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Simone Signoret

Simone Signoret

With her sultry sensuality, catlike features, and penetrating intelligence, Simone Signoret graced French cinema for more than thirty years. Throughout her film career, which began after World War II ended, this chameleonic talent shifted effortlessly between fierce imperiousness and affecting vulnerability, often within the same role. The product of a family of intellectuals, Signoret (née Kaminker—she switched to her mother’s maiden name during the war to obscure her Jewish roots) was the thinking man’s sex symbol. In the 1950s, she was known as much for the leftist politics she and her husband, Yves Montand (they were married until her death in 1985), outspokenly embraced as for such movies as La ronde, Casque d’or, and Diabolique. In 1959, she became the first French actress to win an Oscar, for the British crossover sensation Room at the Top. Her performance in that film as an unhappily married woman having an affair would prove iconic—years later, Time wrote that she was “everywoman’s Bogart, in a trench coat, dangling a cigarette.” Signoret continued to choose strong films during the sixties and seventies, including Stanley Kramer’s Ship of Fools (another Oscar nomination), Jean-Pierre Melville’s Army of Shadows, and Costa-Gavras’s The Confession. In her last decade, she turned to writing, including her popular autobiography, Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be, and a novel, Adieu, Volodya.