Thursday, November 17, 2011

Simone Simon (1910-2005)


Born near Marseille, the French beauty got her start on the silver screen after a chance encounter.  She spent her childhood, for the most part in France after relocating to Madagascar, Budapest, Berlin and Turn then Marseille to finish high school. All of this travel was made possible due to her French father's job as an engineer that transitioned to his becoming a fighter pilot during WWII. Sadly it would become the ultimate sacrifice for his country as he was captured then placed in a concentration camp where he eventually died.  Simon's Italian mother would make due with small jobs in order to care for her family.



Simone made her way to Paris in 1931 to find work. Like most young girls she wasn't quite sure which of her interests she would pursue as a career. At one point she wanted to become a sculptress, a model, a singer and a fashion designer.  It was a chance encounter that would choose her career path for her. I guess you could say it was the Lana Turner story French style. (No word on if she was wearing a tight sweater). While dining at a restaurant with friends Simon was spotted by the Russian director, Victor Tourjansky who offered her a film contract.  She would make her film debut in Le chanteur inconnu (The Unknown Singer) that same year. The film was an instant success, paving the way for Simone to be offered steady work in foreign films.




Although a famous star in France by 1934, it would be her performance in Marc Allegret's "Ladies Lake" that year that would get the attention of Hollywood heavy hitter Darryl Zanuck, another encounter that would propel her to worldwide fame.  Like so many actresses before her, she was brought to Hollywood where the studio machine launched a campaign to get her noticed, the name recognition that would fill theater seats.  After filming one more film in her native France in 1935, Simone was ready to relocate to California, embracing all that it had to offer, good or bad.



Once settled in CA, Simone was given her first assignment, not on screen of course but in a classroom where she would take weeks of lessons, not for acting but to actually learn English well enough to fit into certain roles. She was to appear in her first English speaking film in 1936, "A Message to Garcia" Unfortunately the studio felt Rita Hayworth was better suited for the role. I can only imagine the young Simone trying to adjust to her second language then being offered a role where she would be tanned, and directed to give a Spanish accent. Perhaps it was lucky for her that Rita, who was actually of Spanish decent took the role.


click on Simone's autograph and photos from my collection for a closer view.

Before Simone's International career even got started there was a bit of hubbub over her being fired from her first film during 1935. While filming "Under Two Flags" under director Frank Lloyd, she was let go after a few weeks and Zanuck let it be known that it was her temperamental behavior on set which Simone disputed, having cited a lingering illness for her being discharged from the picture.  Years later she would admit that she was a bit temperamental during her first year in Hollywood but it was due to getting used to the California lifestyle which she felt was a bit too extroverted.  Her behavior also changed after a confrontation with Marlene Dietrich on set who told her "A star is only as important as she makes herself out to be" (Meowww, hiss).  Claudette Colbert would replace Simone in "Under Two Flags" which co-starred Ronald Coleman. It should be noted that Simon was actually hospitalized during this time, most likely due to exhaustion. Luckily it wasn't from Dietrich clawing her eyes out.  (I wonder if she was thinking of dear, sweet Marlene years later while playing a black panther?)


By 1936, Simone had grown disillusioned with Hollywood and was preparing to sail back to France when she was offered a supporting role in "Girls Dormitory". The romantic drama starred Herbert Marshall and Ruth Chatterton. Obviously Chatterton like Dietrich before her witnessed the same temperamental behavior which caused immediate conflict on the set between her and Simone. Ruth felt Simone was getting too much attention and Simone's excuse this go around was that she was extremely nervous due to the studio watching her so closely.  In the end the much anticipated film was a box office flop although Simone did get positive reviews for her first American on screen performance.  In just a few years she would be watched closely by the FBI but more on that a bit later.

With the public clamoring to see more of the French beauty, she was immediately cast in "White Hunter" which would also be directed by Irving Cummings. Although a B film, the director was anxious to work with her again but once again Simone was waylayed with the flu and had to be replaced shortly after production began.  This time she was replaced with June Lang. (I wonder how many out of work actresses waited around Simone's sets waiting on work?) 



