An appreciation: Actress Jeanne Moreau was ‘an unlikely combination, both imperious and lovable’
It was news I had been dreading for years, and it came today. Jeanne Moreau is dead at 89.
As a critic, writing about actors is part of the job, but you don’t ordinarily meet them, much less form any kind of relationship with them. But Jeanne was different, and a copy of the New York Times was the start of it all.
In 1996, Jeanne was chairman of the Montreal World Film Festival jury that I was a member of, and my initial impression, that she was simultaneously spontaneous, conscientious and playful, never changed. As novelist Nadine Gordimer, who’d been on a jury with her at Cannes, said, she was “an unlikely combination, both imperious and lovable.”
Though she didn’t really remember, I’d met Jeanne years earlier, as a Washington Post journalist when she came through town promoting 1976’s “Lumiere,” her first film as a director.
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Called “the Elvis of Opera” and the “Siberian Express” by some, Hvorostovsky was known for his velvety baritone voice, dashing looks and shock of flowing white hair. He was 55. Full obituary(Shiho Fukada / Associated Press)
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Kaji was the founding president of the Japanese American National Museum, established in 1992 in Little Tokyo. Years earlier, he established his own accounting firm and was part of a group that founded Merit Savings & Loan, one of the first and one of the few Japanese American-owned banks. He was 91. Full obituary
(Edward Ornelas / Los Angeles Times)
As one of the founding fathers of rock ’n’ roll, Fats Domino blazed a singular path in the history of popular music. Pounding a piano and booming in a baritone both warm and conversational, he gave the nascent genre a shot of rhythm and blues, jazz and boogie woogie from his native New Orleans. He was 89. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
Best known for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued butler in the TV sitcoms “Soap” and “Benson,” Guillaume also played Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of “Guys and Dolls” and became the first African American to sing the title role in “The Phantom of the Opera,” appearing with an otherwise all-white cast in Los Angeles. He was 89. Full obituary(Ann Johansson / For The Times)
Hefner built a publishing and entertainment empire on the idea that Americans should shed their puritanical hang-ups and enjoy sex. As the founder of Playboy magazine, he pitched an alternative standard — swinging singlehood — which portrayed the desire for sex as being as normal as craving apple pie. He was 91. Full obituary(George Brich / Associated Press)
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The gay rights pioneer brought a Supreme Court case that struck down parts of a federal law that banned same-sex marriage and led to federal recognition for gay spouses. She was 88. Full obituary(Richard Drew / Associated Press)
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Romero will be remembered best for co-writing and directing “Night of the Living Dead.” The “Living Dead” franchise went on to create a subgenre of horror movies whose influence across the decades has endured, seen in films like “The Purge” and TV shows such as “The Walking Dead.” He was 77. Full obituary(Amy Sancetta / Associated Press)
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The French survivor of Nazi concentration camps and a European Parliament president was one of France’s most prominent female politicians. She was best known in France for leading the heated battle to legalize abortion in the 1970s. France’s abortion rights law is still known four decades later as the “Loi Veil.” She was 89. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
The British author created Paddington Bear, the marmalade-loving teddy in a duffel coat and floppy hat. His creation become an icon immortalized in print, on screens and as countless stuffed toys. Bond was 91. Full obituary(Sang Tan / Associated Press)
Pressman, center, was an Emmy-winning journalist who worked at WNBC for more than 50 years after stints at New Jersey’s Newark Evening News and the New York World Telegram and Sun. He covered the 1956 sinking of the Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria, riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the Woodstock festival in 1969 and the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He was 93. Full obituary(Ron Frehm / Associated Press)
The Santa Cruz entrepreneur opened one of the world’s first surf shops and pioneered the neoprene wetsuit that helped popularize year-round cold-water surfing. He lost his eye in a surfing accident. He was 94. Full obituary(Dan Coyro / Associated Press)
The former dictator of Panama often played opposing sides of Cold War-era political battles until he was ousted by his on-again, off-again sponsors and toppled in a U.S. invasion. He was 83. Full obituary(AFP / Getty Images)
Deford was an award-winning sports journalist and commentator whose elegant reportage was a staple for years at Sports Illustrated and National Public Radio. He was the first sportswriter awarded the National Humanities Medal. In 2013, President Obama honored him for “transforming how we think about sports.” He was 78. Full obituary(Carolyn Kaster / AP)
