Friday, June 19, 2009

Jean Seberg and Jean Simmons

I used to think Jean Seberg and Jean Simmons were the same actress. They sort of look alike, and I didn't realize there were two different names and two different actresses.

If you have to choose a Jean: which?

Jean Seberg, of Marshalltown, Iowa, who was discovered by Otto Preminger and cast as Joan of Arc in Saint Joan, then went on to star in European Cinema?

Or Jean Simmons, of London, England, who played Ophelia to Laurence Olivier's Hamlet; who played leading Hollywood roles in Guys and Dolls, in Spartacus, in Elmer Gantry, among other roles?

Found a publicity photo of Jean Simmons wearing a Snuggie and hugging Richard Burton.

The title of this movie suggests an alternate and ancient name for a Snuggie: "The Robe".

I enjoy Jean Simmons' movies, but I'm going with the Iowa girl.

Jean Seberg was a knockout, and in a healthy, athletic way which is especially attractive. Plus, ever been to Iowa? People are NICE in Iowa. I sense a fundamental decency, and accessibility, in Jean Seberg.

She was, however, tormented in midlife(by depression, exacerbated to some degree by FBI intimidation). She died at age 40.*

Publicity stills from Jean-Luc Godard's famous first film: À bout de souffle, aka "At Breath's End", aka "Breathless".

The first photo is Jean Seberg, in bed with Jean-Paul Belmondo, being directed by Jean-Luc Godard. It's a festival of Jeans.

The second photo is one of the famous scenes in French film history: Belmondo meets Seberg for the first time. He purchases a newspaper from her, and they walk along the Champs-Elysees.

Before this was shot(1960), Marlon Brando had helped make t-shirts famous in America. However, Seberg's was the first t-shirt to have something printed on the front. À bout de souffle burned through both Europe and New York like wildfire. Seberg's t-shirt sparked a trend of putting writing and slogans on shirts. Exact copies of Seberg's "New York Herald Tribune" shirt were sold and seen around NYC for years.

Here's the trailer for the movie. Belmondo is a criminal who models himself after Humphrey Bogart's Hollywood criminals. Belmondo steals a car, then kills a policeman who follows him. Seberg is an American student who unwittingly hides him in her apartment as he tries to seduce her. From there, chase scenes ensue. The film used a fresh visual style, and was the first film to use the jump cuts which we now see abused in Hollywood.

* Wikipedia:
Seberg married Francois Moreuil in 1958. He directed her in Playtime (1961) before they divorced shortly after. In 1962, she married French author Romain Gary, who was 24 years her senior. Their only child is Alexander Diego Gary, born in 1962. When Gary discovered Seberg was having an affair with Clint Eastwood during the shooting of Paint Your Wagon, he confronted them both and challenged Eastwood to a duel in the French tradition. Eastwood ducked out, and Gary returned to Paris. Shortly thereafter he decided to end the marriage.

During the later part of the 1960s, Seberg used her high-profile image to privately voice support for the NAACP and supported Native American school groups such as the Mesquaki Bucks at the Tama settlement near her home town of Marshalltown, for whom she purchased $500 worth of basketball uniforms. She also supported the Black Panther Party. Though she had done nothing illegal, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover considered her a threat to the American state. Her telephone was tapped and her private life was closely observed. She knew about it and felt chased.

In 1970, when she was seven months pregnant, the FBI created a false story leaked to the media that the child she was carrying was not fathered by her husband Romain Gary, but by a member of the Black Panthers Party, Raymond Hewitt. Although Gary acknowledged the child as his own, Seberg did confess to him that it was in fact the result of an affair she shared with revolutionary student Carlos Nevarra during their separation. She gave birth to a Caucasian girl on August 23, 1970, but the infant died two days later due to Seberg's consumption of sleeping pills during the pregnancy. Seberg and Gary divorced before the year's end.