The studio still wanting to avoid losing Simon, cast her instead in "Lady in Love" during 1936 which co-starred Constance Bennett, Loretta Young and Janet Gaynor.  Of course it wasn't long before the three actresses made noise about Simon getting too much attention so to avoid any further outcries about her behavior, Simone hired an assistant to speak for her, decreasing her need to get involved in all of the 'bitchiness' between the three very large ego's she was now surrounded by.  She would go on to star in the remake of "Seventh Heaven" with Janet Gaynor and James Stewart in 1937 which didn't have great success but I love the scenes between Simone and a very young but adorable Jimmy Stewart. Once it was released in theaters she was cast in "Danger-Love at Work" but she was once again replaced, this time with Ann Sothern, the official reason being her heavy French accent not fitting with the character.  With nothing to do she took a 6 week vacation back to France, returning to Hollywood in the summer of 1937 in anticipation of filming "Suez". This time filming was delayed and Simone was eventually replaced once again.  This would be the end of her working relationship with 20th Century Fox. (Obviously there was more bickering than actual working)

With Jimmy Stewart in "Seventh Heaven" 1937


By the end of the 1930's Simone returned to France, feeling her reputation had been tarnished and in need of steady work.  Her move to America left her deflated and frustrated that all of the publicity had backfired, affecting her ability to work in her native France.  She did get to work and realized that her appeal was still there, being given a role in the Renoir picture "La Bete Humaine in 1938 (The Human Beast) followed by the successful French Historical drama, "Love Cavalcade" which was released in 1940.  By now WWII was in full swing so to escape the ongoing devastation in her beautiful homeland, Simone returned to Hollywood, this time signing a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. 




Her first film for RKO was the very successful Fantasy Drama, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" which co-starred Edward Arnold, Walter Huston and Jane Darwell.  The film was a welcome escape during WWII, garnering two Academy Award nods in 1942, Walter Huston for Best Actor and for Best Music Scoring.  Simone, finally finding her niche, was immediately cast in the role that she has become synonymous with, "Cat People" 1942 which co-starred Kent Smith, Tom Conway and Jane Randolph. I don't know many old film fans who haven't seen Cat People and I actually re-watched it again just a few weeks ago. Perhaps Simon just needed a French director to understand her and to allow her to express herself, director Jacque Tourneur made that happen.  RKO invested in a few cheap, quickies to recoup some of their losses after Citizen Kane. (That seems odd to even type) The film that many consider the best film of all time, Citizen Kane just about bankrupted RKO so they churned out these B rated Horror films to bail themselves out of financial ruin.  

Like so many early horror films you don't actually see anything gruesome or scary, but you're left to your imagination as to what actually happens when Simone's character, a Serbian immigrant who winds up stateside and in love, all while we see her life unravel as she visits her Psychiatrist.  Oh, and there's the fun little fact that she turns into a killer black panther when she gets upset, aroused.  You have to feel for her doctor who crosses the line by falling in love with her all while she's delving into her terrifying past of strange curses about women turning into black cats and her obsession with these very objects that cause her life to spiral out of control. If only that silly doctor and her wayward husband had repossessed her day pass to the Bronx Zoo!  




Simone would get another chance at success in a Musical Comedy with " Tahiti Honey" in 1944, which co-starred Michael Whalen and Dennis O'Keefe. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing this film (sarcasm) so I'll go with IMDb's rating of 8.5 and if anyone has actually seen it please enlighten us.  Simon would star in three films for RKO during 1944. The War Drama, "Mademoiselle Fifi" which was directed by Robert Wise takes place during the French-Prussian War with Simone giving a beautiful performance in a film that given a bigger budget could have had even more success. (huh-hum Calvalcade) but it was during wartime so RKO did accomplish an eye appealing piece with strong performances by Simon and her co-stars John Emery and Kirt Krueger.  Interestingly the period piece was produced by Val Lewton who also produced Cat People and was known mostly for B rated Horror films at RKO during the 40's.

Simone would next shoot the sequel to "Cat People", reuniting with Kent Smith and Jane Randolph in "The Curse of the Cat People".  I have to admit that I wasn't all that crazy about this one. Simone is back but only as a ghost and the imaginary friend of a little girl, the daughter of Irena's widower husband. It did have box office success though so I won't rip on it too much. Simone's last film of 1944 was the Romantic Comedy "Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore" which co-starred James Ellison and William Terry.  I actually liked this film in all it's campy glory. I found Simone just great as she deals with the trials of sharing an apartment with young men during wartime at no fault of her own. The ending was a fun twist and the cast really did have good chemistry.  I wish she had been given more chances at comedy, I think she would have excelled.  


