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Garden of Dreams

Garden of Dreams: The Life of Simone Signoret

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Garden of Dreams
    Book Description:

    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 blockbusterRoom 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-006-8
    Subjects: History, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    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 young and beautiful femme fatale to the svelte woman of the world, and then to the aged matron—wrinkled, fat, and formless—was almost seamless on screen, where she never lost that earthy sensuality that made sex appeal and glamour seem superficial and trite. ʺSignoret has more...

  4. Part I: The Long Four-Year Night

    • CHAPTER 1 A Secret Desire
      (pp. 11-19)

      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 couldnʹt yet imagine herself as an author; that would come later in life. Beyond that, there was only one thing that compelled her, something that had such a subtle genesis she couldnʹt remember exactly when it started. She wanted to become a Hollywood star. And because America seemed remote to a teenager growing up in Paris, she carefully devised a plan to get there,...

    • CHAPTER 2 ʺI Was an Only Childʺ
      (pp. 20-28)

      SIMONE LIKED TO BORROW HER MOTHERʹS 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 daughterʹs dress up play, and she would stuff the toes with newspaper and produce an old drape to use as a cape when Simone played a great lady in her bedroom. This was one of Simoneʹs only memories from early childhood; she had no recollection of life in Germany or their first home on...

    • CHAPTER 3 ʺThe Peace Has Been Saved, Papaʺ
      (pp. 29-35)

      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-Pierreʹs birth represented an attempt to reconcile, it didnʹt work. André seemed more determined than ever to remain buried in his work, away from home. As a journalist, he had numerous opportunities to travel and had covered Hitler from the time he became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Andréʹs assignments put him in close contact with the diplomatic...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Phony War
      (pp. 36-39)

      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 ʺphony warʺ by the British anddrôle de guerre, the ʺlaughable war,ʺ by the French. However, the declaration of war cleared out the vast majority of vacationers in Saint-Gildas. The men left first to report for duty to their respective military units, and their families returned home later.

      Georgette took advantage of the off-season rates and rented an oceanfront villa for their unexpected stay in Saint-Gildas. The boys settled into...

    • CHAPTER 5 ʺA Big Spot on My Lifeʺ
      (pp. 40-47)

      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 posted at every intersection for German military personnel—a change that had more of a psychological effect than anything else, because few civilians were able to drive their cars. Oil imports had been suspended, and petrol was rationed, leaving the streets open primarily to military vehicles. In the public gathering places, theDécret concernant le...

    • CHAPTER 6 ʺThe Grand Doors to a Splendid Dreamʺ
      (pp. 48-57)

      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 chores and dinner so that the day could be spent in bed with a hot bottle to warm the feet. However, staying at home in bed was not an option for Simone, who on her day off spent hours tutoring students.

      She wore her dark brown hair...

    • CHAPTER 7 ʺThereʹs No Law Against Dreamingʺ
      (pp. 58-64)

      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 perfect one scene that could be used for auditions. Simone focused on a scene from the second act of the playLa Femme en Blanc, written by the French author Marcel Achard. Madame Sicard also thought Simone had potential as a comic actress, because...

    • CHAPTER 8 ʺThe End Was in the Airʺ
      (pp. 65-70)

      SIMONE MET YVES ALLÉGRET¹ IN JANUARY 1943, JUST THREE DAYS BEfore leaving for Dax in southwestern France for the filmAdieu 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 brotherʹs career: Marc was a well-established director who had received critical acclaim forFannyin 1932. Though Marc offered his younger brother work as an assistant director, Yves could not break through on his own. His only solo film accomplishment was a...

  5. Part II: Yves Montand

    • CHAPTER 9 ʺThis Was the End for Usʺ
      (pp. 73-83)

      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 the newsreel for the first time, the singer Yves Montand, whom Simone had not yet met, had a visceral reaction as he left the theater. ʺWhat about God now,ʺ he challenged his girlfriend, Edith Piaf, who prayed each night before bed. He could not understand how she could believe...

