Known as the doyenne of French actresses until her death a fortnight short of her 104th birthday, Yvette Lebon enjoyed a cinema career spanning 40 years, and as many pictures.
Her career stretched between her debut in Alexander Korda’s romantic comedy Rive Gauche in 1931 and Cannabis, also known as French Intrigue, the 1970 drug-dealer drama directed by Pierre Koralnik, starring Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin and Paul Nicholas, and co-produced by her second husband, Nathan Wachsberger.
Her beautiful, almond-shaped eyes lit up the screen as she played the love interest of the popular comedian Fernandel in the vaudeville Le Chéri De Sa Concierge (1934); of Jean Gabin in Marc Allégret’s Zouzou (also 1934), the crime musical featuring Josephine Baker; and of the Corsican vocalist Tino Rossi in the masked singer’s musical Marinella (1936).
She also appeared in Divine (1935), directed by Max Ophüls from a screenplay by Colette, as well as the drama Abus De Confiance (1938), starring Danielle Darrieux (who at 97 is now the doyenne of French cinema).
In Gibraltar (1938) she acted opposite her first husband, Roger Duschene, and another screen legend, Erich von Stroheim. After appearing with Charles Trenet in yet another musical, Romance De Paris (1941), she took up with Sacha Guitry, who was 25 years her senior and cast her in three of his stage plays and as the sister of the lead character in the Napoleonic drama Le Destin Fabuleux De Désirée Clary (1942), coincidentally portrayed by Guitry’s fourth wife, the even younger Geneviève.
However, it was Lebon’s subsequent relationship, with the collaborateur press baron Jean Luchaire – who would be tried and executed in 1946 – that attracted the most opprobrium.
Interviewed for a television documentary in 2010, she admitted her guilt about her behaviour during the Second World War. “I don’t how much theatre and film people knew about what was really going on,” she said. “We felt privileged. There was always champagne. We didn’t have ration books. We lacked for nothing.”
Born Simone Lebon in Paris in 1910, she studied dance and painting and found occasional work as a film extra. Following her marriage to Wachsberger, she appeared in several swashbuckler and sword-and-sandal films in Italy, playing grandes dames and goddesses rather than the ingénues of yore, before moving to California where she resided until her husband’s death in 1992. Her son Patrick is a film producer with Summit Entertainment.
Simone Lebon, aka Yvette Lebon, actress: born Paris 14 August 1910; married firstly Roger Duschene (dissolved); secondly Nat Wachsberger (one son); died Cannes 28 July 2014.Reuse content