His big idol was Fred Astaire: Yves Montand (civil name Ivo Livi) was born on October 13, 1921 in Tuscany and grew up in humble circumstances. In 1924 Yves Montand’s family fled to Marseille: the political situation in Italy destroyed the Livis’ existence. Originally, the Livi family had planned to immigrate to the United States: But because of stricter entry requirements, the family was not granted a visa here.
In 1929, the family took French citizenship.
The name Yves Montand
In 1938, at the age of 17, Ivo Livi discovered the beauty of art: in a vaudeville in Marseille, Livi performed chansons by Charles Trenet and Maurice Chevalier. The director of the vaudeville advised the young Ivo Livi to choose a stage name: They suggested a name that sounds French, but at the same time did not hide Livi’s Italian origin: the choice fell on the name Yves Montand.
One year after his stage debut, Yves Montand debuted in 1939 at the Alcazar in Marseille: At the time, the Alcazar was one of the most famous theater halls in Marseille. Montand’s debut at the Alcazar made him a well-known and sought-after artist.
First solo show
In 1941, Yves Montand went on a regional tour and performed at the Odéon in Paris in September 1941.
In August 1944, Yves Montand met French chanson singer Edith Piaf for the first time: Piaf hired Montand for some of her concerts, making him known to a wider audience. In 1945, Yves Montand got his own show at the Théâtre de l’Étoile in Paris: It was the beginning of a successful career as a chanson singer. Montand later said of this period that his friend Edith Piaf had helped him, but had in no way “created” or “made” him as an artist.
Beginnings in film
Yves Montand starred alongside Edith Piaf in his first film in 1946: originally, Jean Gabin and Marlene Dietrich were slated for the lead role in Star Without Light. But things turned out differently: Jean Gabin was replaced by Yves Montand and Edith Piaf took the role originally intended for Marlene Dietrich.
The film was not a success: nevertheless, it was Yves Montand’s first participation in a film.
French director Henri-Georges Clouzot offered Yves Montand to star in his 1952 film The Wages of Fear: The Wages of Fear was Montand’s first major film role.
One-Man-Show and visit to Moscow
His own show at the Théâtre de l’Étoile in Paris had become one of the most successful one-man shows: In October 1953, Yves Montand performed his one-man show for the two hundredth time. The recordings of his chansons enjoyed great popularity: later Montand described this phase as the most productive period of his career.
In 1956, Yves Montand performed in front of 20,000 people in Moscow: Montand then went on a tour of the Eastern Bloc countries. At the time, it was anything but common for an artist to venture behind the “Iron Curtain” to perform.
Performances in North America
In the fifties, Yves Montand performed his one-man show regularly at the Étoile in Paris: One evening, American jazz impresario Norman Granz, who had promoted the career of Ella Fitzgerald, among others, was sitting in the audience. Granz made Montand an offer to perform in New York: Yves Montand accepted.
From December 22, 1959, Yves Montand performed on Broadway for seven weeks: The show was a great success. Among the premiere visitors were Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich and Paulette Godard.
It wasn’t long before Montand was also performing in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Montreal: Soon Yves Montand was a household name in the United States. The Hollywood studio Twentieth Century Fox offered Montand the chance to play alongside Marilyn Monroe in the film Let’s Make Love (1960). This role was a dream come true for Yves Montand: his fame as a French chanson singer was now joined by his status as a Hollywood star.
Montand’s role in Let’s Make Love made him an attractive candidate for further Hollywood engagements: In the sixties, Yves Montand starred in numerous Hollywood productions…
Main source: The biography of Yves Montand on the official Yves Montand website.
Cover picture: Yves Montand in 1952 in the Netherlands
Picture credit: Fotograaf Duinen, […] van / Anefo, Nationaal Archief, CC0