• LOCATION 34 | The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I

    Montand and Signoret

    You'll see the next two hosts a little bit farther on the left, six graves from the end.

    Make your way over to them.

    [4 SECOND PAUSE]

    They were the original cinema couple that endured, marrying seven years before Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Even though they travelled, home was always #15, place Dauphine on the Ile de la Cité.

    Yves Montand was the son of working-class Italian immigrants, who fled the fascist regime of Mussolini. They instilled in their son an attachment to communism. In-between odd jobs, he sang in cabarets in Marseille. He went to Paris during the War in 1944 and tried to make it as an opening act. There, he met someone who took him under her wing, and propelled him to stardom: Edith Piaf.

    Montand had a string of hits, including 'C'est si bon' in 1948. The next year, he met a young actress born in Germany, Simone Signoret. It was love at first sight, and they were soon married. Her signature feature was her eyes. She could act seductive and uncaring all at once. Her high eyebrows danced above small almost oriental eyelids. This gave her words a realism, intelligence and mystery.

    Soon her star outshined her husband's, winning the BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actress in 'Casque d'Or,' then playing in the classic suspense thriller 'Diabolique'. She became the first French actress ever to win an oscar in the English-language movie 'Room at the Top.'

    Montand's signing still brought in the crowds, selling out his one-man show at l'Etoile for 8 solid months. By the early '60s, musical tastes had changed and people were attracted to performers who were more rocking, or thoughtful singer-songwriters. He focused more on acting, including movies with his wife.

    You must find a copy of the Costa-Gavras film 'The Sleeping Car Murders' which features both actors. They are, of course, fabulous, each totally immersed in their distinctive roles, never letting on that they were a couple in real life. The overall movie is a masterpiece of quick pacing and a stirring crescendo at the end. Magnifique!

    As they aged, and their beauty waned, they continued to get roles, with more gravity. The space between Signoret's eyelids and eyebrows became puffy, and her plump cheeks pushed up, enclosing her eyes as a battered boxer's. She didn't care about her appearance, as she never thought of herself as attractive. She volunteered for roles that a starlet would never accept, playing ordinary or broken characters that were lauded for their realism. She won the best actress César in 1978.

    There's no sadder end than that of César, the 1985 role that Montand played aptly in the movie Manon des Sources. While filming, Signoret passed. But he did love again, fathering his only child at 67. When Montand died, he rejoined Signoret here, the only woman he ever wed.

    When you're ready, continue along Avenue Aguado.

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The Chairfather: Père Lachaise Part I