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Yves Montand

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Also Known As: Ivo Livi Died: November 9, 1991
Born: October 13, 1921 Cause of Death: heart attack
Birth Place: Italy Profession: actor, singer, delivery person, factory worker, bartender, busboy, apprentice hairdresser

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

An exceedingly charming and debonair leading man who became a symbol of the Gallic gentleman to moviegoers worldwide, Yves Montand was also a very famous singer who received his start performing in Paris nightclubs during World War II. After establishing himself in that profession, Montand also made his mark in the movies, first in France and later in Hollywood opposite some of the top leading ladies of the time, including, most famously, off-screen lover Marilyn Monroe. Montand's gifts as a singer were widely celebrated, leading to many popular recordings and highly successful performances in various countries and at The New York Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway. Throughout his motion picture career, Montand often portrayed rugged, world-weary men, but off set, he was famous for his enthusiasm, dedication and imagination. Just as contradictory was his appeal, which straddled the entire spectrum of French society even though he was embraced as a symbol of the proletariat and was a vociferous supporter of leftist politics. While likely remembered best today for his vocal gifts and work in lighter motion pictures like "Let's Make Love" (1960), when properly challenged by directors on the level of...

An exceedingly charming and debonair leading man who became a symbol of the Gallic gentleman to moviegoers worldwide, Yves Montand was also a very famous singer who received his start performing in Paris nightclubs during World War II. After establishing himself in that profession, Montand also made his mark in the movies, first in France and later in Hollywood opposite some of the top leading ladies of the time, including, most famously, off-screen lover Marilyn Monroe. Montand's gifts as a singer were widely celebrated, leading to many popular recordings and highly successful performances in various countries and at The New York Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway. Throughout his motion picture career, Montand often portrayed rugged, world-weary men, but off set, he was famous for his enthusiasm, dedication and imagination. Just as contradictory was his appeal, which straddled the entire spectrum of French society even though he was embraced as a symbol of the proletariat and was a vociferous supporter of leftist politics. While likely remembered best today for his vocal gifts and work in lighter motion pictures like "Let's Make Love" (1960), when properly challenged by directors on the level of Henri-Georges Clouzot and Costa-Gavras, Montand proved quite capable of giving persuasive dramatic performances and that talent solidified his legacy as one of the most important European stars of that era.

Although he was regarded as quintessentially French, Yves Montand was actually Italian. He was born on Oct. 13, 1921 in Monsummano Terme, Italy under the name Ivo Livi. Three years later, his Jewish family immigrated to France to flee the rising Right Wing influence in Italy, becoming French citizens in 1929. Montand attended school until age 11 in Marseilles, when he was put to work following the bankruptcy of his father's broom-making business. He held jobs in a hairdressing salon, a spaghetti factory, and on the waterfront, but really longed to be a performer. After working to overcome his stage fright, Montand made his debut in 1938 and was quickly a regular on the music hall scene. He crafted the name Yves Montand from the Italian his mother used when calling him to come upstairs ("Ivo, monta!"). Managing to avoid being sent to a labor camp through bribery, he relocated to Paris in 1943. Superstar Edith Piaf saw one of Montand's performances - he specialized in French versions of "cowboy songs" with his big hit being ''Dans les Plaines du Far West" - the following year and made him her opening act at the Moulin Rouge. The pair was romantically involved for two years - not the last famous woman to fall under the Frenchman's spell. Montand made his film debut with a supporting part in the Piaf vehicle "Star Without Light" (1946), followed by his first outing as a leading man in "Gates of the Night" (1946).

Inspired by Piaf's example, Montand sought to improve himself, refining his stage persona, becoming well read, incorporating the poetry of Jacques Prévert into his act, and forming his own jazz group. Montand married acclaimed actress Simone Signoret in 1951, and made his mark as an actor in Henri-Georges Clouzot's classic suspense thriller "The Wages of Fear" (1953), which told of desperate men hired to transport trucks laden with nitro glycerine over treacherous roads. Also notable were his performances in the Italian drama "The Wide Blue Road" (1957) and in a French adaptation that same year of Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible," starring opposite his wife in a reprise of the stage version they had appeared in two years earlier. Montand's father was a dedicated Communist, and Signoret and Montand were enthusiastic supporters of the leftist political movement in France. However, following the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956, Montand was criticized for going ahead with his planned tour of the Soviet Union. While there, he and Signoret dined with Nikita Khrushchev and these actions temporarily prevented them from receiving a Visa to the United States. While he expressed his support and signed numerous petitions backing their cause, Montand stopped short, however, of ever actually joining The Communist Party and disapproved of the Russians' actions in Budapest.

