Garden of Dreams
The Life of Simone Signoret
Publication Year: 2014
The incomparable Simone Signoret (1921-1985), one of the grand actresses of the twentieth century and one of France's most notable stars, considered herself the "oldest discovery" in Hollywood. After years of blacklisting during the McCarthy era, she was thirty-eight years old when she entered Hollywood through the back door in the 1959 British blockbuster Room at the Top. Her portrayal of the endearing Alice Aisgill earned her the Academy Award in 1960, the first French actor to win a coveted Oscar.
Though a latecomer to Hollywood, Signoret was already an international star who had survived the Nazi occupation of Paris, emerging in 1945 as a beautiful, promising actress capable of communicating more emotion through body language than dialogue alone could achieve. She gained a reputation as the thinking man's sex symbol, and in several films she portrayed prostitutes with subtlety and depth.
She was fiercely protective of her privacy. But after winning the Oscar, she was dragged through the gutter when her second husband, Yves Montand, had a widely publicized affair with Marilyn Monroe. Many attributed her rapid aging and alcoholism to this betrayal. She endured this perception in silence, all the while demonstrating a remarkable capacity to reinvent herself as a best-selling author, respected social activist, and revered actress who remained in the cinema, her "garden of dreams," for over four decades. Patricia A. DeMaio combines Signoret's courageous story with Montand's biography to reveal new information and insight into Signoret's humanitarian efforts and the vibrant film career that sustained her.
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication
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The incomparable Simone Signoret was never expelled from the garden of dreams. While her contemporaries struggled to secure meaningful roles after forty, the legendary French actress aged in the course of playing groundbreaking roles, appearing for over four decades in film and television. While she did not age gracefully, her transition from the...
Part I: The Long Four-Year Night
Chapter 1: A Secret Desire
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She never felt a calling to a particular vocation and was conflicted about what she wanted to do when the time came for making this decision. While she enjoyed writing essays and stories in school, she couldn’t yet imagine herself as an author; that would come later in life. Beyond that, there was only one thing that compelled her, something...
Chapter 2: “I Was an Only Child”
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Simone liked to borrow her mother’s gold or silver lamé evening dress slippers, which Georgette had purchased on a whim at the outdoor marketplace on Avenue du Neuilly. Georgette had no intention of wearing them, because she never went out. But they were perfect for her daughter’s dress up play, and she would stuff the toes with newspaper...
Chapter 3: “The Peace Has Been Saved, Papa”
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The births of two sons did nothing to repair the breech in the Kaminker marriage. In fact, she would always wonder why her parents, who had waited nine years to have their second child, had another two years later. If Jean-Pierre’s birth represented an attempt to reconcile, it didn’t work. André seemed more determined than ever to remain buried...
Chapter 4: The Phony War
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During the eight months that followed the declaration of war, there were so few military offenses launched against Hitler that the period of false hope would later be labeled the “phony war” by the British and drôle de guerre, the “laughable war,” by the French. However, the declaration of war cleared out the vast majority of vacationers in...
Chapter 5: “A Big Spot on My Life”
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When the family returned to a deserted Paris in September 1940, an eerie silence had fallen over the city. Thousands of Parisians had fled the city, leaving homes and shops shuttered against the invasion of Nazi soldiers, who dominated every space. Directional street signs were...
Chapter 6: “The Grand Doors to a Splendid Dream”
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The discomfort of cold feet always competed with gnawing hunger. Newspapers offered advice, encouraging people to maintain their hygiene despite lack of fuel for hot water, and they encouraged citizens to conserve their strength by remaining at home on Sunday, their day off. The author Colette advised readers to make light of Sunday...
Chapter 7: “There’s No Law Against Dreaming”
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The Cours Pathé was run by Madame Solange Sicard, a former stage actress who had never enjoyed success in her trade. Simone nonetheless thought she was a wonderful teacher, one who focused her attention on what students should never to do in acting, like accentuating verbs. Students attended the Cours Pathé twice weekly and worked to...
Chapter 8: “The End Was in the Air”
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Simone met Yves Allégret1 in January 1943, just three days before leaving for Dax in southwestern France for the film Adieu Léonard. He was an older man, sixteen years her senior, but not any more settled in life than she was at twenty-one years of age. His aspirations of becoming a film director were overshadowed by his older brother’s career: ...
