Capucine was the French model-turned-actress who had one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers eating out of the palm of her hand. Her unparalleled beauty got her money, clothes, men, and fame—but it couldn’t get her the one thing she really wanted. Discover the sad history behind the comeliest woman to ever grace the silver screen.
1. She Had Humble Beginnings
Capucine was born Germaine Lefebvre in January 1928, in the south of France. Born into a wealthy family, little Germaine wanted for nothing, but that didn’t stop her from dreaming. The sleepy town of Saint-Raphael was too small for her. Growing up, she dreamed of an escape—and it wasn’t long before she found it.
2. She Had Big Dreams
From an early age, Capucine pined for a life bigger than the one she had. In her tiny town in the south of France, she grew up watching her favorite film stars such as Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman, and Katherine Hepburn. More than anything she wanted to be just like those glamorous stars she saw on the big screen in her little eyes.
But even for little rich girls, a life of stardom is no easy target.
3. She Set Her Sights On Hollywood
Capucine later recalled, “I had wanted to be a motion picture actress ever since I was a child in Toulon.” She knew that there was no hope of ever becoming a star if she stayed in rural France. But there was one big problem: Her domineering parents seemed determined to make sure that she never reached her full star potential—well, that is, if she even had any…
4. Her Parents Were Strict
Capucine’s parents were, by her own admission, “bourgeois.” To say that they had antiquated ideas about what their daughter could and couldn’t do would be putting it kindly. They strongly suggested that Capucine become a school teacher or work in a bank “adding figures all day long.” Respectful work for a young woman, in their view. Far better than something as base as acting. Capucine had no choice but to rebel.
5. She Was A Rebel
Capucine let her parents know, in no uncertain terms, that she had no interest in their plans for her. She said, “…I knew I wasn’t going to do anything they wanted me to do. I never obeyed the rules of childhood.” That was a start, but it wasn’t nearly enough. If Capucine wanted to be a Hollywood star, then she would need some help, even if it didn’t come from her parents.
6. She Had An Egg Face
Capucine would grow up to be one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the big screen. But she didn’t start out that way. In fact, she may have been an actual ugly duckling. Years later she lamented that she was “always the girl who came home with egg on the face.” But her bullies wouldn’t be laughing for much longer.
7. She Fled To Paris
When she turned 17, Capucine’s moment finally came. She fled her little provincial home and her overbearing parents and set her sights on Paris. The confident new beauty strutted into the offices of a newspaper and asked, eyes all aflutter, whether she’d be any good in front of the camera as a model. Needless to say, they couldn’t say no.
8. She Got Better With Age
Even at 17, the awkward, rebellious duckling that was Germaine Hélène Irène Lefebvre had grown into a beautiful swan. She had a “classically structured face, tall slim frame, and elegantly cool manner.” With her metamorphosis into a world-class beauty, Capucine knew that it was time to leave her humble beginnings behind.
But she’d soon learn that stardom wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
9. She “Blossomed” Into Capucine
When she moved to Paris, Capucine reinvented herself. “I was very deliberate in changing everything that pertained to my childhood,” she recalled. “I hated my real name. In France, it’s as common as Gladys.” She changed her name to Capucine, the French word for her favorite flower. She even claimed to be younger than she was.
Capucine didn’t want to be just another girl—she wanted to be a star.
10. She Had Model Friends
Capucine’s modeling career didn’t pay much at first, but she wasn’t going to ask her father for any help. To make ends meet, Capucine took up a job as an emcee on a cruise ship, introducing the performers. It was around this time that she met lifelong friends Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn. It might have seemed like she was floundering, but Hollywood was closer than she knew.
11. She Was A Globe-Trotter
Capucine’s modeling career took off after that when high-end couturiers Dior and Givenchy took note of her impeccable beauty. She traveled the world as a model, working in Buenos Aires, Vienna, Athens, Rome, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and even Madagascar. But not Hollywood. If she was going to make it there, she would need more than looks.
12. She Learned His Lessons
Capucine took acting lessons in Paris while she continued modeling, hoping that “fashion modeling might lead me to Hollywood.” Unfortunately, Capucine must not have been all that good. All she got for her efforts was a few uncredited bit parts in French productions. But true stardom was just over the horizon. Literally.
13. She Hopped Across The Pond
Capucine realized that Hollywood wasn’t going to come to her. So, she went to Hollywood. Capucine arrived in New York and, with only a few contacts and a little money, managed to continue her modeling career. She was definitely closer to Hollywood than she had ever been. She just needed an “in”—and some luck.
