On December 14, 2019, iconic French New Wave actress Anna Karina passed on at the age of 79. Her death was a blow to the film world, but it was also fitting that an actress who helped define 1960s left at the very end of another decade. From her vagabond beginnings to the heights of her stardom, here are 42 chic facts about Anna Karina.
Anna Karina Facts
1. The Great Dane
Though Anna Karina is now synonymous with French New Wave cinema, she was actually Danish by birth. She was born in Solbjerg, Denmark on September 22, 1940.
2. Power Couple
Karina’s most infamous and high-profile romance was with legendary French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. The spritely, captivating Karina acted as Godard’s muse and collaborator in films like Vivre sa Vie and A Woman Is a Woman. One publication even called them “one of the most celebrated pairings of the 1960s.”
3. By Any Other Name
Anna Karina is an undeniably stylish name—but it wasn’t her real one. Her birth name was Hanne Karin Bayer.
4. Little Girl Lost
Little Anna’s early life was an utter nightmare. The child of a humble dressmaker, Karina’s family was always on the brink of poverty. Even worse, her father abandoned the family just after Anna turned one year old. As a result, she spent most of her childhood either living with her grandparents or going in and out of foster care.
5. Mommy Issues
The rare times Anna Karina spent with her mother growing up were more heartbreaking than happy. She once described her childhood as “terribly wanting to be loved,” and her mother was often uncaring and distant. When their relationship wasn’t chilly, the mother-daughter pair spent their time having heated fights, and as a teenager, Karina often tried to run away from home.
6. Early Bloomer
Forced to fend for herself growing up, Karina began her entertainment career at a terrifyingly young age. She started performing in Danish cabarets when she was barely in her teen years and even nabbed a part in a prestigious Danish film at the age of 14.
7. French Exit
In 1958, everything changed for Karina. After yet another explosive fight with her mother about her second stepfather, she finally succeeded in running away from home—and she got pretty darn far. At the age of 17, she hitchhiked herself to Paris without any lodgings…and without being able to understand a word of French.
8. Down and out in Paris
For the first weeks Karina was in Paris, she was penniless and living on the streets.
9. Origin Story, But Make It Fashion
According to Anna Karina herself, none other than fashion icon Coco Chanel helped her come up with her stage name. The teenaged Anna was sitting in a chair having her makeup done for a fashion shoot when Chanel swanned in, asked her name, and told her to change it to “Anna Karina” before walking out. But it gets better.
At the time, Karina had no idea she was even talking to the Coco Chanel.
10. Mother Knows Best
Karina was only 21 years old when she snagged a part in her first feature film; the young girl had to awkwardly ask her estranged mother to co-sign her contract.
11. A Woman Is…Yep, a Woman
While filming her famed movie A Woman Is a Woman with Jean-Luc Godard, Karina found out she was pregnant with his child. When she told him, the director made a surprising demand. He immediately insisted that they marry, despite the fact that she was barely in her 20s and he was 10 years older than her. The couple wed on March 3, 1961.
12. Tragedy Strikes
Sadly, Karina’s pregnancy ended in heartache despite her quickie marriage. She miscarried the baby later that year.
13. Sisters Doing It for Themselves
Though she was one of the most iconic actresses of the 1960s, Karina also worked as a director, writer, and producer in her later career. She owned the production company Raska, and authored films like Vivre Ensemble and Victoria.
15. Style Icon
Karina was much more than a fashion plate. One critic described her as “The spirit of French New Wave,” and her berets, knee-high socks, and insouciant way of wearing clothes inspired countless girls around the world, even today.
15. 9 to 5
Though she was an incredibly natural actress who relied more on instinct for her films than rigorous training, Anna Karina did believe in hard work. Godard once famously told her that all actors should be working eight hours a day honing their craft, just like everyone else with a day job. Karina took it to heart—and the results are obvious.
16. Auteur and Author
Was there anything this woman didn’t do? Karina was also the author of four novels.
17. What, Like It’s Hard?
Karina’s first film ever—which was also her first film with Godard—was The Little Soldier, but the inexperienced actress still nailed her role with her natural charm. In one scene, a male character is supposedly asking her questions on camera. In reality, Godard just sat there off-camera needling her with queries, and she answered as herself. It made the final cut.
18. Mommie Dearest
When Anna Karina admitted she felt unloved as a child, she really meant it. Her mother reportedly told her constantly that she was an ugly girl, and criticized her big eyes and forehead. She was simply never happy with her daughter’s appearance; as Karina recalled, “She wanted me to look like Shirley Temple and as a child would try to curl my hair.”
19. Loud and Proud
Anna Karina often showcased her singing talents in her films, but she was also a bonafide radio star. In the late 1960s, she recorded hit songs like “Roller Girl.”
20. Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?
Anna Karina never seemed lucky in love. After breaking free of Godard in 1965, she was married three more times: to French actors Pierre Fabre and Daniel Duval and then to American director Dennis Berry. Though she clearly had a cinematic type, none of these unions ever stuck; they all ended in bitter divorces.
21. The Eye of the Beholder
Despite Jean-Luc Godard’s particular visions for his films, Karina wasn’t afraid to give her opinions liberally. After watching herself in Vivre sa Vie, a film about a down-and-out girl struggling to make ends meet, Karina complained that Godard made her look ugly.
Anna Karina may have started out in Paris not knowing French, but by the end of her life she was fluent in no less than five languages. Tres bien, Anna.
Despite being most famous for her cinematic work with Godard, Anna Karina did act in other films under different directors—and managed to cause scandal. Her turn as a rebellious nun in Jacques Rivette’s La Religieuse caused a deluge of outrage from the Catholic Church. And when I say “outrage,” I mean people really took it to the next level.