Part II: Yves Montand
Chapter 9: “This Was the End for Us”
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The inescapable feeling that they had endured something far more horrifying than could be imagined tainted the joy of liberation for the French. Newsreels revealing the unspeakable horrors of the concentration camps played on even as trains arrived daily with survivors— many, Simone noted, still wearing striped prison uniforms. After watching...
Chapter 10: “Something Indiscrete and Irreversible”
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“She was barefoot and dressed gypsy style, with a rustling flowered skirt and a blouse knotted around her waist. She was outrageously made up, the way women made themselves up in those days, with far too much lipstick. I thought it a pity to paint such a mouth,”1 Yves Montand later recalled his first impression of Simone as she entered...
Chapter 11: “I Do Not Like to Speak of My Personal Life”
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Catherine Allégret wrote of life in 1950:
When I imagine them in the splendor of their love life, it is always this scene that I see: I was about four, alone with my mother in the living room waiting for Montand to come back from a trip. Suddenly, I hear the front door slam and I hide behind an armchair when he enters the room. He has one hand behind his back. Is he...
Chapter 12: The Stockholm Appeal
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Hollywood agent Minna Wallis arrived in France in 1950 with the expectation that she would return with Simone Signoret, who was still under contract with Howard Hughes but had not responded to phone calls from the studio. Wallis found Simone and Montand vacationing in Saint-Paul de Vence and spent several days in town arguing her case...
Part III: The Ideal Couple
Chapter 13: “The Finest Film I Ever Made”
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Both Simone and Montand returned to the cinema in 1951. Neither of them was thrilled with the prospect, though for entirely different reasons. Any hope that Simone might find another “anti-Manèges” role as a women without “sexual pathologies” was quickly dashed when the director Jacques Becker1 asked her to play the female lead...
Chapter 14: Thérèse Raquin
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By early 1953, Simone had been out of work for eighteen months entirely by choice. There were offers after Casque d’Or, but she had no intention of breaking her retirement vow. She wanted to be free to follow her husband’s concert tours and did so, until it became abundantly clear to her that her constant presence was getting on Montand’s...
Chapter 15: Witches and Devils
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During the months that followed her tragic second miscarriage, the only project that piqued Simone’s interest was Arthur Miller’s latest stage play, The Crucible, which had premiered in the United States in 1953 to mixed reviews. The obvious political overtones of the play were of great interest to John Berry and Jules Dassin, two American...
Chapter 16: Disillusioned
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Arthur Miller did not attend the opening night of The Crucible in Paris. His passport was revoked after he refused to name names while appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Jean- Paul Sartre attended the third performance and was so impressed that he expressed disappointment he hadn’t been asked to write the French...
Chapter 17: “Sentimental People”
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“I feel as if I’m in a newsreel,”1 Simone whispered, as they entered the backstage salon at the Tchaikovsky Concert Center in Moscow. A small reception line awaited them, a beaming Nikita Khrushchev at the forefront. It was the evening of December 24, 1956, and Montand had just finished his fourth evening performance before a sold-out audience...
Part IV: Mccarthyist Purgatory
Chapter 18: Me and the Colonel
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Simone and Montand felt the fallout from their controversial tour immediately upon their return from the Eastern Bloc. “Nobody asked for me,” Simone explained. She wasn’t concerned at first, because they had maintained such a rigorous schedule for the prior two years...
Chapter 19: Room at the Top
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When she told friends that she had accepted a role in Room at the Top they were far from impressed. It was well known that the British film industry was suffering a protracted death, which had begun at the start of the decade. British-American co-productions still dominated the film industry’s output but were no longer generating box office, ...
Chapter 20: From the Trough to the Crest of the Wave
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Room at the Top dominated the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards in spring 1959. Simone won Best Foreign Actress, Laurence Harvey won Best British Actor, and Room at the Top took prizes as both Best British Film and Best Film from any source. Co-stars Donald Woflit and Hermione Baddeley were nominated for awards but did...
Chapter 21: Small World
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Montand’s weeklong engagement at the Huntington-Hartford Theater in LA was such a resounding success that he was invited to make his American television debut on the popular Sunday night program, The Dinah Shore Show, on November 15, 1959, a live broadcast filmed in “living color” on NBC. Montand sang two songs from his repertoire: “A...
Chapter 22: “A Whacking Down to Size”
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Simone was oblivious to the first sign of trouble with Hedda Hopper, who used her syndicated column to address the Small World episode immediately after it aired on December 6. While Simone received many positive comments about her passionate description of experiences during the Nazi occupation, Hopper merely gave her a cursory mention...