    • CHAPTER 10 ʺSomething Indiscreet and Irreversibleʺ
      (pp. 84-92)

      ʺSHE 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,ʺ¹ Yves Montand later recalled his first impression of Simone as she entered the Columbe dʹOr with Jacques Prévert. Montand was enjoying a rare night off from his summer concert tour of Provence, dining with two of his musicians, Bob Castella, a pianist, and guitarist Henri Crolla. Simone was vacationing with her daughter...

    • CHAPTER 11 ʺI Do Not Like to Speak of My Personal Lifeʺ
      (pp. 93-97)


      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 hiding a present for me? I was getting ready to surprise him, but I was too late. He already had his arms around my mother after...

    • CHAPTER 12 The Stockholm Appeal
      (pp. 98-102)

      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 with the couple. Simone was unmoved; she was not leaving Montand under any circumstances. Finally convinced, Wallis gave up the quest. Simone explained that Wallis confided that she understood Simoneʹs reluctance to leave her lover.¹ Hollywood could kill a romance.

      Wallis returned to the...

  6. Part III: The Ideal Couple

    • CHAPTER 13 ʺThe Finest Film I Ever Madeʺ
      (pp. 105-113)

      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 ʺanti-Manègesʺ role as a women without ʺsexual pathologiesʺ was quickly dashed when the director Jacques Becker¹ asked her to play the female lead, Marie, a prostitute, inCasque dʹOr. Yet this prospect was not as discouraging as the mere thought that she would have to leave Montandʹs side for the filming. Her reaction was purely emotional, and an admittedly irrational reaction to an opportunity that would ultimately jumpstart her career,...

    • CHAPTER 14 Thérèse Raquin
      (pp. 114-122)

      BY EARLY 1953, SIMONE HAD BEEN OUT OF WORK FOR EIGHTEEN months entirely by choice. There were offers afterCasque dʹOr, but she had no intention of breaking her retirement vow. She wanted to be free to follow her husbandʹs concert tours and did so, until it became abundantly clear to her that her constant presence was getting on Montandʹs nerves. While he was by her definition a traditional ʺMediterranean husband,ʺ both possessive and jealous, Montand held more liberal views on women working, and it irked him that Simone seemed to be throwing a promising career away without a care....

    • CHAPTER 15 Witches and Devils
      (pp. 123-128)

      DURING THE MONTHS THAT FOLLOWED HER TRAGIC SECOND MISCARriage, the only project that piqued Simoneʹs interest was Arthur Millerʹs 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 film directors who had taken refuge in France after they were blacklisted in Hollywood. But though they raved about it and promised Simone a copy of the translation, they were never able to make good on the promise. Then, months later, Simone and Montand were...

    • CHAPTER 16 Disillusioned
      (pp. 129-137)

      ARTHUR MILLER DID NOT ATTEND THE OPENING NIGHT OFTHE CRUCIBLEin 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 hadnʹt been asked to write the French adaptation—only to be told that he had indeed been asked. His secretary had screened the call and turned down the opportunity without consulting with his employer.

      The play, billed asLes Sourcières de Salem, was such an unprecedented success, its run was extended for 365 nights,...

    • CHAPTER 17 ʺSentimental Peopleʺ
      (pp. 138-146)

      ʺI FEEL AS IF IʹM IN A NEWSREEL,ʺ¹ 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 of thirty-five hundred. Demand for tickets was so high that lines had formed outside the Tchaikovsky Center days in advance. The minister of culture had a public address system set up outside and in the Luzhnik Stadium nearby, so that between the two...

  7. Part IV: McCarthyist Purgatory

    • CHAPTER 18 Me and the Colonel
      (pp. 149-157)

      SIMONE AND MONTAND FELT THE FALLOUT FROM THEIR CONTROVERSIAL tour immediately upon their return from the Eastern Bloc. ʺNobody asked for me,ʺ Simone explained. She wasnʹt concerned at first, because they had maintained such a rigorous schedule for the prior two years that she was content with the prospect of uninterrupted rest, vacationing at the Columbe dʹOr and at Autheuil. ʺBut rest stops being rest when it goes on and on. Then it isnʹt called rest, itʹs called being out of work.ʺ And in acting circles, she explained, they call this ʺthe trough of the wave.ʺ The trough would last...

