Skip to main content

Juliette Gréco - An obituary

Juliette Gréco – actress, singer

 Born February 7, 1927; died September 23, 2020

 

 

Juliette Gréco, who has died of a stroke aged 93 at her home near St Tropez, was an icon of post World War Two French bohemianism. Before she became the last of the great French chanteuse’, Gréco’s presence became a vital part of Left Bank café culture where intellectuals held court. Here, she became friends with the era’s literary set, including Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Prévert. She learnt, she said, by listening to them. The creative energy was reciprocated, and she captivated them all.  

 

“Gréco has a million poems in her voice,” said Sartre, who based a character on her in his The Roads to Freedom trilogy, and wrote the songs for her that first made her take the leap onto the stage. “In her mouth,” Sartre went on to say, “my words become precious stones.” In such heady times, not for nothing was Gréco nicknamed la Muse de l’existentialisme. She was all that, and so much more besides.

 

As an actress, she appeared in films including Orphée (1950), directed by Jean Cocteau, and, in a case of art imitating life, in a big-screen adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises (1957). She also acted opposite Errol Flynn in John Huston’s The Roots of Heaven (1958). Gréco later starred in TV fantasy series, Belphegor, Phantom of the Louvre (1965).

 

As a singer, Gréco’s repertoire included works penned for her by Prévert and Charles Aznavour, and later by Serge Gainsbourg. Recognising her vocal limitations, she brought ice-cool drama to her delivery. Dressed eternally in black, Grécodazzled on her own terms, without any showbiz airs or tripping over herself to please. She brought an intense seriousness to her interpretations, with real life experience etched in every line. 

 

Such seeming aloofness appealed to a younger generation weaned on a more frivolous form of pop, but attracted to the romance of all things French. The Beatles adored Gréco, and Paul McCartney wrote Michelle in honour of her and the scene she inhabited. Gréco was alluded to as well in Kinks singer Ray Davies’ song, Art School Babe.

 

Juliette Gréco was born in Montpellier, France, the youngest of two daughters to Gérard Gréco, a Corsican policeman, and Juliette Gréco, née Lafeychine. The pair separated, and Gréco and her sister Charlotte were brought up in part by their maternal grand-parents in Bordeaux. Gréco was twelve when World War Two began in Europe, and both her mother and her sister survived Nazi prison camps following their involvement in the French Resistance. Gréco too was imprisoned for several months, and it was likely during this time she developed an oppositionist stance that never left her.

 

Still in her teens at the end of the war, Gréco lived alone, and took acting lessons while working at Left Bank jazz club, Le Tabou. This wasn’t enough to stave off poverty, though the men’s hand-me-down clothes and rolled-up trousers she wore out of necessity went some way to shape her striking demeanour. With photographers preying on the neighbourhood, her picture appeared in magazines, and she became the epitome of the new cool; smart, chic, wilfully free-spirited and unwilling to suffer fools gladly, even if they were the finest minds of their generation.

 

Gréco began singing in cabaret in 1949, after she was offered a job helping organise the first show at the newly reopened Le Bœuf Sur le Toit cabaret club. The same year, she embarked on an affair with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, with whom she remained close up until Davis’ death in 1991. Gréco recorded her first hit, Je Suis Comme Je Suis, in 1951. Her debut album, Juliette Gréco – Chante Ses Derniers, followed a year later, and by 1954 she was filling Paris’s Olympia concert hall. On film, Greco combined all her talents when she sang the title song in Otto Preminger’s film of Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse (1958). As times changed, Gréco toured the world, and remained an impressive interpreter of numerous works written for her.

 

In 1953, Gréco married actor Philippe Lemaire. They divorced three years later after having a daughter, Laurence-Marie Lemaire, who pre-deceased her mother in 2016. In 1966, Gréco met and married another actor, Michel Piccoli. They were together eleven years. In 1988, Gréco married her third husband, pianist and composer Gérard Jouannest, who wrote some of Jacques Brel’s finest songs. The couple remained together until Jouannest’s passing in 2018. Inbetween her marriages, there were relationships with singer Sacha Distel and Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck.

 

Gréco's final acting role was in Jedermanns Fest (2002), though she also appeared in a documentary, Dans les Pas de Marie Curie (2011). She wrote two autobiographies; Jujube (2002) and Je suis faite comme ca (2012). In France, she was made a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 2012, received the National Order of Merit in 2015, and was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters a year later.

 

Gréco’s final album, Gréco Chante Brel, appeared in 2013, and two years later she announced a farewell tour, calling it Merci. Her last ever live performance took place in 2017 in Paris. It may have become a very different city since her years on the Left Bank, but its soul was still defined by Gréco's spirit.


The Herald, October 1st, 2020.

 

ends 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug