Simone Signoret was a French actress who became the first French person to win an Academy Award. Often referred to as one of France's greatest film stars, she won the coveted Academy Award for her role in ‘Room at the Top’, in which she played an unhappily married woman who looks for love outside her marriage. As a character actress, she gained much acclaim for portraying prostitutes with golden hearts and as liberated women who dared to question the social norms. Born in Germany to French nationals, she was raised in Paris where she received a comfortable upbringing in an intellectually stimulating environment. During the German occupation of France during the World War II, she became acquainted with an artistic group of writers and actors and developed an interest in acting. She ventured into acting in the early 1940s and over the years she became a critically acclaimed actress who gained much respect for her acting prowess. A highly successful actress, she was the recipient of several coveted awards including BAFTA, Emmy, Cannes Film Festival Award, and NBR Award. She continued to act into her early 60s and died of cancer at the age of 64.
Childhood & Early Life
Simone Signoret was born on 25 March 1921 as Simone Henriette Charlotte Kaminker in Wiesbaden, Germany, to André and Georgette (Signoret) Kaminker. Her father was a French-born army officer from a Polish Jewish family while her mother was a French Catholic. Simone had two younger brothers.
She was raised in Paris and grew up in an intellectually stimulating atmosphere. During the Nazi occupation of France, she had to start working in order to support her family and took up a job as a typist for a French collaborationist newspaper, ‘Les nouveaux temps’, run by Jean Luchaire.
Around this time, she got the opportunity to meet an artistic group of writers and actors following which she developed an interest in acting. She received encouragement from her friends and decided to venture into acting.
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Simone Signoret began her acting career by playing small bits and parts in the early 1940s. During this time she took her mother's maiden name for the screen to help hide her Jewish roots. After working as an extra for a few years, she began getting more substantial roles after the World War II ended.
During the initial years of her career, she was type-cast due to her sensual looks and often offered the roles of prostitutes. Her 1950 film ‘La Ronde’ which had sexually explicit content earned her much popularity as did her role as a fallen woman in Jacques Becker's ‘Casque d'or’ the next year.
Her career took off in the 1950s with films like ‘Thérèse Raquin’ (1953), ‘Les Diaboliques’ (1954), and ‘The Crucible’ (1956). She touched newer heights with the release of the English independent film, ‘Room at the Top’ (1959) which made her an internationally famous star and earned her several awards and accolades.
Around this time she received several offers from Hollywood. She appeared in a few Hollywood films though she preferred to to work in France and England. Along with working in films, she was also active on the stage and in television. She appeared on the television anthology series ‘Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre’ in the 1960s for which she won an Emmy in 1966.
As she aged, she started receiving severe criticism for her fading looks. With age she gained weight and lost her glamorous looks. However, the actress was least perturbed by the criticisms and began taking up the roles of older women which she played with much aplomb as in ‘Le Chat’ (1971) and ‘Madame Rosa’ (1977).
She remained active well up to the last years of her life before succumbing to cancer. Some of her later films were ‘The Adolescent’ (1979), ‘Chère inconnue’ (1980), ‘Guy de Maupassant’ (1982), and ‘L'étoile du nord’ (1982).
One of Simone Signoret’s best known movies is ‘Room at the Top’ in which she portrayed Alice Aisgill, an unhappily married older woman who falls in love with a young man. The film was widely lauded and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including one for Best Actress, which Signoret won.
Her performance of La Condesa, a countess from Cuba with a drug addiction problem, in the 1965 movie ‘Ship of Fools’ was also much appreciated by the audiences and critics alike. The drama film which recounts the stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner bound to Germany from Mexico in 1933 earned Signoret another Academy Award nomination.
Awards & Achievements
For her role as Alice Aisgill in the film ‘Room at the Top’ (1959), Simone Signoret won numerous awards including Academy Award for Best Actress, BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress, Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress, and Jussi Award for Best Foreign Actress.
She portrayed Sara Lescault in the anthology series ‘Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre’ in 1966 for which she earned a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Drama.
Personal Life & Legacy
Simone Signoret was twice married. Her first marriage was to filmmaker Yves Allégret from 1944 to 1949. This union produced a daughter Catherine Allégret who later on became an actress herself.
She tied the knot for the second time with the Italian-born French actor Yves Montand in 1951. The couple remained together for almost 35 years until her death.
During her later days, she suffered from pancreatic cancer which took her life on 30 September 1985.