During this time, Montand's singing career continued to thrive and despite speaking little English, he mounted two highly successful Broadway runs of the one-man show "An Evening with Yves Montand" in 1959 and 1961. The performance included various songs and he occasionally spoke in French, Italian or Spanish, but relied mostly on pantomime and charm to communicate with English speakers in the audience. Montand came off so well on stage that 20th Century Fox tapped him to star opposite none other than Marilyn Monroe in "Let's Make Love" (1960), a part already turned down by top leading men like Charlton Heston, Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. Montand recited his lines phonetically and displayed little chemistry with Monroe onscreen, but that was apparently not the case in real life as they had a torrid extramarital affair during shooting that was mostly public knowledge at the time, but received even more ink later on following Signoret's confirmation of it in her 1975 autobiography. "Yves Montand on Broadway" (ABC, 1961) was a network TV edition of the live show, and Montand appeared in three additional Hollywood features, "Sanctuary" (1961), as a Cajun bootlegger, "Goodbye Again" (1961), and the Shirley MacLaine romantic comedy vehicle "My Geisha" (1962), during which he allegedly had a second co-star affair with MacLaine. That year, Montand also had the dis tinction of starring in the first television program that was broadcast from Europe to America via the new Telstar satellite.

Leaving singing aside for a few years, Montand concentrated on movies and other notable assignments during this period that included his turn as a champion race car driver in John Frankenheimer's big-budget epic "Grand Prix" (1966) and the all-star World War II drama "Paris is Burning" (1966). Montand garnered the highest acclaim he had yet to receive as an actor for the Costa-Gavras films "Z" (1969), "The Confession" (1970), and "State of Siege" (1973), overtly political, widely praised pictures that helped elevate the actor's status as a serious dramatic performer. During this period, Montand also starred in the suave crime thriller "The Red Circle" (1970), opposite fellow French superstar Alain Delon, and made his final American film appearance in "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" (1970), playing Barbra Streisand's psychiatrist in a rather peculiar fantasy-musical-comedy-drama. Montand was still politically active for leftist causes during this period, getting expelled from Spain in 1975 for drawing attention to the plight of 11 Spanish prisoners scheduled for execution.

Montand resumed touring in 1981, playing many dates in France and several other countries, as well as stops in New York (a week-long run at The Metropolitan Opera marked him as the first singer to ever perform solo there), Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He made headlines in France in 1984 by disassociating himself from the political left after three decades of support. 44 percent of the French electorate expressed an interest in seeing Montand run for office; he never publicly ruled out the possibility, but seemed content to be seen as a learned commentator. By this point, Montand was considered passé as a leading man, but his profile was raised one last time via his widely complimented performances as an elderly patriarch in Claude Berri's elegant dramas "Jean De Florette" (1986) and "Manon of the Spring" (1986), which were filmed back-to-back. Signoret died of cancer in 1985 during the production of those films and Montand married his considerably younger personal assistant in 1987, fathering his first son the following year at age 67. He died of a heart attack on Nov. 9, 1991 on the final shooting day of the film "IP5: The Island of Pachyderms." Two years before the actor's death, he was named in a paternity suit filed by actress Anne-Gilberte Drossard, who claimed that Montand was the father of her daughter, born in 1975. He declined to undergo a DNA test, but because he had not put this refusal in writing, the French court ordered his body exhumed in 1998 to determine the validity of Drossard's assertion. Much controversy ensued over the decision, given Montand's position as a French cultural icon, and the subsequent genetic test failed to show a DNA match.