Chapter 23: “Sad, and Abysmally Stupid”
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The thirty-second Academy Awards ceremony was held on April 4, 1960, at the historic Pantages Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Organizers were under pressure to develop a new format for the show after the debacle of the previous year, when the program fell short of the allotted time. The comedian Jerry Lewis, who emceed the event, had...
Part V: Monstrous Egocentricity
Chapter 24: The Little Foxes
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Simone was on location in Toulouse, France, filming The Day and the Hour, when Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962. Caught up in her role, Simone, oblivious to the outside world, had not heard the news and was enjoying dinner with assistant directors Costa-Gavras and Claude Pinoteau, when Montand called to tell her. The couple never...
Chapter 25: Zorba the Greek
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When Simone was asked to write an art icle, “The Private Life of Simone Signoret,” published on February 15, 1963, in the Mexican magazine Cine Universal, she did not waste time belaboring the point that her personal life should remain private. Instead, she dived right in, providing a startling but insightful commentary on her marriage with...
Chapter 26: “Sorry, William Shakespeare”
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Simone was convinced that women only pretend to take aging in their stride, something she discovered about herself while watching daily rushes for The Deadly Affair, an adaptation of John Le Carré’s spy novel, Call for the Dead. She portrayed Elsa Fennan, a fifty-five-year-old survivor of a death camp whose husband, Samuel, has allegedly committed...
Chapter 27: The Seagull
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Translating Hellman’s The Little Foxes had not been as successful a venture as Simone had hoped, and she still blushed whenever she thought about the Macbeth debacle. Simone would never agree to act on stage again, yet she was still drawn to the theater and to the art of translation, two fields of endeavor she was determined to conquer...
Chapter 28: Army of Shadows
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When he and Simone were in Hollywood in 1959, Montand noted—during a conversation with Americans about the Nazi occupation—“ You know, really, we’re survivors.” The realization had shocked both Montand and Simone. They never thought of themselves as survivors and tried not to dwell on the “common disaster” that had defined...
Part VI: Monstra Sacré
Chapter 29: A Dark Chapter
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It’s impossible to continue a story about Simone without looking behind the scenes at a dark chapter in her life. Spanning the mid- 1960s and stretching through the next decade, it was a period when— with the aid of alcohol and other indulgences— she aged so profoundly that Catherine described the period as her mother’s “slow descent into...
Chapter 30: Garden of Dreams
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One afternoon during the early 1970s, while the columnist Liz Smith was dining with the writer Mario Puzo at the Carleton Hotel Beach Club in Cannes, he became distracted by a woman sitting at another table, a middle aged woman who was “more than plump, casually dressed, wearing no make-up.” Puzo turned to Liz Smith, stunned: ...
Chapter 31: Nostalgia
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The extended family at Autheuil had shrunk considerably over the years, making it all the more difficult to ward off the loneliness Simone felt. The death of Jacques Becker had left a permanent void, and other friends who had filled the house on weekends or lived there as permanent guests had for the most part moved on with their own lives...
Chapter 32: “The Next Day, She Smiled”
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Although the six-hundred-page transcript of Simone’s interview was tucked away out of sight, it nagged her, demanding attention until 1975, when she finally decided to do something about it. One afternoon, she began writing out some of her childhood memories, just to see how they played out on the page. Once she got started, she couldn’t stop...
Part VII: Autumn Leaves
Chapter 33: “My Guilty conscience”
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In 1969, when two pharmacists were murdered during a robbery in Paris, a young man, Pierre Goldman, was considered the perfect suspect. His sordid background included a year spent in Venezuela, where he trained as a revolutionary with Régis Debray, who had recently become an acquaintance of Simone. After leaving South America, Goldman...
Chapter 34: Adieu, Volodia
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Montand’s decision to book the Metropolitan Opera House for four performances of “An Evening with Yves Montand” in September 1982 was a tremendous risk, one the press had a field day with. “Frank Sinatra may have conquered the Pyramids, but can Yves Montand fill the Metropolitan Opera House all by himself,” asked Moira Hodgson, ...
Chapter 35: “All I Ever Really Had in Mind”
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“We had a habit of glancing at each other when we were with a group of people and we heard stupid remarks . . . just a quick glance was all it took and sometimes that was all it took to set off wonderful, uncontrollable giggles,”1 Montand explained. It was something he and Simone did instinctively and took for granted, until one night at...
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Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2014
Series Title: Hollywood Legends Series