Juliette Gréco  

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"We'd tag along to these parties, and it was at the time of people like Juliette Gréco, the French bohemian thing. They'd all wear black turtleneck sweaters, it's kind of where we got all that from, and we fancied Juliette like mad. Have you ever seen her? Dark hair, real chanteuse, really happening. So I used to pretend to be French, and I had this song that turned out later to be "Michelle"."--Paul McCartney on "Michelle"


"In the 1950s, the colour black came to be a symbol of individuality and intellectual and social rebellion, the color of those who didn't accept established norms and values. In Paris, it was worn by Left-Bank intellectuals and performers such as Juliette Gréco, and by some members of the Beat Movement in New York and San Francisco."--Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Juliette Gréco (7 February 1927 – 23 September 2020) was a French actress and singer. Her best known songs were "Jolie Môme" (Léo Ferré), "Déshabillez-moi" (Robert Nyel/Gaby Verlor), "La Javanaise" (Serge Gainsbourg) and "L'Accordéon" (Serge Gainsbourg).

She did not write her own material and died childless.

She is portrayed by Anna Mouglalis in Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (2010).

Contents

Early life and family

Juliette Gréco was born in Montpellier to an absent Corsican father, Gérard Gréco, and a mother from Bordeaux, Juliette Lafeychine (1899-1978). Her lineage hails in part from Greece. She did not receive love from her mother in her childhood and suffered from her harsh comments due to being an unwanted child, such as "You ain't my daughter. You're the child of rape". She was raised by her maternal grandparents in Bordeaux with her older sister Charlotte. After the death of her grandparents, her mother took them to Paris. In 1938, she became a ballerina at the Opéra Garnier.

When World War II began, the family returned to the southwest of France. Gréco was a student at the Institut Royal d'éducation Sainte Jeanne d'Arc in Montauban. The Gréco family became active in the Résistance and her mother was arrested in 1943. The two sisters decided to move back to Paris but were captured and tortured by the Gestapo, then imprisoned in Fresnes Prison in September 1943. Her mother and sister were deported to Ravensbrück while Juliette, being only 16, remained in prison for several months before being released. After her release, she walked the eight miles back to Paris to retrieve her belongings from the Gestapo headquarters. Her former French teacher and her mother's friend, Hélène Duc, decided to take care of her.

In 1945, Gréco's mother and sister returned from deportation after the liberation of Ravensbrück by the Red Army. Gréco moved to Saint-Germain-des-Prés in 1945 after her mother moved to Indochina, leaving Gréco and her sister behind.

Bohemian lifestyle

Gréco became a devotee of the bohemian fashion of some intellectuals of post-war France. Duc sent her to attend acting classes given by Solange Sicard. She made her debut in the play Victor ou les Enfants au pouvoir in November 1946 and began to host a radio show dedicated to poetry.

Her friend Jean-Paul Sartre installed her at the Hotel La Louisiane and commented Greco had "millions of poems in her voice". She was known to many of the writers and artists working in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, such as Albert Camus, Jacques Prévert and Boris Vian, thus gaining the nickname la Muse de l'existentialisme.

Gréco spent the post-Liberation years frequenting the Saint-Germain-des-Prés cafes, immersing herself in political and philosophical bohemian culture. As a regular at music and poetry venues like Le Tabou on Rue Dauphine, she was acquainted with Jean Cocteau, and was given a role in Cocteau's film Orphée (1950).

In 1949, she began an affair with U.S. jazz musician Miles Davis. In 1957, they decided to always be just lovers because their careers were in different countries and his fear of damaging her career by being in an interracial relationship.

They remained lovers and friends until his death in 1991.

In 1949, she also made her debut as a cabaret singer in the Parisian cabaret Le Bœuf sur le toit, performing the lyrics of a number of well-known French writers; Raymond Queneau's "Si tu t'imagines" was one of her earliest songs to become popular.

Personal life and death

Gréco was married three times:

With Lemaire, she had a daughter, Laurence-Marie, born in 1954. Laurence-Marie Lemaire died from cancer in 2016 aged 62.

In the year leading up to his death in the late 1940s, Gréco was the lover of married racing driver Jean-Pierre Wimille and suffered a miscarriage after his death.

According to Spanish writer Manuel Vicent, Juliette Gréco was Albert Camus's lover. She also was in relationships with French singer Sacha Distel and Hollywood producer Darryl F. Zanuck.

During her affair with Miles Davis, she was also dating U.S. record producer Quincy Jones. According to Jones' autobiography, Davis was irritated with him for years when he found out.

Gréco had three rhinoplasties; in Paris in 1953 and 1956, and in London in 1960.

In September 1965, Gréco attempted suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills. She was found unconscious in her bathroom and taken to the hospital by Françoise Sagan.

Gréco lived between Paris and Saint-Tropez.

A leftist, she supported François Mitterrand in the 1974 presidential election, and was an initial investor in Minute, when it was mainly non-political and focused on the entertainment world.

Gréco died on 23 September 2020 at the age of 93.

Legacy

Jean-Paul Sartre based the singer in his trilogy The Roads to Freedom (Les chemins de la liberté) on Gréco.

An allusion to Gréco is made by English singer Ray Davies in the song "Art School Babe" from his album Storyteller.

"Michelle" by the Beatles was inspired by Gréco and the Parisian Left Bank culture. Paul McCartney said of the song: "We'd tag along to these parties, and it was at the time of people like Juliette Greco, the French bohemian thing. They'd all wear black turtleneck sweaters, it's kind of where we got all that from, and we fancied Juliette like mad. Have you ever seen her? Dark hair, real chanteuse, really happening. So I used to pretend to be French, and I had this song that turned out later to be 'Michelle'."

John Lennon wrote in Skywriting by Word of Mouth: "I'd always had a fantasy about a woman who would be a beautiful, intelligent, dark-haired, high-cheek-boned, free-spirited artist à la Juliette Gréco."

Marianne Faithfull said of Gréco: "When I was a young girl, Juliette Gréco was my absolute idol...She’s my role model for life. If I want to be anybody, I want to be Juliette Gréco".

Albums

See also




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