Simone Signoret

Simone Signoret (in French) (March 25, 1921 - September 30, 1985) is a beloved Academy Award winning legend of French cinema and widely hailed as the greatest French actress in film history. She became the first French person to win an Academy Award in 1959 for her role in Room at the Top. She holds an immortal place in France for her groundbreaking contributions to the cinema. In her lifetime she also received a BAFTA, an Emmy, Golden Globe, Cannes Film Festival recognition and the Silver Bear for Best Actress.

Early life

Signoret was born Simone-Henriette-Charlotte Kaminker in Wiesbaden, Germany to André and Georgette (Signoret) Kaminker. She was the oldest child of three, with two younger brothers. Her father, a linguist who later worked in the United Nations, was a French-born Jewish army officer of Polish descent, who brought the family to Neuilly-sur-Seine on the fancy outskirts of Paris. Signoret grew up in Paris in an intellectual atmosphere and studied the English language in school, earning a teaching certificate. She tutored English and Latin and worked part-time as a typist for a French collaborationist newspaper, Le Nouveau Temps, run by Jean Luchaire.


During the German occupation of France, Signoret formed close bonds with an artistic group of writers and actors who met at a café in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés quarter, Café de Flore. By this time, she had developed an interest in acting and was encouraged by her friends, including her lover, Daniel Gélin, to follow her ambition. In 1942, she began appearing in bit parts and was able to earn enough money to support her mother and two brothers as her father, who was a French patriot, had fled the country in 1940 to join General De Gaulle in England. She took her mother's maiden name for the screen to help hide her Jewish roots.

Signoret's sensual features and earthy nature led to type-casting and she was often seen in prostitute roles. She won considerable attention in La Ronde (1950), a film which was banned briefly in New York as immoral. She won further raves, including an acting award from the British Film Academy, for her portrayal of yet another prostitute in Jacques Becker's Casque d'or (1951). She went on to appear in many notable films in France during the 1950s, including Thérèse Raquin (1953), directed by Marcel Carné, Les Diaboliques (1954), and Les Sorcières de Salem (1956), based on Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

In 1958, Signoret went to England to film Room at the Top (1959), which won her numerous awards including the Best Female Performance Prize at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Actress. She was the only French cinema actress to receive an Oscar until Juliette Binoche in 1997 (Supporting Actress) and Marion Cotillard in 2008 (Best Actress), and the first woman to win the award appearing in a foreign film. She was offered films in Hollywood but turned them down and continued to work in France and England. She played opposite Laurence Olivier in Term of Trial (1962). She did return to America for Ship of Fools (1965) which earned her another Oscar nomination and she went on to appear in several Hollywood films before returning to France in 1969.

Her one attempt at Shakespeare, playing Lady Macbeth opposite Alec Guinness at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 1966 proved to be ill-advised, although some critics were harsher and one referred to her English as "impossibly Gallic".

In her later years, she was often criticized for gaining weight and letting her looks go but Signoret, who was never concerned with glamour, ignored the insults and continued giving finely etched performances. She won more acclaim for her portrayal of a weary madam (Madame Rosa) in La Vie devant soi (1977) and as an unmarried sister who unknowingly falls in love with her paralyzed brother via anonymous correspondence in I Sent a Letter to my Love (1980).

Her memoirs, Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be, were published in 1978. She also wrote a novel, Adieu Volodya, published in 1985, the year of her death.

First married to the filmmaker Yves Allégret from 1944 to 1949, with whom she had a daughter Catherine Allégret, herself an actress. Her second marriage was to the Italian-born French actor Yves Montand in 1950, a union which lasted until her death.

In Playboy she was shown once in an embrace with Robert Mitchum. She was nude above the waist, and the magazine's caption used the term "a big bare hug."

She died of pancreatic cancer in Auteuil-Anthouillet, France; and is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

The late American singer, pianist and composer Nina Simone took her stage name from Signoret.


Year Film Role Other notes
1942 Boléro Une employée de maison de couture uncredited
Les Visiteurs du soir Extra uncredited
Le Prince charmant
1943 Adieu Léonard La gitane uncredited
Le Voyageur de la Toussaint Extra uncredited
1944 L'Ange de la nuit Une étudiante uncredited
Le Mort ne reçoit plus La maitresse de Firmin
Service de nuit La danseuse à la taverne
Béatrice devant le désir
1945 La Boîte aux rêves Une femme uncredited
1946 Macadam Gisèle
Le Couple idéal Annette
Les Démons de l'aube Lily, la cabaretière
1947 Fantômas Hélène
1948 Impasse des deux anges Marianne
Dédée d'Anvers Dédée
Against the Wind Michele Dennis
1950 Manèges Dora
Gunman in the Streets Denise Vernon a French version was also filmed as Le Traqué
La Ronde Leocadie, the Prostitute
Swiss Tour Yvonne
1951 Ombre et lumière Isabelle Leritz
Sans laisser d'adresse Une journaliste uncredited
1952 Casque d'or Marie 'Casque d'Or' BAFTA Award
1953 Thérèse Raquin Thérèse Raquin
1955 Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder Yvette, Lagerhure
Les Diaboliques Nicole Horner Diabolique
1956 Un matin comme les autres Janine Alix
La Mort en ce jardin Djin
1957 Les Sorcières de Salem Elisabeth Procter BAFTA Award
Die Windrose
1959 Room at the Top Alice Aisgill Academy Award for Best Actress; BAFTA Award;
Nominated - Golden Globe
1960 Adua e le compagne Adua Giovannetti
1960 Les Mauvais coups Roberte
Amours célèbres Jenny segment "Jenny de Lacour"
1961 Barabbas
1962 Il Giorno più corto Unconfirmed
Term of Trial Anna
1963 Dragées au poivre Genevieve
Le Jour et l'heure Therese Dutheil
1965 Compartiment tueurs Eliane Darès
Ship of Fools La Contessa Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress;
Nominated - BAFTA Award; Nominated - Golden Globe
1966 Paris brûle-t-il? La patronne du bistrot/Cafe Owner Is Paris Burning?
The Deadly Affair Elsa Fennan Nominated - BAFTA Award
1967 Games Lisa Schindler Nominated - BAFTA Award
1968 The Sea Gull Arkadina, an actress
1969 L'Américain Léone
L'Armée des ombres Mathilde
Mr. Freedom uncredited cameo
1970 L'Aveu Mme L. aka Lise London
1971 La Veuve Couderc Veuve Couderc Tati
Le Chat Clémence Bouin
Comptes à rebours Léa
1973 Rude journée pour la reine Jeanne
Les Granges brulées Rose
1975 La Chair de l'orchidée Lady Vamos
1976 Police Python 357 Thérèse Ganay
1977 La Vie devant soi Madame Rosa
1978 Judith Therpauve Judith Therpauve
1979 L'Adolescente Mamie
1980 Chère inconnue Louise
1982 Guy de Maupassant Maupassant's mother
L'étoile du nord Mme Louise Baron

Awards and nominations

Emmy Awards

Germany Berlin International Film Festival

  • 1971: Won Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actress for: Le Chat (1971) ('Tied with Shirley MacLaine for Desperate Characters)''

France Cannes Film Festival

César Awards, France

Italy David di Donatello Awards, Italy

See also



  • Monush, Barry (ed), The Encyclopedia of Hollywood Film Actors From the Silent Era to 1965. New York: Applause Books, 2003. ISBN 1-55783-551-9
  • Signoret, Simone, Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978. ISBN 0-297-77417-4

External links

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