Home / General / Erik Visits an (Non) American Grave, Part 283

Erik Visits an (Non) American Grave, Part 283


This is the grave of Simone Signoret and Yves Montand.

Both born in 1921 and both leading lights among postwar French acting, even though neither were born in France, Signoret was born Simone Henriette Charlotte Kaminker in Germany to a League of Nations interpreter. Montand was born Ivo Livi to an Italian broom manufacturer and communist. Montand came to France as a child when his father left Italy because he was a communist and fled Mussolini. He grew up in Marseilles, went onto the stage there, and was discovered by Edith Piaf in 1944. She began acting in Paris during World War II to help support her family after her father left for England to join De Gaulle’s resistance. She took her mother’s name at this point both because it was more musical than Kaminker and also because her father was part-Jewish and she needed to hide that during the war. Both found their way into movies after World War II.

Signoret became known for playing prostitutes and other sinful women in many famed movies, including Max Ophuls’ 1950 film La Ronde and Clouzot’s legendary 1955 film Diabolique. Fluent in English, she transitioned easily into the occasional British movie, including 1959’s Room at the Top, for which she won the Oscar for Best Actress, the first French woman to ever do so. Haven’t seen that movie, or even heard of it before actually, so will have to check that out. She had lots of offers to move to Hollywood, but she avoided American films until the 1960s, when she took a role in Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools, for which she earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Vivian Leigh was the lead actress, in her last role). In 1962, she returned to Paris full time, where she translated Lillian Hellman’s play The Little Foxes for the French stage, with Signoret starring in the lead. She continued working in films her whole life. Unfortunately for her, that life ended early, as she died in 1985 at the age of 64 of pancreatic cancer. She was survived by her second husband, the equally legendary Yves Montand, who she married in 1951.

After Piaf discovered Montand, he became known more for his voice than his acting, as he was a crooner who sang many famous songs about Paris, the favorite subject of Parisians. For the early part of his career, he was known for his handsome looks and his songs. His role in Clouzot’s brilliant 1953 film The Wages of Fear is the first role I’ve seen him in. And then I haven’t seen any of his films until the 1966 Resnais film The War is Over, where he plays an aging Spanish communist leader in exile. He then led in another utterly amazing film, Costa-Gavras’ 1969 political thriller Z. He then starred in the great director’s 1970 follow up The Confession (with Signoret) and 1972’s State of Siege, a trilogy of incredibly depressing films about the state of the world. That year, he was also in Godard’s Tout Va Bien with Jane Fonda, which I think is a really boring and not good film. But most of his films from this era were very good, including 1970’s Melville directed feature Le Cercle Rouge. Montand actually died on set, in 1991, while making the film IP5: L’île Aux Pachyderms.

Simone Signoret and Yves Montand are buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France. If you want this series to cover more European actors, I guess you could donate to cover the required expenses here. It would be hard to traipse around Europe looking for various great actors, but someone has to do it. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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