Michele Morgan, famous for her role in The Fallen Idol, died Tuesday at her home in Paris. “The most beautiful eyes in cinema were permanently closed this morning,” the family said in a statement. She was 96.
Considered one of the greatest actresses of French cinema, Morgan is best known as the girlfriend of an unhappily married butler (Ralph Richardson) whose wife dies accidentally in the 1948 film The Fallen Idol. It was nominated for two Oscars.
Morgan was born Feb. 29, 1920, in Neuilly-sur-Seine as Simone Renee Roussel. She left home when she was 15 to pursue acting and took lessons from Rene Simon, the founder of the Cours Simon drama school in Paris.
Her breakthrough role was in Marc Allegret’s 1937 film Heart of Paris, in which she starred opposite Raimu. Allegret also cast her in his 1938 film Storm, but she became a well-known actress when she starred in Marcel Carne’s Port of Shadows (1938) with French star Jean Gabin. In Shadows, Gabin tells Morgan, “You have beautiful eyes, you know.” To which she replies, “Kiss me.” As a result, she became known as the actress with “the most beautiful eyes in cinema.” Her 1977 autobiography was entitled With These Eyes.
When Germany invaded France in 1940 during World War II, Morgan fled to the U.S., where she was cast in several Hollywood films, including Robert Stevenson’s Joan of Paris (1942), Higher and Higher (1943) with Frank Sinatra and Passage to Marseille (1944) with Humphrey Bogart. In 1941, she built a house in Los Angeles at 10050 Cielo Drive, which became famous as the site of the Manson family murders in 1969.
Returning to France after the war, Morgan continued to work for the next two decades. In 1946, she starred in Jean Delannoy’s religious drama Pastoral Symphony, a film about a minister and his son who both fall in love with a blind woman, played by Morgan. For her role, she won the best actress award at the first Cannes Film Festival in 1946.
Her career continued with such highlights as The Fallen Idol; Fabiola (1949); The Glass Castle (1950); The Proud and the Beautiful (1953); Shadow of the Guillotine (1956), in which she stars as Marie Antoinette; and Lost Command (1966).
Morgan received many awards during her career, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, France’s Legion of Honor in 1969 and an honorary Cesar for her contributions to French cinema in 1992. She also won the Career Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1996. She was voted as the most popular French actress 10 times.
Morgan spent her later years painting and had a solo exhibit in Paris in 2009. “I find calm, I have always liked to be alone and I have never been happier than with my painting,” she said.
Of her long, successful acting career, in which she starred in nearly 70 films, Morgan said: “I have never had the opportunity to play sexy women. I must believe that my charm was not in my ass.”