    • CHAPTER 19 Room at the Top
      (pp. 158-165)

      WHEN SHE TOLD FRIENDS THAT SHE HAD ACCEPTED A ROLE INROOM at the Topthey 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 industryʹs output but were no longer generating box office, and there were few successful independent ventures. Theaters were closing their doors in record numbers, as audiences turned to television, the new entertainment medium.

      Since they couldnʹt envision a blockbuster, Simoneʹs close friends worried that her involvement in this independent venture, a...

    • CHAPTER 20 From the Trough to the Crest of the Wave
      (pp. 166-174)

      ROOM AT THE TOPDOMINATED THE BRITISH ACADEMY OF FILM AND Television Arts awards in spring 1959. Simone won Best Foreign Actress, Laurence Harvey won Best British Actor, andRoom at the Toptook 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 not win.Room at the Top, an unprecedented success, set the standard for ʺkitchen sinkʺ realism in dramas and created a resurgence of the British film industry. Simone was now riding the crest of the British ʺnew wave.ʺ

      The filmʹs American premiere,...

    • CHAPTER 21 Small World
      (pp. 175-183)

      MONTANDʹS 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 ʺliving colorʺ on NBC. Montand sang two songs from his repertoire: ʺA Parisʺ and ʺUn Garçon dansaitʺ a song and dance skit about a waiter who dreams of becoming Fred Astaire though he canʹt sing or dance. Then Shore guided the singer through a carefully scripted chat about the difficulties of learning English. Montand had memorized his...

    • CHAPTER 22 ʺA Whacking Down to Sizeʺ
      (pp. 184-194)

      SIMONE WAS OBLIVIOUS TO THE FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE WITH HEDDA Hopper, who used her syndicated column to address theSmall Worldepisode 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 before turning to the heated debate with Agnes DeMille. She took the opportunity to thank those ʺloyal Americansʺ who had written in and then, rather than comment further, she filled her column with quotes from her correspondents, nineteen in all. All were positive, she claimed, save one:...

    • CHAPTER 23 ʺSad, and Abysmally Stupidʺ
      (pp. 195-212)

      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 to ad lib for twenty minutes. Arthur Freeman, a well-known director at MGM, was recruited to manage the show, with Vincente Minelli and John Houseman acting as his assistants. ʺThe big problem with a show of this kind,ʺ Freeman explained, was finding ʺthe fine...

  8. Part V: Monstrous Egocentricity

    • CHAPTER 24 The Little Foxes
      (pp. 215-220)

      SIMONE WAS ON LOCATION IN TOULOUSE, FRANCE, FILMINGTHE 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 shared the details of their brief conversation, but it was clear from their immediate reactions that they understood the ramifications: The press would seek them out for comment and there was little to lose.

      When Simone returned to her hotel, the manager informed...

    • CHAPTER 25 Zorba the Greek
      (pp. 221-229)

      WHEN SIMONE WAS ASKED TO WRITE AN ARTICLE, ʺTHE PRIVATE LIFE of Simone Signoret,ʺ published on February 15, 1963, in the Mexican magazineCine 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 the first sentence: ʺWhen Yves and I have an argument, a more or less harsh one, I decide that I never want to see him again in my life. I go to the theater where heʹs singing to tell him that I want to leave...

    • CHAPTER 26 ʺSorry, William Shakespeareʺ
      (pp. 230-235)

      SIMONE WAS CONVINCED THAT WOMEN ONLY PRETEND TO TAKE AGING in their stride, something she discovered about herself while watching daily rushes forThe Deadly Affair, an adaptation of John Le Carréʹs 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 suicide. Elsaʹs facial expressions are strained, and her attire is as dowdy and colorless as her home, which has been decorated with great care on her husbandʹs foreign service wages. Charles Dobbs, a British secret agent, played by James Mason, believes Samuelʹs death resulted from...

    • CHAPTER 27 The Seagull
      (pp. 236-242)

      TRANSLATING HELLMANʹSTHE LITTLE FOXESHAD NOT BEEN AS SUCcessful a venture as Simone had hoped, and she still blushed whenever she thought about theMacbethdebacle. 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.

