Suzanne Flon

Actress in sensitive, nostalgic roles
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The Independent Online

Flon's beautifully modulated voice did not always seem in keeping with her physique, for it was capable of surprisingly deep intonations, that could take the listener by surprise after a stretch of bird-like chatter. She had a sense of sly humour: one of the best early photographs of her shows her with the singer Edith Piaf, both of them laughing their heads off. Anyone who could make Piaf laugh like that was a born entertainer.

Suzanne Flon was the daughter of a railway worker and a mother who made delicate pearl embroideries. They lived in the solidly working-class district of Kremlin-Bicêtre outside Paris. From an early age, she had a passion for poetry. She learnt English at school, and on graduation spent a year in England perfecting her accent. This skill led her to become an interpreter at the Printemps department store in Paris, where she met Piaf, who engaged her as her personal secretary. With Piaf's recommendation, she became a "speakerine", introducing music-hall acts and singers like Charles Trenet, Fréhel and Mistinguett.

She began taking drama classes, in which one of her fellow students was Simone Signoret. In 1943, Flon appeared in her first part, in Jean-François Noel's play Le Survivant ("The Survivor"), directed by the avant-garde disciple of Antonin Artaud, Raymond Rouleau. She next appeared in the role of Alarica, heroine of Jacques Audiberti's new play Le Mal court ("Infection Spreading"), which opened in 1947 in Montparnasse at the tiny Théâtre de Poche, where it had a long artistic and financial success.

Six years later, I was able to see her in Jean Anouilh's L'Alouette (The Lark). She had already had a success as Ismène in his adaptation of Antigone, but in this new play she surpassed herself, playing opposite the very young Michel Bouquet, now the venerable, and venerated, star of French stage and screen. He also appeared with her in Anouilh's 1947 Roméo et Jeannette, written especially for the pair.

The future years saw Suzanne Flon starring in a wide repertoire including Shakespeare - Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew and Rosalind in As You Like It - Musset, Goldoni, Chekhov and Pirandello, as well as in light comedies like André Roussin's La Petite Hutte (a smash hit in London, translated by Nancy Mitford as The Little Hut).

Flon specialised later in life in studies of a certain type of sensitive, nostalgic woman. It was in one of these, Loleh Bellon's La Chambre d'amis ("The Guest Room") that she won her first Molière prize in 1995. Other Bellon successes she played in were Les Dames du jeudi ("Ladies' Thursday", 1976), Changement à vue ("Visible Difference", 1978) and Une Absence (1988).

Flon also appeared in several important films, including L'Eté meurtrier (One Deadly Summer, 1983), with Isabelle Adjani and Michel Galabru; her performance earned her a César for best supporting actress. She frequently appeared, because of her English ability, in American and British films like John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952), with Zsa-Zsa Gabor and Christopher Lee; and Orson Welles's penetrating version of Kafka's The Trial (1962), with an ultra-starry cast including Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider and Welles in person.

Another great film Flon had a part in was Joseph Losey's Monsieur Klein (1976) with Alain Delon and Jeanne Moreau. Her last released film was Claude Chabrol's La Demoiselle d'Honneur in 2004. She appears finally in Danièle Thompson's Fauteuils d'orchestre, due to be screened next year.

James Kirkup

Suzanne Flon, actress: born Kremlin-Bicêtre, France 28 January 1918; died Paris 15 June 2005.

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