Style icons, movie stars, and anyone else who is considered to lead a “glamorous” life are usually surrounded by a certain amount of controversy, whether true or not – multiple husbands, questionable drinking habits and rumoured diva-like attitudes. While Jean Seberg’s life was filled with controversy, it was for very different reasons.
It would be easy to dismiss Seberg as fulfilling the classic Hollywood story – of a small town American girl getting discovered by a casting agent, become a successful actress and die young due to tragic circumstances – but she was so much more than that.
Seberg was born in Marshalltown, Iowa (a town that today has 26 000 residents). Her life was relatively normal until the age of seventeen, when she took part in a nationwide talent search. She was hand picked out of 18, 000 girls by film director Otto Preminger who casted her as the lead in the Joan of Arc biopic, Saint Joan (a role originally offered to Audrey Hepburn).
Seberg worked again with Preminger in 1958’s Bounjour Tristesse before getting cast as Patricia Franchini in Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless. Her character, who spent a good part of the film in full skirts, striped dresses, and, of course, a close cropped hairdo, confirmed Seberg not only as a style icon but also as one of the biggest stars in French new wave film.
Seberg’s acting career was successful, as she continued to appear in both French and American films (including 1964’s Lilith with Warren Beatty), but it started to take a toll on her personal life. She was quite publicly a supporter of the Black Panther Party, an organisation set on equal rights for African Americans. While Seberg also supported other anti-racist organizations (including the NAACP), the Black Panther’s controversial tactics caused controversy, especially within the FBI.
In 1970, Seberg was expecting her second child with Polish novelist, Romain Gary. By the third trimester, gossip columnists were printing stories that the father of the baby was not Gary but in fact another member of the Black Panthers (it’s been rumoured that the story was started by the FBI). The accusations caused a great deal of stress for Seberg, and the baby died within two days of her giving birth; immediately after, Seberg held a press conference to prove that her baby was indeed white – using the baby’s dead body as proof.
Seberg and Gary separated that year, and by 1974 she had returned to Paris to make movies. However, her bout of depression lasted and she tried to commit suicide several times, including one time where she threw herself on train tracks.
On September 8th, 1979, at age forty, Seberg was found dead in the back seat of her car, having overdosed on barbiturates.
Seberg was buried in the famous Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris. Even though she was born and raised in the United States, Jean Seberg was always a Parisian girl at heart, in life and in death.
Images courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.