When I was quite young, I saw an entertaining little satire called “The Mouse That Roared” which starred Peter Sellers as Tully Bascombe, a bumbling but good-hearted soldier who was placed in charge of the army of the ridiculously tiny Grand Duchy of Fenwick when the conniving prime-minister realized that every country ever defeated by the United States became the recipient of scads of foreign aid.
The Grand Duchy of Fenwick thereby declared war on the United States– hoping and expecting to lose.
Tully led his troupes over to America– by commercial ocean liner– dressed in chain mail and armed with long bows, where they inadvertently captured the eccentric scientist in charge of developing a new type of atomic bomb, and his lovely daughter, and a working prototype of the bomb. (The scientist figured he was safer working inconspicuously in an apartment in an obscure area of New York than in a secure compound guarded by conspicuous soldiers.)
There was a funny scene when he returned to Fenwick to announce that he had won, arousing the fury of the Prime Minister.
There was also a scene with the daughter, Helen. For the sake of the safety of the world, her father urged her to try to seduce Tully. Tully was unmoved, mainly because he was quite seasick at the moment. In the end, though, Tully got the girl, and the new bomb went into a dungeon on a bed of straw, for safe-keeping.
The girl was Jean Seberg.
Jean Seberg was seventeen and wholly unprepared for Hollywood when she was chosen from among 3,000 girls to play Joan of Arc for Otto Preminger. The movie was a failure and Seberg’s performance was panned, but she went on to star in “Breathless”, one of the most influential films (among presumptive auteurs) of the 1960’s. She became a kind of icon of the 1960’s, as unlike Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and Doris Day as Bob Dylan was unlike Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr.. She was the real thing, one of the first post-modern celebrities. She was her own girl.
She held strong political views which led her to support the Black Panthers.
The FBI took note and spied on her and decided to plant a story about her in the press. They persuaded the L.A. Times and Newsweek to publish the rumour that she was pregnant with the child of an un-named member of the Black Panther party. Seberg, devastated, took an overdose of sleeping pills and lost the baby. She showed the stillborn body to the press, to prove that it was not mixed race.
She married and divorced, married and divorced. One of her husbands sold her Paris apartment out from under her and took the money to Spain to open a restaurant. Romain Gary insulted her and told the press he was going to teach this ignorant American girl all about real culture. Almost made me want to shred my “Brothers Karamazov”. You look at this guy’s washed out, oily face and you look at Seberg’s mesmerizing eyes and you think of Bob Dylan’s cryptic “The Man in the Long Black Coat”:
Gary abandoned her, after finding out she had cheated on him with Clint Eastwood.
Every year on the anniversary of her baby’s stillbirth, she tried to commit suicide, and finally succeeded in September, 1979, with barbiturates and alcohol.
There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way
But people don’t live or die people just float
She went with the man in the long black coat.
or “What’s a Sweetheart Like You Doing in a Dump Like This”.
In order to deal in this game,
got to make the queen disappear,
It’s done with a flick of the wrist.
What’s a sweetheart like you
doin’ in a dump like this?
Her body was found in the back seat of her car where it had rested for 11 days.
Apparently, nobody had missed her. That seems inconceivable, but I read it somewhere: her absence had not been noted.
Her husband, Romain Gary, whom she was divorcing at the time of the rumour of her inter-racial baby, committed suicide himself a year later.
Was he haunted?
The FBI admitted their role in Jean Seberg’s disintegration, and said they were very, very sorry, and it won’t happen again.
I read somewhere that J. Edgar Hoover discouraged the attack on Seberg. Then why didn’t he order it stopped?
I don’t know if it’s true or not that Hoover didn’t approve. It seems out of character for the voyeur-in-chief of the nation. He didn’t discourage spying on her or prying into the lives of people who held unpopular views– just this particular attack.
The entrancing mystery girl herself.
Everybody wants them but they don’t want themselves. They frequently suffer abuse and manipulation and frustration with men, and end up living alone. When they die, through suicide or neglect, the first thing you think is, if I had only been there, maybe I could have saved her.
In later interviews (see link in left column), Seberg looked as though she had had her fill of cheaters and liars and the disappointment of life. And that is saddest of all because the young Seberg was so full of cheerful embrace, ambition, and innocence.
More on the “ingenue” or “naif”.
The Other Jean Sebergs:
Chan Marshall (Cat Power)
Looks like One but Isn’t
The Not Jean Sebergs:
Why am I writing about this? I have no idea.
Jean Seberg blew me away in “Breathless” by Jean-Luc Godard, made in 1960. If you had watched nothing but American films until you saw “Breathless”, you would feel as though you had been eating meatballs all your life and someone has just brought you a thick, juicy, t-bone steak.
Just one example: Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) casually says to Patricia (Seberg), in inelegant translation, “I have slept with two girls since you. They weren’t very much.” This is the hero of the story.
Jean Seberg is incandescent, short-hair, bright, naive. She says she’ll see him tonight anyway. She isn’t sure why. She can’t figure out if she loves him or not. He says things about American girls. She says things about the French. She sits on the bed in her striped shirt and makes faces and he keeps asking her to let him sleep with her that night.
No American film of this era could stand this kind of adult interaction, or this kind of amorphous waltz of feeling and not feeling and sex and no sex and certainty or doubt. We are spoon-fed our Hollywood romances and we believe in singing nuns and virtuous prostitutes and that Meg Ryan could be a surgeon or not be a surgeon but she will never not be in love with the big lug, even if he is Nicholas Cage.
Have you seen “Breathless”? It’s a bizarre film. Very clumsy at times, but ridiculously unconventional, by Hollywood standards. Street scenes are filmed on the streets. There are long, rambling, disconnected conversations in hotel rooms. Dialogue is cut into a million pieces and then stitched together.
Mostly, there is Jean Seberg’s entrancing face. The film ends with her gazing into the camera, after committing an inexplicable betrayal, a beautiful, absorbing mystery.
[Incidentally, that technique, the actor staring directly into the camera, appears to have originated in the Bergman film, “Summer With Monika” (1953). It will not ever be as startling again.]
Video for “Africa” Unrelated gratuitous link to one of my songs