Jeanne Moreau, Legendary French Actress, Dies at 89

Jeanne Moreau S 2015
Reg Innell/Getty Images

Jeanne Moreau S 2015

Her brooding beauty entranced international audiences in such films as 'The Lovers,' 'Jules et Jim' and 'The Bride Wore Black.'

Jeanne Moreau, whose brooding beauty on display in such films as The Lovers, Jules et Jim and The Bride Wore Black entranced audiences everywhere, died Monday at her home in Paris. She was 89.

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron announced her death.

Dubbed “Le Moreau” for her slithering sensuality, she was a femme fatale who was also one of the top stage actresses of her time. Offscreen, Moreau oozed romance and mystery: She was likened to the free-spirited woman with two lovers whom she played in Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim (1962).

She burst to international stardom in Louis Malle's The Lovers (Les Amants) in 1958. The story of a woman who deserts her husband for a younger man, the film was controversial for the times and banned in some U.S. cities. Flaming her notorious image, Moreau next played in Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1959), which was censored in several towns in France. It was briefly banned from export, not for its sexuality but for its unflattering depiction of French diplomats.

Moreau was one of the most sought-after actresses in the world and performed in an array of films with leading directors, including Jules et Jim (Truffaut), The Trial (Orson Welles), Eva (Joseph Losey), Peau de Banane (Marcel Ophuls), La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni), La Baie des Anges (Jacques Demy), Moderato Cantabile (Peter Brook), Diary of a Chambermaid (Luis Bunuel), The Sailor From Gibraltar (Tony Richardson) and Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder).

She won the best actress award at Cannes in 1960 for her performance as a bored, wealthy woman who becomes obsessed with a murder in Moderato Cantabile.

More recently, she played in Map of the Human Heart (1992) and The Proprietor (1997).

Her personal life proved to be captivating as well. “When I am in love, it influences my pleasure in acting,” she told Playboy in 1965. “Most people don't have the energy for passion, so they give up and go to the movies.”

In 1976, Moreau wrote and directed Lumiere, which focused on four actresses, then helmed L'adolescente, which won critical acclaim, three years later.

Born in Paris, Moreau was the daughter of an English chorus girl and a French bartender. She studied at the Conservatoire National d'Art Dramatique. In 1947, she began in La Terrasse de Midi at the Avignon Festival.

In 1948, at age 20, she became the youngest-ever member of the repertory theater La Comedie Francaise, where she first appeared in A Month in the Country. She spent four years with the troupe, and among other plays, she was in the original production of Andre Gide's The Vatican Caves.

She left the Comedie Francaise in 1953 and joined the Theatre National Populaire, where she appeared in such plays as Le Cid and The Prince From Hamburg.

In 1953, she starred in The Shining Hour at the Theatre Antoine and was in Jean Cocteau's The Internal Machine and Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. She then played Maggie in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Brook, in 1957.

Moreau had begun her film career with a role in Dernier Amour (1949). After a number of nondescript parts, she won her first strong notice as a prostitute in Jacques Becker's Touchez Pas au Grisbi (1954).

Malle spotted her in a French production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and cast her in his first feature film, 1958's Ascenseur Pour L'echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows), which was released in the U.S. as Frantic.

Moreau served as president of the Commission d'Avances of France's Centre National de la Cinematographie and was president of the jury at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.

She was married to French actor, writer and director Jean-Louis Richard and, from 1977-79, to American director William Friedkin.