❉ A tribute to the life and legacy of the legendary French actor and singer.
Juliette Gréco, French chansonnier, actress and cultural icon sadly passed away on 22nd September at the age of 93. She was surrounded by friends and family at the home she loved so much. From her birth in Montpellier in 1927, she led an eventful, interesting life and her death will mourned by her fans all over the world but none more so than in her native France where she was considered the Grand Dame of chanson. Her lengthy career as a singer came to a tragic end when she suffered a stroke at the age of 89 following her Farewell concert of The Olympia Hall, Paris.
At the age of just 15, she joined the French Resistance against the Nazis but was unfortunately captured, subsequently tortured, and thrown into Ravensbruck, a women-only concentration camp in Northern Germany, thanks to her feisty nature. “A French Gestapo officer humiliated me. I became so upset that I punched him on the nose. Well, that cost me!” she remembered. However, her wartime experiences only strengthened her political leanings towards the left.
After the war she became an actress and singer of chanson and was close friends with fellow left bank occupants of Saint-Germaine-des-Pres including intellectuals and writers, Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. During that time she became a chanteuse singing chanson in smoky Parisienne subterranean bars and clubs.
As well as being a singer, Gréco was an established actress who worked with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars of the day including Errol Flynn in Roots of Heaven, Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, Orson Welles in Crack in the Mirror, Jean Cocteau in Orpheus, and Ingrid Bergman in Elena and her Men. She also acted in French TV mini-series Belphegor playing the role of a schizophrenic.
Gréco was extremely charming in character and beautiful in looks and consequently she was photographed and pursued romantically by many famous men of the time including a Hollywood Studio mogul and a Jazz legend. She was the ultimate personification of ‘French chic’ but could also drink any man under the table!
In her lifetime she enjoyed the attentions of many lovers. Gréco married three times, but only had one child who she tragically lost in 2016. Her third husband Gerard Jounnest co-wrote some of fellow chansonnier Jacques Brel’s greatest songs including Ne Me Quitte Pas which went on to be one of the most covered songs in musical history, scoring hit records for artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, Nina Simone and Cilla Black to Marc Almond, Wycleff Jean and Neil Diamond.
Singing chanson, she performed with stars of the genre including Serge Gainsbourg, Georges Brassens and Jacques Brel. She was an interpret, as so many chanson singers were, and her recording of Sous le Ciel de Paris was a benchmark rendition to which other singers of the genre could only aspire to.
Gréco won many of France’s highest accolades but remained true to her Socialist beliefs all of her life. Marianne Faithful once said that if she could be anyone else on the planet then it would be Juliette Greco. There will be no-one else like Juliette Gréco, and her lasting legacy is well and truly cemented in the portals of history.
❉ Juliette Gréco : 7 February 1927 – 23 September 2020.
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.