agreed to appear in what would become the opening salvo of the French cinema's so-called New Wave. The experience of shooting 1957's Ascenseur pour L'Echafaud (released in the United States as Frantic) was unlike anything Moreau had been used to in her ten-year, studio-financed film career. Malle's minuscule budget demanded a small crew shooting grainy black-and-white film on sidewalks and in hotel rooms using natural light. For Moreau, it meant supplying her own wardrobe, wearing no makeup, and being intimately involved in developing dialogue and action for her character according to the needs of each location. For Malle, it meant nearly complete control over every aspect of the picture, from writing the script to overseeing release prints—the auteur method of filmmaking so dear to modern graduates of film schools. For moviegoers, the film, with its score by Miles Davis, gave an immediate, visceral, exciting experience vastly different from one provided by the carefully controlled productions of major studios.

Ascenseur pour L'Echafaud opened a new phase in Moreau's career, placing her at the fore-front of rebellious, innovative filmmaking, but it was the scandal surrounding her next picture with Malle that made her an international star. Les Amants (The Lovers), released in 1958, was a sexually frank exploration of upper-class ennui, in which Moreau played the bored wife of a wealthy business executive who flaunts her affair with a handsome, virile, middle-class paramour and, at the film's end, abandons her husband

and his vacuous lifestyle for her new lover. Although François Truffaut observed that the film's love scenes, which appear tame by modern-day standards, were handled "with absolute taste and perfect tact," Malle had great difficulty releasing the film without cuts in most countries. In France, he refused to make any cuts at all and fought a long but successful battle with the government film office for a release permit. Les Amants was the first film made for commercial release which portrayed lovemaking in all its sensuous detail, focusing on the physical act itself and especially on Moreau's ecstatic reactions to her lover's ministrations. Moralists were further outraged when it was discovered that Moreau and Malle were carrying on their own passionate affair during production, having taken a house together near the location and arriving at the set together each day. But in later years, Moreau admitted to the confusion of personal and professional motives that fueled the affair. "I knew that if I played the love scenes just as Louis wanted, he could love me as an actress but hate me as a woman," she said. "I couldn't refuse to act as he wanted me to because I loved him." The affair ended almost as soon as the picture was finished, though the two later reconciled and remained friends for many years. Moreau, troubled by the film's notoriety and afraid that she would be stereotyped as a mere sex symbol, retired alone to the countryside to ponder her future.

She stayed away from films for the next year, going back to the theater for work and solace. It was Truffaut who coaxed her back to the screen by offering her a cameo in his own first film, 1959's Les Quatre Cent Coups (The 400 Blows), and thus prodded Moreau into her most productive period on film in a string of nouvelle vogue classics. The 1960s brought her first award from the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Peter Brooks' Moderato Cantabile, along with a growing international reputation for her work in Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte and, most famously, as the quixotic Catherine in Truffaut's Jules et Jim in 1963. In quintessential New Wave style, Truffaut's tale of a love triangle spanning some 30 years was shot on a tiny budget, with Moreau acting as co-producer and cooking lunches and dinners for cast and crew, although she remained close-mouthed about rumors of an affair with Truffaut. "We didn't live a love story," was all she would say. Jules et Jim brought Moreau her first Crystal Award from the French Film Academy for Best Actress. During these prolific years, she turned down several eager offers from Hollywood (including the role of Mrs. Robinson in Mike Nichols' The Graduate) but finally relented and appeared in one of her few action pictures, Martin Ritt's Five Branded Women, which Moreau later admitted she accepted in order to pay back taxes to the French government. Ritt's World War II saga of five women who join the Yugoslav resistance was an exception in Moreau's portfolio of otherwise carefully crafted films which emphasized character rather than action, including Orson Welles' The Trial and Chimes at Midnight, Joseph Losey's Eva, and Luís Buñuel's Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre (The Diary of a Chambermaid). Moreau's dramatic instincts, in fact, often worked against her financial security, for she would take a role which excited her without inquiring into the film's business credentials or its chances for commercial success. It is said, for example, that one of her finest performances, in Orson Welles' The Deep, has never been seen because Welles typically ran out of money and abandoned the picture.

