Remember the young Hollywood discovery who had to go to Europe to become famous?
She was Jean Seberg, the actress director Robert Rossen once described as the all-American cheerleader who cracked up.
Hollywood-centrics know her as the corn-fed 17-year-old unknown from Marshalltown, Iowa, picked by Otto Preminger out of a field of some 18,000 prospects to play the title role of Joan of Arc in the director’s 1957 costume drama, Saint Joan.
What she and many others hadn’t counted on was the enthusiasm for her and Preminger’s work harbored by Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, critics at the French journal Cahier du Cinema — and on the cusp of becoming directors and originators of the fabled French “new wave.”
Godard was planning on making a mixture policier-character study titled A bout de souffle (Breathless) with French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo cast as a low-level crook on the run who falls for a not-what-she-seems pretty, young American (Seberg) hawking copies of the International Herald Tribune on the Champs-Elysees.
The on-the-fly shooting of Breathless took place on streets of Paris and in a cramped hotel room (Chambre 12 of the Hotel de Suede, since torn down). It was in all a process described at the time as “organized chaos,” and it unnerved the 20-year-old Seberg. She was accustomed to Hollywood studio-style efficiency. Seberg had no hopes for the picture at all.
She was wrong. When Breathless was released in 1960, its free-form visual style electrified international critics and film fans. Seberg and Belmondo ascended to international stardom.
There’s much more to know about Seberg’s life (she died in 1979), and much of it isn’t happy. In any event, let’s get to our Seberg Quiz. As usual, questions today and answers tomorrow. Here we go:
1) Question: Which of the following titles did Seberg costar in? a) Birds in Peru; b) Bonjour Tristesse; c) Lilith; or d) Airport.
2) Question: Although she found the making of Breathless was personally a dismaying experience, Seberg was paid a very handsome sum at the time for playing the faux femme fatale. a) True; or b) False.
3) Question: Which one of the following did Seberg have an affair with while their big Hollywood movie was in production? (And can you identify the movie?) a) Warren Beatty; b) Clint Eastwood; c) Charles Boyer; or d) David Niven.
4) Question: Seberg in the Sixties came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Why? a) She became involved with European anarchists; b) She declined to pay income taxes; c) She involved herself in various radical causes in the U.S.; or d) A film buff himself, Hoover was a big fan of Seberg’s movies.
5) Question: Seberg died early, at the age of 40, because a) She suffered a stroke; b) She was hit by a car driving down the Champs-Elysees; c) She fell off the roof of her Paris apartment; or d) She committed suicide.