Oscar-winner Simone Signoret, the star of French cinema who blazed into international fame with her sensuous and gutsy portrayal of the older woman in “Room at the Top,” died today of cancer. She was 64.
Signoret died at her country home in Normandy, her daughter Catherine Allegret said. “She fought right to the end,” Allegret said. “She died as she lived, with courage.”
Signoret had been married since 1950 to French singer and actor Yves Montand, who was shooting a film in southern France and flew home immediately on learning of her death.
She was as well known for her left-wing politics and, in later years, for her writing as for her movie career.
Rejected Trappings of Stardom
Signoret rejected the trappings of movie stardom throughout her career. She made no effort to preserve an image of youth as she grew older, but let the wrinkles come and her waistline expand.
“I got old the way women who aren’t actresses grow old,” she once said.
Simone-Henriette-Charlotte Kaminker was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, on March 25, 1921, to Andre and Georgette Kaminker. Her father was an army officer and linguist, and Simone and her two brothers grew up in an intellectual atmosphere. The family later moved to Paris.
The Nazi invasion of France brought great changes to the Kaminker household. Her father, who was part-Jewish, joined the resistance with Gen. Charles de Gaulle.
Simone stayed behind in Paris, teaching English and Latin and working as a typist for the newspaper Le Nouveau Temps, and gradually moved onto the stage.
Major Recognition in 1947
She received her first major recognition as an actress in 1947 in Jacques Feyder’s film “Macadam.”
The same year, she married film director Yves Allegret, who had guided her in her early work. They had one daughter, Catherine, and were divorced in 1950.
In 1952, Signoret received major French film awards for her portrayal of a streetwalker in “La Ronde.” The picture received considerable publicity in the United States, where it was banned in New York state as immoral before the Supreme Court ruled against censorship in 1954.
The British film “Room at the Top,” for which she won the 1960 Oscar for best actress, was the first of Signoret’s performances to win her enthusiastic acclaim in the United States.
Despite the rave reviews, she and Montand received a cool personal reception from an American public still in the throes of McCarthyism. Although the couple never joined the Communist Party, they were involved in leftist causes that made them suspicious political figures in the United States.
In 1977 Signoret published her first book, “Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used to Be,” followed in 1979 by “The Next Day She Was Smiling.”