Simon did not work during 1945 and it was with the assistance of Director Marc Allegret that she was able to star under him in the French film "Petrus" in 1946, a Crime Mystery that had very little success.  Her last film of the decade would be in the Crime Drama "Temptation Harbor" 1947, co-starring Robert Newton and William Hartnell.  A film about greed over weighing what's morally correct, with mediocre performances by all involved.  Simone seems to have trouble maintaining her English accent after more than enough years to do so. (But it's not near as bad as the accents Angelina Jolie has tried to pull off over the years. Don't even get me started on "The Tourist" and that mess "Alexander").


Simone would return to France where she would continue to work in B rated pictures until retiring from the silver screen in 1956.  It's assumed that she led a quite life in and around Paris during this time and she would appear only once on screen in 1973 in the French film "The Woman in Blue".  Simone never married nor did she have any children.  She passed away from natural causes at the age of 94 in her Paris apartment. She was buried at the Cemetery, Chateau-Gombert in the Cote d'Azur region of France.  I hope her retirement was filled with love and laughter. It must be a hard to spend your later life without parents, siblings or children around you. I'm sure she had a very fine circle of friends though. 

With Don Ameche in one of her early 20th Century Fox films, "Josette"


Simone Simon Trivia:

The only bit of scandal that Simone ever found herself in was when her maid was caught stealing from her then later convicted. To get revenge, her maid leaked the rumor that Simone would hand out a gold key to her boudoir to any man she found herself attracted to.  Of course Simone disputed this rumor and the maid was quickly put under a gag order as part of her sentencing.

Simone had an affair with composer George Gershwin which she never denied when asked about it late in life, stating above all else it was music that they had in common. It's been suggested that Gershwin wrote Love Walked In with Simone in mind.

Her most notorious affair was with the double agent and Spy, Dusko Popov. It's not often that a Yugoslavian spy get's to spy for the German's (so they thought) only to be spying for the British. Popov's close friend Ian Fleming, used his life adventures for his character James Bond. 

During the production of "Cat People", Simone was under FBI surveillance for her association with Popov.  

Thanks for joining me for my look back at Simone Simon's life and career. And please enjoy the below clip of Simone and Jimmy Stewart in a scene from "Seventh Heaven"

See you all soon,
Page

22 comments:

  1. I very much enjoyed your post on Simone Simon and all the beautiful photos!

    I found JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE to be a delightful surprise -- goofy but laugh out loud funny at times, with a jaw-dropping ending! Glad to know you have enjoyed it too. :)

    Best wishes,
    Laura

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  2. Laura,
    Thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed JDLHE too. I really enjoyed her in comedy. Did you happen to catch a very young Robert Mitchum as a cop in the film? A short little walk on role.

    Glad you stopped by and enjoyed my tribute to Simone.
    Page

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  3. I really only know Simone Simon from some French films and Cat People. That, and I always find myself having to sort her out from Simone Signoret. It didn't help that they were together in Le Plaisir.

    Good work Page.

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  4. I meant La Ronde, sorry mixed up my Ophuls!

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  5. Thanks Michael!
    I haven't seen La Ronde but it would be interesting to see both Simone's on screen together. Have you reviewed it? I've seen only one of Max Ophuls films, ironically Le Plaisir. It seems like something right up your alley! (not a bad thing) For some reason it makes me think of one of my favorite films, Moulin Rouge 2001.
    Page

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  6. Unfortunately I have not reviewed it. I saw it a month before taking up the TSPDT project, starting the blog, and haven't returned to it since.

    I don't think they actually appear onscreen together. I think they are in separate vignettes within the film. Kind of like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Godfather, Part II.

    I remember it being a fine example of Max Ophüls cinematography, but not much more.

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  7. Page, Awesome bio post on the French actress, Simone. I will have to check out her movies. The first picture is really beautiful.

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  8. Page, I really enjoyed your Simone Simon post! I had only seen her in CAT PEOPLE, so I was quite surprised and impressed when I saw her fine performance as the coquettish little vamp Belle in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (a.k.a. ALL THAT MONEY CAN BUY). With all the controversy Simone faced over the years, it's amazing she had time to make movies at all! She was such a cute little thing, too. I got a kick out of your remark "I wonder how many out of work actresses waited around Simone's sets waiting on work?" Great post!

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  9. Dawn,
    Thank you! If you get a chance to see any of Simone's films other than Cat People start with Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore. I think you'd find it enjoyable.

