François Joseph Simon
April 9, 1895
|Died||May 30, 1975 (aged 80)|
|Years active||1924–1975 (film)|
Michel Simon (French: [miʃɛl simɔ̃]; April 9, 1895 – May 30, 1975) was a Swiss actor. He appeared in many notable French films, including La Chienne (1931), Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), L'Atalante (1934), Port of Shadows (1938), The Head (1959), and The Train (1964).
Simon was born April 9, 1895 in Geneva, Switzerland to a Catholic butcher and a Protestant mother. He left his family and moved to Paris, where he first lived at the Hotel Renaissance, Saint-Martin Street, then in Montmartre. He worked many different jobs to survive, such as giving boxing lessons and peddling smuggled lighters.
His career began modestly in 1912, working as a magician, clown, acrobat, and stooge in a dancers' show called "Ribert's and Simon's", in the Montreuil-sous-Bois Casino.
Conscripted into the Swiss Army in 1914, he spent time in the stockade. He also contracted tuberculosis.
In 1915, while on leave, he saw Georges Pitoëff's early work in the French language, at the Theatre de la Comédie of Geneva, acting in Hedda Gabler, and was inspired to become an actor himself. In 1920 he made his first brief appearance on stage, with Pitoëff's company, speaking three lines in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. He also worked at this time as the company's photographer. One of his early successes was a supporting role in George Bernard Shaw's Androcles and the Lion. In 1922, Pitoëff's company moved to Paris at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées.
Simon quit the company in 1923 to become a light comedy actor in plays by Tristan Bernard, Marcel Achard and Yves Mirande. Achard presented him to Charles Dullin, in whose company he acted in Je ne vous aime pas with Valentine Tessier.
Louis Jouvet, who had replaced Pitoëff, hired Simon at the Comédie des Champs-Élysées. Simon then gave a successful performance in Archard's Jean de la Lune as Cloclo.
In the 1930s, Simon's theatrical career rose to prominence with performances in works by Shakespeare, Bernard Shaw, Pirandello, Oscar Wilde, Bourdet, and Henri Bernstein. However, it was film that brought him stardom and international recognition.
Simon's first film appearance was in the 1925 silent film, Feu Mathias Pascal, adapted from a Pirandello novel and directed by Marcel L'Herbier. In the same year, he starred in the modestly budgeted The Vocation of André Carel, directed by Jean Choux. As the silent era ended, he appeared in Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
Simon's film career was boosted with the advent of talking pictures. People remarked[by whom?] that his elocution and gravelly voice were as original as his appearance. These features were exploited by notable 1930s French directors, including Jean Renoir (La Chienne, Boudu Saved From Drowning), Jean Vigo (L'Atalante) and Marcel Carné (Port of the Shadows, Bizarre, Bizarre).
He appeared in 55 plays from 1920 to 1965, and 101 from 1965 to 1975.
In the 1950s, Simon reined in his activities following an accident involving a makeup dye that left part of his face and body paralyzed.
In 1967, he won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 17th Berlin International Film Festival for his role in The Two of Us.
He died at 80 years of age from a pulmonary embolism and is buried in the Grand-Lancy Cemetery of Geneva, next to his parents.
Simon would say that he preferred "living with animals than humans". He lived for a long time in a bohemian house in Noisy-le-Grand, near Paris. He built a series of exterior wire tunnels that linked the various floors and allowed his pet monkeys freedom to roam around. The house was filled with bric-a-brac, including his large collection of erotic photographs and films. The collection was dispersed after his death.