Not only was the film temporarily banned from theatrical release, but there was also a ban on mentioning the ban on French television.
24. New Girl on the Block
In 1961, Karina won the illustrious Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for her work in A Woman Is a Woman. Just in her 20s, she was the youngest actress to ever get the award at that point, a fact that Karina relished. As she once said, “Everybody was talking about me, and my mother was very proud.”
25. Paint Me Like One of Your French Girls
From a young age, Anna Karina was also a visual artist. She studied painting and dance in Denmark, and even made some money selling artworks at the time.
26. California Dreaming
Karina never fully made the leap into Hollywood, but she may have only missed LA stardom by a hair. In the early 1960s, Godard was planning a film with Hollywood legend Richard Burton and literary heavy-hitter William Faulkner that would have also included Karina. Sadly, Faulkner passed on in 1962, collapsing the project entirely.
27. Broadway Baby
The actress wasn’t just a muse to Jean-Luc Godard; Serge Gainsbourg also wrote Karina her very own musical, Anna, which is still a cult classic today.
28. Tale as Old as Time
Later in life, someone asked Anna Karina if she and Godard would ever make another film together. Her response was heartbreaking. She shook her head, laughed a little regrettably, and said, “I am the old story. L’histoire ancienne. But an old story can still be a good story, no?”
29. Drama Teacher
When she was still struggling to stay alive in her early Paris days, Anna Karina taught herself French by going to the movies.
30. A Gift From the God(ard)s
Though Anna Karina was Godard’s most influential muse, the term itself tends to erase all her own accomplishments after their relationship and collaborations. Karina, however, personally loved the term. In one interview she gave recently, she admitted, “How could I not be honored?… Jean-Luc gave me a gift to play all of those parts.”
31. Personal Pan Pizza
In Australia, there is a pizza place named for Karina’s film Bande a Part, complete with their very own “Anna Karina” pizza. Never one to turn down a compliment, Karina once made an appearance there, ordered her own pizza, and danced a routine from the film.
32. The Danish Patient
During her marriage to Godard and amid her multiple suicide attempts, Karina’s loved ones forced her into a mental institution against her will. Though by her own admission she was perfectly sane and only desperately unhappy, she was still terrified she would end up there forever. Luckily, a therapist helped secure her release.
33. Improv Pro
Anna Karina was famous for her dance routines on-screen, whether it was her iconic striptease in A Woman Is a Woman or the swing dancing in Vivre sa Vie. According to the actress, when she performed the famous dance in Vivre sa Vie, it was completely improvised, with Godard following her along fluidly with his camera.
34. You Know? I Like Me Better
At the tail-end of his career, Godard’s films became more and more experimental. Though they certainly have their niche, one person is no fan: Karina herself. In one interview, she simply shrugged and said, “I like the earlier ones better.” Well, since she’s in them, I’d certainly hope that’s the case!
35. So Fresh and So Mean
The actress actually turned down a part in Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Breathless. After seeing her in an ad where she posed in a bathtub, he offered her a role in the film that required nudity, thinking she’d be used to it from her commercial work. Offended, Karina flat-out said “nope.” Then she gave a fiery comeback.
She sniped, “Are you mad? I was wearing a bathing suit in those ads—the soapsuds went up to my neck. It was in your mind that I was undressed.”
36. Trouble in Paradise
Godard and Karina may have been the It Couple of the 1960s, but their relationship was doomed to an utterly heartbreaking end. They were deeply unhappy from the start, and as Karina later recalled, “I know he didn’t mean to hurt me, but he did…He drove me a bit crazy.” Sadly, things got a lot worse before they got better.
Reportedly, Karina was so unhappy that she tried to commit suicide twice during their short marriage. They ended up divorcing in 1965.
37. Working Girl
Anna Karina credits her work in Godard’s film Bande a Part with saving her life. During this period, she was deeply depressed from her miscarriage and the limitations of her marriage to the director. Just after she got out of the sanatorium, Godard came to her with the lead part in his film. As she recalled, “It was then that I came alive.”
38. The Silent Treatment
Karina and Godard continued to make films together after their divorce, but they were never on very good terms again. Late in her life, Karina even confessed that they didn’t speak to each other.
39. See You Never
Godard and Karina’s marriage was certainly no fairy tale, but the whole truth of the story is even more nightmarish. According to Karina, Godard would say he was going out for cigarettes and only return three weeks later, likely a horrific blow for a girl whose father abandoned her. Except that’s not even the worst part.
As she later noted, “At that time, as a woman, you didn’t have any checkbooks, you didn’t have any money.” As a result, she often had to spend the weeks he was away isolated in her apartment and nearly starving.
40. A Foreign Affair
As a cinematic genius, Godard wasn’t just a difficult husband—he could be downright street stupid. One time, he and Karina were traveling back to Denmark to visit her mother during Christmas, and Godard was scribbling down screenplay ideas throughout the entire plane ride. But when they landed and got to the customs agents, Karina made a horrific discovery.
In an act of sheer stupidity for such a supposedly smart man, Godard had ripped out an entire page of his passport in order to write down an idea. The agents refused him entry, and he had to fly right back to Paris, leaving Karina on her own.
41. Look at You Now
The discovery of “Anna Karina” the celebrity is the stuff of legend. One day, the gamine—and currently very homeless—girl was sitting at the iconic Parisian café Les Deux Magots when an advertising agent spotted her and asked her if she would pose for some photos. From these humble beginnings came lasting fame.
She soon started rubbing shoulders with fashion giants like Pierre Cardin and Coco Chanel, and posed for magazines like Elle.
42. A Stylish Goodbye
On December 14, 2019, Anna Karina died at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer. Showing just how much of a French icon she really was, it was the French culture minister who first announced her death.