Continued from Part one
Film successes & strokes of fate
In 1966, Yves Montand starred in the Formula One film Grand Prix, which was originally planned to feature Steve McQueen. To this day, Grand Prix remains a unique film: the realistic footage of the racetrack, shot at enormous expense, still amazes.
Montand plays the fictional Ferrari driver Jean-Pierre Sarti in the film.
Although the sixties were an era of professional success for Yves Montand, two strokes of fate occurred in that decade: In August 1962, Marilyn Monroe, who had become a close acquaintance since the filming of Let’s Make Love, died. In addition, his close friend Edith Piaf, who supported him in the early years of his career, died in 1963.
Yves Montand was not only playing in Hollywood movies: He continued to act in French films. In 1965, he starred in the film The Sleeping Car Murders: The film was the directing premiere of Greek-French director Constantin Costa-Gavras. Later, Montand appeared in other films directed by Costa-Gavras.
In 1966, Yves Montand starred in the French-US war film Is Paris Burning? which assembled a large star cast.
Montand’s fame as a Hollywood actor was the result of his participation in the film Let’s Make Love alongside Marilyn Monroe: Twentieth Century Fox hoped to use Yves Montand as a drawing card to lure women to the movies as well: Until then, Marilyn Monroe films had mainly attracted male audiences to the cinema. With Yves Montand at Monroe’s side, that changed. In the illustrated book Marilyn & Me by photographer Lawrence Schiller, Montand and Monroe’s collaboration is immortalized: Numerous pictures taken on the film set of Let’s Make Love reveal a passionate relationship between the two actors.
French productions & comeback as a chansonnier
Between 1970 and 1980, Yves Montand made a total of 16 films: These were, with only few exceptions, mainly French productions. Montand shone, among others, in the comedy Delusions of Grandeur (1971) alongside Louis de Funès. I as in Icarus (1979) and State of Siege (1972) are just two examples of Yves Montand’s extensive film work in the seventies.
In the early eighties, Yves Montand decided to return to the stage as a chansonnier: From October 1981 to January 1982, Montand performed at the Olympia in Paris. It was his first major show since 1968. At the end of August 1982, Montand performed in Rio de Janeiro in front of 20,000 Brazilians, and a little later he appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
Yves Montand’s best-known chansons include Les feuilles mortes, C’est si bon and La vie en rose. In addition to his work as an actor and singer, Montand was also the target of intense media coverage.
Because of the enormous ratings of the television programs in which he often starred, his face graced numerous French journals. It even got to the point where, according to surveys, 36% of the French could imagine electing Yves Montand as French president.
Throughout his life, Yves Montand wanted to initiate political change: His Eastern Bloc tour in the fifties, during which he also met Soviet politician Nikita Khrushchev, is a prime example of his interest in political current affairs.
Simone Signoret & Legacy
Yves Montand and French actress Simone Signoret formed a dream couple of the cinema world: the two were married from 1951 until Signoret’s death in 1985.
Yves Montand died in France on November 9, 1991. He died shortly after finishing the shooting of his last film IP5 – L’île aux pachydermes: at the time of his death Montand was still on the film set. One could say that Yves Montand was immersed in the work of his life until his last breath.
Yves Montand’s film and chanson legacy is extensive. He was one of the greatest French actors and chanson singers of the 20th century: to this day he is known beyond the borders of France.
Simon von Ludwig
Main sources: The biography of Yves Montand on the official Yves Montand website and Schiller, Lawrence: Marilyn & Me, 2021 Taschen publishing house
Cover picture: Yves Montand in July 1966 while shooting Grand Prix
© Nationaal Archief, CC0