In 1972, she married film director Dennis Berry. Seberg suffered from a deep depression and became suicidal. According to Romain Gary, Seberg made suicide attempts every year on her daughter's birthday, including throwing herself under a train on the Paris Métro (since disputed). She also became dependent on alcohol and prescription drugs.

Seberg's problems were compounded when she went through a form of marriage to an Algerian playboy, Ahmed Hasni, on May 31, 1979. The brief ceremony had no legal force because she was still married to Berry. In July, Hasni persuaded her to sell her second apartment on the Rue du Bac, and he kept the proceeds (reportedly 11 million francs in cash), announcing that he would use the money to open a Barcelona restaurant. The couple departed for Spain but she was soon back in Paris alone, and went into hiding from Hasni, who she said had grievously abused her.

In August 1979, she was missing and found dead eleven days later in the back seat of her car, which was parked close to her Paris apartment in the 16th arrondissement. The police report stated that she had taken a massive overdose of barbiturates and alcohol (8g per litre). A suicide note ("Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves.") was found in her hand, and "probable suicide" was ultimately ruled the official cause of death by the French coroner. However, it is often questioned how she could have operated a car with that amount of alcohol in her body, and without the corrective lenses she always maintained she absolutely needed for driving. She was forty years old when she died. Her second husband, Romain Gary, with whom she had a son, Alexandre Diego Gary, committed suicide a year after her death.

Grave of Jean Seberg
Seberg was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris, France.

Tragic beauty.

What would have happened if Jean Seberg had been half as beautiful? Had not been a movie star? Had not been pursued by French Directors, by Clint Eastwood, by revolutionaries, and eventually by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI? Would she have married and raised children? Would she have lived happily in either Iowa or Chicago?

Update: The photo at left is from the cover of "Jean Seberg-Breathless", by Garry McGee. The biography "contains interviews with Jean's family and friends, as well as obscure interviews Jean had made which were overlooked or improperly translated into English", and is available on Amazon. A Garry McGee article about Jean Seberg.

Jean Seberg's wealth, fame, beauty, and taste of the world did not bring her any more happiness than that of the Iowa housewife she might have become, or that of the babysitter she once was.

What would have happened if Jean Seberg had been more firmly grounded in solid values? In religious principles?

Maybe nothing different. Maybe she was physiologically susceptible to depression, and nothing could have prevented it's severe onset.

Or, maybe being more firmly and stubbornly grounded would have saved her. She does have an air of accessibility about her, and it is an attractive trait. However, when you are so open to other people, you need solid values to ground you. Otherwise, it is easy to become lost. Other human beings will lead you to a bad place.

To be grounded in eternal values would have been especially difficult for Jean Seberg. When you are so beautiful, when wealthy and famous and older men are offering you the world, it must be very difficult to choose eternal values.

Tribute to Jean Seberg (1938-1979)
in American films and French New Wave films -by Stephen B Whatley.
Oil on canvas, 30 x 24in
Private collection, UK

Many women have chosen the path of eternal values. Yet, most were not quite so beautiful as Jean Seberg; were not being quite so flattered; were not being offered quite so tasty a bite of the world. Some of these women are perhaps fortunate their temptation was not exactly as Jean Seberg's temptation.

God works in mysterious ways. Jean Seberg lived a life of value. We are blessed that she walked amongst us. She got a lot more attention - including now, from me - than the women who chose to live by more solid and eternal values. The extra attention did not bring extra happiness.


Anonymous said...

i came across your blog while searching for photos of Jean Seberg on Google. beauty like hers is a rarity. i don't think any Hollywood actresses nowadays match up to her in both looks and talent. just timeless

gcotharn said...

Thanks for visiting. I know what you mean. Seberg grabs at my heart. I want to protect her.

SMS said...

It's sad what happened to her. She was an amazing actress. In the long run she made the FBI look like a bunch of fools. Hoover got his in the end. Hopefully he is rotting in hell for what he did to her. She gave money to and Indian tribe for uniforms and supported the black panther party. Big Deal. There were a lot of other big name Hollywood people donating a lot more money during that time.