With her dream in sight, Capucine could barely contain her excitement—but she should have been careful what she wished for.
14. She Got The Eye Of A Big-Wig
Talent agent and film producer Charles K. Feldman spotted Capucine while she was modeling in New York. He knew instantly that he could make a star out of her. Either that or he just really liked her. He immediately signed her and brought her over to Hollywood, where she always wanted to be. There was just one little problem.
15. She Couldn’t Speak English
Capucine had studied foreign languages at a school in France. Just not, apparently, English. As educated and worldly as the French beauty was, she didn’t speak a word of English. Seeing as though silent films had long since gone the way of the dodo, it was kind of a big deal. But she was determined to act in English-language films—and she had one big advantage in her corner.
16. She Had The Potential
Despite the language barrier, Feldman thought that Capucine would be great in films—as long as she didn’t open her mouth. He believed that her good looks would attract the attention of Hollywood’s other movers and shakers. More importantly, he believed that she could put butts in seats at theaters. And he was right about that.
17. She Passed The Test
Feldman arranged a screen test for Capucine with film director Gregory Ratoff. For obvious reasons, it was a silent screen test. But Capucine didn’t need to open her mouth to move audiences. In fact, it was probably better if she never spoke at all. Impressed, Ratoff agreed to give her English-language lessons and acting advice.
18. Her Name Was Good Enough
Now that she was on her way to true stardom, but producers had one note: People might find it strange that she only had one name. This was long before people like Prince and Madonna, and studios worried that “Capucine” might just be a little too strange for American audiences to stomach. Capucine, however, stayed firm, responding, “Two names are interesting and I hope one is interesting.”
Well, “interesting” is one word we’d use for Capucine before all was said and done.
19. She Waited For The Right Moment
On the advice of her “agent,” Feldman, Capucine turned down a number of small roles as she continued to learn English. Though she may have wanted to get started, Feldman had a good point: If she wanted to be a star, she should arrive fully formed. She kept practicing until she thought she was ready—and finally, her patience paid off.
20. She Finally Got Her Big Break
Finally, the right role presented itself to Capucine. The virtually unknown and untested actress beat out one hundred other hopeful actresses for the role of Princess Carolyne in 1960’s Song Without End. It might not have been her burgeoning acting talents or improving language skills that landed her the role, however. Turns out, Capucine’s greatest asset was something you can’t teach.
21. She Was A Real Princess
Song Without End’s producer, William Goetz, later revealed the reason that the amateur actress landed such a massive role. He said, “You can teach a girl to act, but nobody can teach her how to look like a princess. You’ve got to start with a girl who looks like a princess.” Goetz would only turn out to be half right about that.
22. Her Audience Eagerly Awaited
The excitement around the film and this mysterious mononymic French actress was palpable. The newspapers claimed that Hollywood had found their new Ingrid Bergman or Greta Garbo. On set, however, Capucine received treatment that was not befitting a princess at all. As soon as she got it, her lifelong dream turned into a nightmare.
23. She Was A Little “Shaken Up”
In the middle of Capucine’s first Hollywood production, Song Without End, the film’s director, Charles Vidor, passed suddenly of a heart attack. But there was no love lost. Throughout filming, Vidor repeatedly yelled at Capucine to calm down and, at one point, “shook her like a [lifeless] cat.” And compared to the critics, that was kind treatment…
24. She Sounded A Little Off
Charles Vidor’s frustration with Capucine might not have been totally without reason. Capucine herself once said, “…there is nothing more hollow-sounding than a foreign actress mouthing her words phonetically with only a vague sense of what she is saying.” Once the film hit theaters, the critics would have agreed with her.
25. Her Critics Were…Critical
Capucine finished Song Without End with a new director, the famed George Cukor. Thankfully, Cukor didn’t berate her or shake her around like a ragdoll. But…maybe Charles Vidor had been on to something. Critics gave Capucine’s Hollywood debut a less than warm welcome. “I got ripped to pieces by the critics,” she later confessed.
Ok, so being a star wasn’t what she hoped it would be—but Capucine wasn’t giving up that easily.
26. She Was Cold As Ice
If Capucine’s acting abilities—or lack thereof—didn’t impress the critics, they also didn’t hold her back. Much as Feldman had anticipated, Capucine’s good looks more than paved the way for her box office appeal. Reviewers frequently commented on her “glacial” good looks with one writing that she was “as cold and remote as an icicle.” Thanks, I guess?
