The following portraits are of artists, designers, writers, diplomats, and actors. Half are French, half are American. And all of them are in love! In celebration of Valentine’s Day, France-Amérique has taken a closer look at ten legendary French-American couples whose passionate or thwarted romances have gone down in 20th-century history.
Juliette Gréco & Miles Davis
Miles Davis could well have sung, “I have two loves, Paris and Juliette Gréco.” In postwar Paris, the French singer, the muse of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and the American musician, the up-and-coming “Picasso of jazz,” enjoyed a passionate love affair — tragically cut short by the racism in U.S. society at the time.
© Jean-Philippe Charbonnier/Gamma-Rapho
Gréco was 22 when she set eyes on the trumpetist. In May 1949, the International Jazz Festival was reborn in Paris and the biggest American names in bebop had made a special effort to attend. This was the first time Davis had left the United States, and played the Pleyel concert hall with pianist Tadd Dameron’s quintet. “I saw him from the side; he was an Egyptian god,” said Gréco, who was watching him from backstage. “I had never seen such a beautiful man, and I haven’t seen one since.” The lovers lived together at the La Louisiane hotel in the sixth arrondissement. Accompanied by Gréco, Davis met Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Vian, and Picasso. The pair would stroll along the Seine, hand in hand, stopping for a kiss. An unthinkable idyll in the United States, where interracial relationships were forbidden.
Davis enjoyed a new freedom in France. “I had never felt that way in my life,” he wrote in his autobiography. “It was the freedom of being in France and being treated like a human being.” A number of African-American musicians settled in Paris, but Davis decided to return home. When Sartre asked him why he refused to ask Gréco to marry him, he replied: “Because I love her.” “He knew that black and white didn’t go together,” she said years later. “He knew I would be unhappy, and that I would be treated like a common whore in America.”
Yves Montand & Marilyn Monroe
Two comets with very different flight paths collided in Hollywood in 1960. Yves Montand had started out as a singer on Broadway the previous year. By contrast, Marilyn Monroe, a 1950s American sex symbol whose marriage to playwright Arthur Miller was falling apart, was going from one mediocre production to the next. The musical film Let’s Make Love was supposed to relaunch her career.
Supposedly at Marilyn’s behest, the studios successively turned down Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, and Rock Hudson before of-fering the male lead to Yves Montand. The Frenchman didn’t speak a word of English, and had to learn his lines phonetically by heart. The cast moved into a Beverly Hills hotel during filming; Marilyn lived in a bungalow with her husband while Yves and his wife, actress Simone Signoret, moved in next door. The two couples became friends. But Miller’s trip to Ireland to join director John Huston and work on the screenplay for the movie The Misfits put an end to the Californian idyll. Signoret left shortly afterwards for Rome, where she was filming Hungry for Love. Yves and Marilyn were left to their own devices.
The two lovers went out in public in Hollywood and New York, and the news made the front pages. Photos showed the actress with a slightly rounded stomach, and she was quickly thought to be pregnant. This affair put an end to the Millers’ marriage, but Signoret was far more pragmatic. “If Marilyn is in love with my husband, it proves she has good taste,” she said. Let’s Make Love was released on September 8, 1960, and while it wasn’t as successful as expected, it remains famous for being “the movie whose title Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand took a little too seriously.”
=> Pierre Cartier & Elma Rumsey, Jo Bouillon & Josephine Baker, Niki de Saint Phalle & Harry Mathews… Read our entire article on legendary French-American couples in the February issue of France-Amérique!