When Dambier captured this debonair gentleman and his entourage, the name Yves was more popular than Frank and Elvis in some corners of the world, and a good Havana cigar was more than a smoke.
During the Cuban missile crisis, French singer-actor Yves Montand was bigger than the Beatles in Europe. And, while married to superstar Simone Signoret, his affair with actress Marilyn Monroe puts him between the sheets shared by that famous H. Upmann smoker, John F. Kennedy.
Montand was on the ground floor of the jet set, crooning and swooning his way through café society. Beyond Monroe, his much chronicled relationship with singer Edith Piaf assisted his takeoff to the next level.
Perhaps only images can provide clues as to why women are lured to international celebrities like Montand with his cigar. He didn’t go for the Jacques Fath or Saint Laurent-wearing beauties. His sex appeal was ready-to-wear, pret-a-porter. Off the rack.
In the pioneering days of television that appeal helped loosen social taboos. Actress Edie Adams puffed on the Vitola of comedian Ernie Kovacs while commie witch hunters Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn were demanding that the Army give Private Schine leave.
Different from the élan that drew Jackie Kennedy closer to shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, who was also in the tobacco business.
Dubbed “the French Frank Sinatra”, Montand had the élan and the savoir faire but his Hollywood stylepoints influenced French media moguls to model their stars after American idols.
Johnny Hallyday became the French Elvis. Brigitte Bardot the French Monroe. Prix Goncourt winner Romain Gary, who served as a French diplomat in Los Angeles, married left wing actress Jean Seberg. Cinema Verite shifted its focus to Sunset Boulevard and readers of Le Cahiers du Cinema flocked to the sleazy motels on the LA Strip.
While Sinatra starred in The Manchurian Candidate, Montand and his wife Simone Signoret were stone lefties, preaching the gospel of socialism to workers from the back of the same kind of Cadillac that Hank Williams used to drive. Then, after Paris exploded in 1968 and Sinatra was all mobbed up, Montand swapped the cigar girls for Catherine Deneuve, starring in the political thriller Choice of Arms.
With the collapse of the Evil Empire, Montand put socialism in the background, becoming the doyen of French actors, inspiring Gerard Depardieu and others who helped modernize the craft of acting.
He was a discreet man. Like actor Kirk Douglas, whose autobiography paid tribute to a rag picker. Montand never hid the fact that he came a long way from being Ivo Livi, the son of a socialist Italian broom maker. He didn’t die in the saddle, he died on the set. Through the eye of photographer Dambier you get the idea that maybe Yves Montand got lucky playing three on a match.
By Eric Ehrmann