27. She Made Love To The Camera
Capucine’s approach to acting might help explain why she was no good at it. In a 1960 interview, she said, “I think of [the camera] as an attractive man I am meeting for the first time[…]I find him demanding and aloof, so I must do all I can to interest him.” Well, it must have interested someone, because she received a Golden Globe nomination for Song Without End despite the critical lambasting.
At least, the role gave her a foothold. She was now a working actress in Hollywood—but if she expected to be treated like Greta Garbo, she was in for a rude awakening.
28. She Was A “Working Gal”
Capucine’s next film was North to Alaska, in which she portrayed a working girl. If you think that seems like a strange choice, you’re not alone. Director Richard Fleischer insisted that the regal beauty was all wrong for the risqué role. However, Feldman, who was producing the film, put her in anyway and gave Fleischer the boot.
His unwavering loyalty to Capucine seemed suspicious to the cast and crew. It sure seemed like something shady was going on…
29. She Got Better…Kinda
To everyone’s surprise—maybe even her own and Feldman’s—Capucine pulled off the role with aplomb. She said, “I got much better as we went on. As the scenes warmed up, so did I.” There may be a scandalous reason she did so well: She had experience seducing men foe profit.
30. She Had Friends In High Places
Feldman’s obsession with getting Capucine roles and award nominations despite her lack of talent seemed…odd, to say the least. That is, until everyone learned that Capucine was Feldman’s “live in protégé,” i.e., his supermodel girlfriend. Capucine wanted to be a star, and she’d do anything to get it. So while it’s not clear whether Capucine actually loved Feldman, she definitely milked him for all she could.
But how far could this controversial relationship take her?
31. She Took A Walk on the Wild Side
Capucine briefly returned to France before taking on a starring role in another Feldman-produced film, 1962’s Walk on the Wild Side. Once again, she found herself portraying a reformed “working woman.” This movie wouldn’t be a walk in the park, though: Even though she had Feldman eating out of the palm of her hand, not all of her fellow cast and crew members were so easily hen-pecked.
32. Her Co-Stars Didn’t Like Her
Being a Hollywood producer’s girlfriend came with its perks and Capucine used them to the fullest. Her Walk on the Wild Side co-star, Laurence Harvey, complained during the making of the film that Feldman cut away at his role so that Capucine could get more screen time. In all fairness, she was easier on the eyes. But harder on the heart.
33. She Wasn’t Woman Enough
Capucine objected to a love scene between herself and Harvey on the set of Walk on the Wild Side. Her reasoning was just plain cruel. She complained that Harvey wasn’t “man enough” for her. Harvey responded in kind by saying, “Perhaps if you were more of a woman, I would be more of a man. Honey, kissing you is like kissing the side of a beer bottle.” Maybe a premium lager, at least?
34. She Was A Drag
Feldman was practically obsessed with Capucine. He called her “Cappy” and treated her like she was his own little doll. He insisted that she wear nothing but the latest couture on the set of Walk on the Wild Side, even though it was a period piece. Once again, her wooden performance stood out and dampened the film’s success.
Capucine’s lack of talent was officially becoming a problem—then things took a turn for the worse.
35. Her Lover Pawned Her Off
Facing pressure, Feldman knew that he couldn’t support Capucine throughout her entire career. Not unless she learned how to act—and that didn’t seem very likely. So, he pawned her off on his friend, famous actor William Holden, for the 1962 film The Lion. What Feldman didn’t realize was: He was going to lose Capucine for good.
36. She Caused A Row
Capucine and Holden traveled to Kenya to film The Lion. Everything seemed to be going fine—until the claws came out. Out of the blue, Holden’s wife appeared on set and the couple broke out into a heated argument, right in front of everyone. The cast and crew suspected that they knew the reason for the lovers’ spat—and she had one name.
37. She Was Just An Ornament
Holden’s wife suspected that her husband had succumbed to the charms of the icy beauty, Capucine. And she was right. For his part, Holden regretted the whole thing and ultimately apologized to Feldman for stealing Capucine away. The worst part of it all was that, despite throwing his life away for her, he didn’t even seem to like her that much. He said, “She’s so marvelously ornamental—when her mouth is shut.” Ouch.
38. She Broke Hearts
Feldman forgave Holden for his fling with Capucine, but he couldn’t quite forgive his prized French beauty. One source said, “that’s what broke up her romance with Charlie [Feldman]. Otherwise, he probably would have stayed with her.” But while the spark had gone out, Feldman apparently still thought he had a star on his hands. He kept putting Capucine in movies.