Perenchio deftly pulled the levers of power to create culturally defining media events, propel political candidates, collect masterpiece artworks and become one of the richest men in Los Angeles. In late 2014, he announced that he would leave much of his collection — at least 47 works valued at more than $500 million — to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He was 86. Full obituary(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The polarizing Fox News founder was credited with turning the news channel into a ratings powerhouse over his 20 years at the helm. He was ousted from the network following sexual harassment charges. He was 77. Full obituary(Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)
The former child star played Joanie Cunningham in the sitcoms “Happy Days” and “Joanie Loves Chachi.” Her more recent credits included “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote.” She was 56. Full obituary(Wally Fong / Associated Press)
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A close confidante of Nelson Mandela, Kathrada dedicated his life to opposing apartheid and racism. An African National Congress activist, he played a major role in South Africa’s liberation struggle. He was 87. Full obituary(Kopano Tlape / EPA)
The billionaire businessman and philanthropist was the last in his generation of one of the country’s most famously philanthropic families. He was 101. Full obituary(D. Pickoff / Associated Press)
The Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist was part of the wave of practitioners of what came to be known as New Journalism: a group of gifted writers that included Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion and others who reported on the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s. His writing made him a New York City institution for more than 40 years. He was 88. Full obituary(Mario Cabrera / Associated Press)
One of the founding fathers of rock ’n’ roll, Berry was an innovator who designed much of the music’s sonic blueprint and became his era’s most creative lyricist. He was 90. Full obituary(Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)
The Nobel-prize winning poet was known for capturing the essence of his native Caribbean. His work was widely praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor, and its mix of sensuousness and technical prowess. He was 87. Full obituary(Berenice Bautista / Associated Press)
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The silver-haired and dapper Osborne was a bona fide movie connoisseur who displayed his wide knowledge of films as the genial host on Turner Classic Movies since its launch in 1994. Osborne was a longtime columnist for the Hollywood Reporter and the “official biographer” of the Academy Awards. He was 84. Full obituary(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Dubbed the “Acrobat of Scat” for his vocal delivery, Jarreau was admired by fans for his imaginative and improvisational qualities. He is best known for his single “We’re in This Love Together” from 1981. He is the only Grammy vocalist to win in the jazz, pop and R&B categories. He was 76. Full obituary(Felipe Dana / Associated Press)
Mansfield won the Nobel Prize for helping to invent MRI scanners. In 1978, he was the first person to step inside a whole-body MRI scanner so it could be tested on a human subject. His work, alongside chemist Paul Lauterbur, revolutionized the detection of disease by revealing internal organs without the need for surgery. He was 83. Full obituary(David Jones / Associated Press)
Riva’s portrayal of an elderly woman in the 2012 end-of-life drama “Amour” earned her international acclaim and the distinction of being the oldest nominee for a lead actress Oscar. She was 89. Full obituary(Francois Mori / Associated Press)
Moore rose to stardom on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in the 1960s and went on to headline “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” a highly successful sitcom in the 1970s (pictured). The actress and her television character became so entwined that Moore became a role model for women who sought to challenge the conventions of marriage and family. She was 80. Full obituary(CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images)
Cernan, commander of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, set foot on the moon in December 1972 during his third space flight. He was the last of only a dozen men to walk on the moon. He returned to Earth with a message of “peace and hope for all mankind.” He died at 82. Full obituary(SSPL / Getty Images)
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Youguang was a linguist considered to be the father of modern China’s Pinyin Romanization writing system. Adopted by the People’s Republic in 1958, Pinyin has virtually become the global standard because of its simplicity and consistency. He was 111. Full obituary(Wang Zhao / AFP/Getty Images)