The 1960s also marked what Moreau later called her "Rolls-Royce and champagne" period, for it was after completing work on Jules et Jim that she met haute couture designer Pierre Cardin. The two carried on a very public affair as darlings of the jet set for the next four years. Cardin designed an entire collection around her, used her as his chief photographic and runway model, and ushered her around glamorous parties at many of the several houses the couple maintained on the Riviera and in the Canary Islands, Greece, and on the Continent. It was on Cardin's advice that Moreau bought a Provençal farmhouse, Le Préverger, which became her sanctuary after she and Cardin separated. "I have a great admiration for him," Moreau said some years after, "but frankly I don't even remember why we parted." By the late 1960s, Moreau found herself emotionally and physically exhausted. At 40 years of age and with 50 films to her credit, she was no longer willing to be France's symbol of feminine sensuality and power. In 1968, she retired to the seclusion of Provençe.

After a year of psychotherapy, Moreau was back in public view when she joined a protest against the country's abortion laws, which at the time could send a woman to jail for two years and force her to pay up to $1,000 in fines. Moreau joined other well-known and respected French women, including Catherine Deneuve, Françoise Sagan , and Marguerite Duras , who publicly announced that they had had abortions (Moreau claimed three before the birth of her son) and challenged the government to take action against them. After five years of sometimes acrimonious dispute, it became legal in 1976 to not only have an abortion, but to have one at government expense during the first ten weeks of pregnancy.

While she was active politically, Moreau gracefully returned to the screen as a mature woman in 1971's Chére Louise (Dear Louise), about an affair between a woman of 40 and a young man of 20. "People aren't surprised when they see a man of sixty with a young girl of twenty," she said. "Why not the other way around?" Four years later, Moreau wrote and directed her first film, Lumière (Light), raising most of the money herself at a time when there were few female directors in Europe. The film told the story of four actresses and their relations during one week of their lives. "There are so few good parts for women in films," she said. "That is because the men who write the scripts no longer know their women. The ones they know and sleep with and work with are no longer representative of all women, as they once were."

In February of 1977, Moreau married American director William Friedkin, whom she met in Paris while he was scouting locations for The French Connection. The press made much of the fact that Friedkin was more than a dozen years her junior, but it was professional rivalry that ended their short, stormy relationship, little more than a year later. Moreau claimed that Friedkin wanted her to stop using her own name professionally and, indeed, stop acting altogether, although she described it as the most passionate relationship of her life. Moreau had already begun directing her second film L'Adolescente which, like Lumière, was critically if not commercially successful. Now in her 50s, Moreau began accepting more daring roles—including Lysiane, the proprietor of a violent brothel in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's controversial Querelle—and created her own production company, Capella Films, which produced several television movies for English and French markets. But challenging film roles were difficult to find, and it was the stage that once again came to her rescue. Her performance in Le Récit de la Servante Zerline (Zerline's Story) was hailed throughout Europe as a stunning portrayal of an old servant woman who tells her life story to her employer, a virtual monologue that begins simply enough but builds to a harrowing conclusion. Moreau appeared as Zerline no fewer than 330 times in productions all over Europe and in Canada, and was awarded the Moliére, the French equivalent of America's Tony Award, as Best Actress in 1988.

In her fifth decade in films, Moreau began to enjoy renewed popularity from a fresh generation of theater and film enthusiasts. She was honored with retrospectives of her work, including one in 1992 at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and continued to present elegant, finely honed performances, such as the arthritic, domineering society doyenne in 1992's La Vielle qui Marchait dans la Mer (The Old Woman Who Walked in the Sea), for which she was presented with the French Film Academy's César Award as Best Actress of that year, and as the delightfully vulgar Lili in 1994's The Summer House. Holding firm to her conviction that acting and daily living are inextricably bound, Jeanne Moreau continued to speak out for equality and respect for the sexual and spiritual lives of women of all ages and particularly of those well past middle age. "I'll die…like everyone else," she once said, "but whether I die at seventy-five or eighty-five, I'll die young."


"Failed Ballerina: Jeanne Moreau," in The Economist. Vol. 324, no 7770. August 1, 1992.

Gray, Marianne. La Moreau: A Biography of Jeanne Moreau. London: Little, Brown, 1994.

"Hot Number: Jeanne Moreau," in The Economist. Vol. 334, no. 7901. February 11, 1995.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. NY: HarperCollins, 1994.

Norman Powers , writer-director, Chelsea Lane Productions, New York

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Moreau, Jeanne (1928—)

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