It was only a matter of time before something worked.
39. She Got Burned
Capucine’s next big film was the one that made her a household name—and also landed her in hot water. No, actually. It landed her hot water. In a bath scene in 1963’s The Pink Panther, Capucine and co-star Robert Wagner burned their skin with an industrial-grade foaming agent mishap. I doubt that’s what she pictured when she dreamed of life as a movie star. Thankfully, the damage wasn’t permanent.
40. She A Hold On Holden
Capucine, Feldman, and Holden’s awkward love triangle continued on the set of 1964’s The 7th Dawn. At first, Holden objected to having Capucine on set. He probably didn’t want to risk sparking another embarrassing fight with his wife. But Feldman, ever loyal to Capucine, got his former flame the role she wanted anyway. However, he wouldn’t be around to look out for her forever.
A new tragedy was right around the corner.
41. Her Lover Didn’t Make It
Feldman was the whole reason that Capucine kept landing great roles. Without him, all she had was her looks. But, in May of 1968, her luck finally ran out. Or, more specifically, Feldman’s pancreas did. Feldman passed away of pancreatic cancer, leaving Capucine to fend for herself. Then, as she was still reeling, her career took a serious nose dive.
42. She Was Too Late
Capucine’s stunning good lucks managed to get her a role in 1969’s Fellini Satyricon. The famous director, Federico Fellini, said of Capucine that “she had a face to launch a thousand ships…but she was born too late.” That’s about all the admiration he had for her however. Allegedly, she was impossible to work with. Turns out, looks only get you so far—and Capucine was nearing the end of her rope.
43. She Was Type-Cast
Capucine wanted more challenging roles as an actress but, with Feldman gone, there was no chance of that happening. She said, “The directors know I was a model, it is obvious that they can’t see me as anything else.” She hoped that maybe someone would still cast her based on her looks, giving her a chance to prove herself.
However, even for the most beautiful actresses, Hollywood can still be a cruel place.
44. She Looked Like A Horse
Capucine tried making more European films, but even that proved impossible for her. One director, Luchino Visconti, remarked, “She has a horrible voice and too many teeth. She looks like a horse, a beautiful horse, I know that, I was a trainer. I know all about horses, but I don’t want a horse.” Now that’s just downright harsh.
45. Her Marriage Was A Disaster
Capucine may actually have loved Feldman—or Holden, it’s not clear—but she only ever married one man. Back in 1950, before her Hollywood days, she had gotten married to her Rendez-vous co-star Pierre Trabaud, a French actor. The marriage only lasted eight months and Capucine never, ever married again. Perhaps for good reason.
46. She May Have Been Hiding A Big Secret
Maybe it was her icy good looks or her cool detachment, but Capucine was a mystery to many people. Sometime late in her career, unsubstantiated rumors began circulating about Capucine. Allegedly, the frosty beauty had come out as a lesbian. There’s no evidence to support that claim—and a Hollywood producer with a broken heart to the contrary.
47. She Took What She Could Get
Without the support of a wealthy and powerful producer, Capucine retired from Hollywood. She moved to Switzerland and took on any roles she could get. They were mostly small roles in French and Italian films and didn’t bring her the glamor that she had pined for as a little girl. But if audiences had forgotten her, her lovers never did.
48. Her Lovers Looked After Her
Decades after their cringe-worthy love triangle collapsed, Capucine still had a place in Feldman and Holden’s hearts. After their respective passings, Capucine inherited large sums of money from both of her former lovers’ estates. It wasn’t the love that she had wanted, but it was a sign that, awkward as their love triangle was, they still loved her in a way.
However, no amount of money could save her now.
49. She Was A Falling Star
After her retirement from filmmaking, Capucine became a recluse. According to her neighbors, she rarely left her Lausanne apartment. Her three cats kept her company, and she spent most of her days reading. The world eventually forgot about Capucine—until the day of her tragic end. In March of 1990, Capucine leaped from her apartment balcony to her demise.
She was 62 at the time. Talk about a falling star.
50. Her Looks Overshadowed Everything Else
Capucine’s beauty took her from the provinces of France to the heights of Hollywood. But, pretty as she was, she was never the screen legend she wanted to be. Ironically, her beauty as much the reason for success as it was the cause of her undoing. She lamented, “Men look at me like I’m a suspicious-looking trunk, and they’re customs agents.”