Dutton was the owner of Dutton’s Books, a Los Angeles landmark with its overflowing shelves and hard-to-find titles. Dutton’s Books on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, along with sister locations in Burbank and downtown Los Angeles, was at the very center of literary L.A. when it opened in 1961. He was 79. Full obituary(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Kamae was one of the most influential Hawaiian musicians of the last half-century and a filmmaker who painstakingly documented the culture and history of the islands. He had long been the face of the Sons of Hawaii, a popular recording group and a pioneering force in traditional island music. He was 89. Full obituary(Marco Garcia / For The Times)
The British war correspondent was the first journalist to report the Nazi invasion of Poland that marked the beginning of World War II. She won major British journalism awards, and was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. She was 105. Full obituary(Mike Clarke / AFP/ Getty Images)
The former Iranian president was an aide to Iran’s revolutionary supreme leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Although Rafsanjani’s legacy was tarnished by allegations of corruption and authoritarianism, his backing helped moderate President Hassan Rouhani win election in 2013, setting the Islamic Republic on a path to ending its disputed nuclear program and easing its isolation from the West. He was 82. Full obituary(Ebrahim Noroozi / Associated Press)
A scholar of world religions, Smith is best known for his work “The Religions of Man,” first published in 1958. It was reissued as “The World’s Religions” in 1991 and has sold about 2 million copies. His informed yet accessible prose led many laymen to read his books as their introduction to religions of the East and West. He was 97. Full obituary(Tina Fineberg / Associated Press)
“It’s very important that women make films,” she’d said with typical intelligence and directness. “In this huge concert, with a majority of masculine instruments, maybe some feminine instruments would bring a little harmony.”
A jury experience is more time intensive than an interview, as is tracking down the New York Times, a personal obsession, in a foreign country. When Jeanne, a fellow addict, saw me reading a copy and asked where I’d found it, I offered to buy one for her as well, and things went on from there.
Juries routinely exchange contact information when the festival is over, and Jeanne and I kept in touch. Because my wife has lived in Paris, we go back frequently, and it became a ritual to call Jeanne up and go to dinner, often in her neighborhood in the 16th arrondissement.
Jeanne liked restaurants that knew her, that would not make a fuss. She couldn’t care less about some of the perks of stardom — she would call us herself at our hotel, which made an impression on the desk clerks — but she was far from indifferent to them. Her philosophy, she once told me, was “Don’t run away from fame, use it.”
Though she would do so if called upon, Jeanne did not especially want to talk about the past. Like many artists, it was invariably her next project that interested her the most.
“Most people feel acting is pretending, but for me it is not that,” she’d said to me in the Post interview. “It is to feel to the core of your body and mind so you can express yourself, open yourself up and be truer than life.”
Once, visiting her in her apartment in a small but beautiful courtyard building, I commented on the enormous tubs of stunning red roses. Oh, she said with a bemused shrug, they came regularly from a director who was importuning her to take a part. Just the way things are when you are who she was.
Jeanne had an impish sense of humor and an enormous sense of fun, sometimes in an almost childlike way. During a Christmas season visit, she offered us slices of galette des roi, a cake with a small crown hidden inside that is a French Epiphany tradition. I can still see her expression of delight when it appeared in my wife’s slice.
What invariably struck me about Jeanne was her enormous curiosity, her formidable intelligence and her passion for knowledge. Everything from brain science to Buddhism interested her deeply, she rarely said anything expected, and conversation with her was always intense and involving no matter what the subject. Jeanne was passionate about more than acting, and even casual observations like “generosity is a talent” had heft when she said them.
For the past few years, the phone calls and emails went unanswered and the regular visits ended, as did Jeanne’s film appearances. Mutual friends whispered she was not well, but I had no way of knowing for sure. I dreaded the worst. ,
Jeanne’s sense of herself as on a quest, as a person who had an exceptional path before her, had always been strong. Of all the stories she told me, the one I remember most was a particularly pointed one from her childhood.
At a young age, Jeanne said, she’d gone to the Paris police station near her home and told the officer on duty that there must be some mistake, the uninteresting people she was living with could not possibly be her parents. Those parents were understandably incensed when they came to pick her up, but Jeanne couldn’t have cared less. She was an artist on a mission, and from then to now that’s all that mattered.
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