      It was an impulsive decision, she admitted, to take a year off in 1967 to tackle a translation ofFever, a short story written by the American author, Peter Feibleman, and published in France by Gallimard in their Du monde entier...

    • CHAPTER 28 Army of Shadows
      (pp. 243-250)

      WHEN HE AND SIMONE WERE IN HOLLYWOOD IN 1959, MONTAND noted—during a conversation with Americans about the Nazi occupation—ʺYou know, really, weʹre survivors.ʺ The realization had shocked both Montand and Simone. They never thought of themselves as survivors and tried not to dwell on the ʺcommon disasterʺ that had defined their late teens and early adulthood. Yet Simone felt a ʺcertain kind of nostalgiaʺ¹ for that time, which she felt compelled to explain, because ʺitʹs an awful thing to admit.ʺ However, during those nightmare years, as treacherous and uncertain as life was, they had a predictable existence. The...

  9. Part VI: Monstra Sacré

    • CHAPTER 29 A Dark Chapter
      (pp. 253-259)

      ITʹS 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 motherʹs ʺslow descent into hell.ʺ In her quest to keep her private life from intermingling with her career as the actress, Simone left only surfaces accessible. As a result, it was easier to assume, as many continue to do, that her lost beauty and alcoholism were misplaced...

    • CHAPTER 30 Garden of Dreams
      (pp. 260-267)

      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 ʺmore than plump, casually dressed, wearing no make-up.ʺ Puzo turned to Liz Smith, stunned: ʺThatʹs Simone Signoret … I was madly in love with her afterRoom at the Top. She was my idol for years, my fantasy. But look at her now. She looks just awful, terrible.ʺ¹ Smith reacted:

      I looked at Mario. He was fat and...

    • CHAPTER 31 Nostalgia
      (pp. 268-276)

      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. When Serge Reggianni remarried and wanted to build a country house for his young family, Simone was disappointed. ʺBut this is your home,ʺ she protested.

      While friends still gathered and were loyal to Simone, by the 1970s this closeness...

    • CHAPTER 32 ʺThe Next Day, She Smiledʺ
      (pp. 277-284)

      ALTHOUGH THE SIX-HUNDRED-PAGE TRANSCRIPT OF SIMONEʹS 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 couldnʹt stop.

      Simone purchased an inexpensive portable typewriter, which she carried with her everywhere she went, and began writing in earnest without consulting the Pons transcript, which she considered ʺhisʺ book, not hers. She began with little stories at first, without connecting them as chapters....

  10. Part VII: Autumn Leaves

    • CHAPTER 33 ʺMy Guilty Conscienceʺ
      (pp. 287-294)

      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 was a suspect in the high profile robbery of the Royal Bank of Canada in 1969, but he was never caught. In France, he was implicated in several robberies, to which he would later confess. So, in the minds of the police, his background made him the...

    • CHAPTER 34 Adieu, Volodia
      (pp. 295-303)

      MONTANDʹS DECISION TO BOOK THE METROPOLITAN OPERA HOUSE for four performances of ʺAn Evening with Yves Montandʺ in September 1982 was a tremendous risk, one the press had a field day with. ʺFrank Sinatra may have conquered the Pyramids, but can Yves Montand fill the Metropolitan Opera House all by himself,ʺ asked Moira Hodgson, contributor to theNew York Times. ʺAnd can he—alone in front of an enormous auditorium—hold that stage which is large enough to accommodate the elephants inAida?ʺ No solo performer had ever tried.

      However, Jane Hermann, the presentation director for the Met, had seen...

    • CHAPTER 35 ʺAll I Ever Really Had in Mindʺ
      (pp. 304-313)

      ʺWE 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,ʺ¹ Montand explained. It was something he and Simone did instinctively and took for granted, until one night at a dinner party, when ʺsomeone made a really idiotic remark.ʺ Montand looked at Simone but couldnʹt catch her eye. ʺAnd she was looking for me, my glance, and she couldnʹt find it. Then I felt so devastated. I...

    (pp. 314-316)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 317-333)
    (pp. 334-336)
    (pp. 337-340)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 341-346)
  16. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 347-354)