By John Charles

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Cat Without a Grin, A (2002) Narration
2.
 Montand (1994) Narration
5.
 Les Routes du Sud (1993) Jean Larrea
6.
 IP5 (1992) Leon Marcel
7.
 Netchaiev est de Retour (1991) Pierre Marroux
8.
 Choice Of Arms (1990) Noel
9.
 Nadie Escuchaba (1988) Himself
10.
 Cesar et Rosalie (1988) Cesar
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1923:
Left Italy with family two years before the rise of Fascism as Mussolini was rising to power; settled in Marseilles
:
From age 11 worked as delivery boy, apprentice hairdresser in sister's, business, truck loader at a metal factory, and waiter at a dockside bar
1937:
Won a hair dressing competition in Marseilles
1938:
Performed for the first time on an amateur night in a local theater at age 17
1938:
Changed name to Yves Montand; made professional debut at the Alcazar Music Hall in Marseilles singing songs of Chevalier, Trenet and imitating Donald Duck music-hall singer in Marseilles, Bordeaux and Toulouse
1939:
Abandoned singing career and worked as a laborer in shipyard Chantiers de la Mediterranee
1940:
Resumed career after French capitulation; appeared in revue "Soir de folie" on tour in Lyons, Bordeaux
1943:
Went to Paris to perform; act included routine as a singing cowboy
1944:
Appeared in Paris at the ABC Music Hall; also performed at the Moulin Rouge where he was discovered by Edith Piaf, became her lover and protege; abandoned cowboy act and performed new material devised or bought by composers by Piaf to showcase him
1946:
Professional stage acting debut in operette, "Le Chevalier Bayard"
1945:
Made film debut in Rene Lucot's short, "Silence...antenne/Silence, on tourne"
1946:
Feature film debut, "Etoie Sans Lumierie/Star Without Light"; Piaf got him the role of the boyfriend she leaves behind when she becomes a star
1946:
Starred in Marcel Carne's "Les Portes de la Nuit/Gates f the Night" in which he introduced signature song, "Les Feuilles Mortes/Autumn Leaves"
1947:
Signed contract with Warner Bros.; When he translated the contract from English and realized that he would become the property of the studio, he sued for breach of contract and one franc damages; Warners countersued and the matter was settled out of court
1951:
Presented his first one-man show in Paris at the Theatre de l'Etoile
1954:
Starred on Paris stage for one year with Simone Signoret in Arthur Miller's "Sorcieres de Salem/The Crucible" (they reprised their performances in the 1956 film version)
1956:
With Simone Signoret made a highly-publicized and high-criticized tour of the Soviet Union and east bloc countries after the Soviet invasion of Hungary
1959:
Made first US concert tour in one-man show; performed show on Broadway
1959:
Signed two-picture deal with 20th Century-Fox (for whom he made "Let's Make Love" 1960 and "Sanctuary" 1961)
1960:
His concert tour of the USSR was filmed by the Russians and released as "Yves Montand Chante"
1962:
Starred on the Pairs stage in "Des clowns par milliers/A Thousand Clowns"
1967:
Announced retirement as a singer
1974:
Subject of Chris Marker's documentary, "La solitude du chanteur de fond"
1974:
Subject of Jean-Christophe Averty's TV documentary "Montand de mon temps"
1979:
Attacked by Soviet newspaper, "Izveztia" as a "turncoat" after his political views had shifted from left-wing to center
1980:
Resumed singing career; had hit album, "Montand d'hier et d'aujourd 'hui'"; performed in three-month engagement at the Olympia Theatre in Paris and later toured with show
1982:
Toured US with cabaret performance; was first popular entertainer to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in NY
1986:
Wrote, produced and starred in "Yves Montand a la une" on French TV
1988:
Was mentioned as a possible French Presidential candidate
1991:
Died of a heart attack in a hospital in Senlis (a suburb of Paris) after suffering chest pains on the set of the Jean-Jacques Beineix film he was shooting
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"His popularity survived his travels through passion and politics because his ability to charm the French--and a good many foreigners--never faltered. In recent years, his hair thinning and his face wrinkled, he exuded the air of a favorite uncle who would always be around."--Alan Riding ("New York Times" obituary, November 10, 1991)

"He is probably the most successful French actor of his generation. No continental actor since Boyer has played opposite so many big Hollywood stars--Ingrid Bergman, Marilyn Monroe, Shirley MacLaine and Barbra Streisand."--David Shipman ("The Great Stars: The International Years" 1972)

"His face seemed made for the glib revelation of Lelouch's hurried emotional journalism [in "Vivre pour Vivre" 1967], and the unprincipled mixture of cheap romantic melodrama and supposed commitment to the world's travails seemed to fit Montand's professional shurg to the inch. Although an actor who relies on mature appeal, he seems to me always a ltitle shifty. His face in repose is sulky and calculating, and the smile that flits on to it when he knows he is being observed might be pulled open by strings."--David Thomson ("The Biographical Dictionary of Film" 1975).

Montand was buried November 13, 1991 next to Simone Signoret at Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Edith Piaf is also buried there.

He served as president of Cannes Film Festival (1987)

He was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center (1988)

Companions close complete companion listing

companion:
Edith Piaf. Singer. Discovered Montand in 1944; together c. 1944-46.
wife:
Simone Signoret. Actor. Married 1951 until her death in 1985; met while touring in 1949; previously married to director Yves Allegret.
companion:
Marilyn Monroe. Actor. Had brief affair while filming "Let's Make Love" (1960).
companion:
Anne Florange Drossart. Filed a paternity suit against Montand in 1990 claiming that he fathered her daughter Aurora (born c. 1975) during an affair they had beginning in 1972 when they were both in the film "Le Hasard et la Violence"; Montand ordered by Paris court to take a blood test to determine child's paternity; appeals court ruled that Montand's body should be exhumed for DNA testing in 1997.
companion:
Carole Amiel. Secretary. Born c. 1960; mother of Montand's son Valentin; became Montand's secretary in 1982.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
Giovanni Livi. Broommaker. Jewish-Italian peasant; socialist.
mother:
Josephine Livi.
sister:
Lydia Livi. Hairdresser. Montand worked in her beauty shop before beginning his music-hall career at age 17.
son:
Valentin Gioanni Jacques Montand. Born December 31, 1988 when Montand was 67.
step-daughter:
Catherine Allegret. Born c. 1946; daughter of Simone Signoret and director Yves Allegret.
nephew:
Jean-Louis Livi. Producer.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Du soleil plein la tete"
"You See, I Have Not Forgotten"

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