    @Dorian,
    Simone was a cutie and I'm sure she turned a few heads with that French accent.
    Thanks for reading and commenting. You're such a busy little bee these days! : )
    Page

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  10. My favorite Simone Simon films are those divine Max Ophuls classics, "La Ronde" (1950) and "Le Plaisir" (1952). My favorite of her performances, though, are in "La Bete Humaine" as the 'kittenish' but deadly siren, Severine, and in "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1941) as Belle, another evil seductress (and rather reptilian creature).

    Thanks, Page, for so thoroughly highlighting the career of an actress who deserves more respect. I learned much about her in your post (had no idea Marlene had given her a hard time!?!). And I hadn't realized she lived into the 21st century. I hope her long life was a good one...

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  11. Page-
    Great post and bio as always. The chemistry between Simon and Stewart in "Seventh Heaven" was incredible. Beautiful photos of a beautiful lady ...
    Nice job ...

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  12. Excellent bio of Simone, Page. I knew absolutely nothing about her, so the whole thing was very interesting to me. It sounds like America just was not the place for her -- and I wonder why she felt entitled to be so temperamental and hard to work with? It sure does not seem that being a young girl working with stars impressed her too much. Then being sick so much and losing parts -- what a strange woman she was. Fascinating trivia about her life and loves, political trouble, an affair with Gershwin (lucky girl!). Kudos to you for a very well-done bio, Page!

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  13. LadyEve,
    As I mentioned to Michael, I saw Le Plaisir but not La Ronde. I'm hoping I get to see it.
    I'm glad you enjoyed my Simone bio. I learned a few things about her while doing it. The jealousy certainly ran deep while she was around the set. But I can see why the other ladies would be jealous of her. I found her affair with Dopov interesting as well.

    Thanks for your kind comments.

    @Dave,
    I think Stewart was the best and especially in his early films, he made even stinkers shine.
    Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the bio.
    Page

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  14. @Becks,
    We must have been writing at the same time. You snuck in under the radar once again. Maybe you're a spy.
    I wonder how the studios felt about the FBI hanging around? Do you think the studio head game them a private tour, allowed them danish's, hit them up for FBI secrets? lol

    I can only imagine how Simone felt though, going up against the Hollywood Queen Bees. Good thing she wasn't subjected to Davis or Crawford. Talk about a cat fight.
    Glad you enjoyed it Becks.
    Thanks for your lovely comment.
    Page

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  15. I love her in the Cat People and she was very beautiful! I saw her in a WW2 housing shortage comedy called "Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore." I thought it would be really cute and funny but it was kinda dumb haha.
    She was a little hard to understand and I really just don't think comedy was her forte. There was also a weird little gremlin that she would see? haha I have no idea

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  16. Jessica,
    I actually enjoyed Simone in JDLHA. It was campy but a nice departure from Simone's serious roles.

    Her accent was pretty thick in her early films for sure but not Dietrich or Garbo thick. lol
    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on Simone. : )
    Page

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  17. Can I ask you what is the source for the information about her father? Being a "fighter pilot during WWII" and "placed in a concentration camp"? I know their parents divorced when she was little and that then she had a stepfather, but I've never found clear and specific information about it... interesting post anyway, she's among my favourite actresses!

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  18. i dont know what it is but i love her & she hauht's me. i was born wrong decade i think.

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    1. Anon,
      You aren't alone in your love for Simone. She has many fans. A very unique look and quite the actress. I wish she had been given better parts.
      Happy Holidays!
      Page

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  19. I'm the number one fan of the actress SIMONE SIMON in Brazil. I'd say it's the that i never had..."Seventh Heaven", wirh Simone and James Stewart, is the movie i would to paradise. The real name of Simone Simon was SIMONE THÉRÈSE FERNAND SIMON. She was buried in France. I have an original photo of S S, what was in your Hollywood debuty in "Girl's Dormitory"(1936). It's a rare photo, of the Fox Studios and, there is another photo collection. If you want to put on your page, please contacme.Congradulations for his Blog. mlmlmarcoslima@gmail.com.

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  20. I'm the number one fan of the actress Simone Simon in Mexico. I have seen almost all her films, but still do not see a couple of them. How I can get Lac aux dames? One day in Paris, she gave me her autographed photo.

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  21. For quite some time, The Red Shoes was my all time greatest motion picture. Now, recently, for the first time, I had the experience of seeing Seventh Heaven - 1937, and then ... Since then, I am wondering when this heavenly motion picture won't be on my mind all the time.

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