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Dubbed “the Ice Queen” for her severe Gallic beauty and frosty demeanor, Catherine Deneuve took an unusual path to film history. She adopted a stage name rather than benefit from her famous family. And while other European actresses flocked to Hollywood, she chose to stay at home and perfect her craft in France. It worked: since 1960, Deneuve has seldom spent more than a couple of months off set, appearing in more than 100 films, many of them cinema classics. An activist, singer, and designer, Deneuve maintains that same frantic schedule, even as she embarks on her eighth decade on screen. Here are 42 très belle facts about Catherine Deneuve.


1. The Family Business

Catherine Fabienne Dorléac was born in Paris in 1943. The daughter of two famous stage actors, Maurice Dorléac and Renée Simonot, Catherine adopted her mother’s maiden name, Deneuve, to distinguish herself when her own acting career began.

2. Two and a Half Sisters

Catherine Deneuve had two sisters, Françoise and Sylvie. A maternal half-sister, Danielle, was later adopted by Maurice Dorléac and took the family name.

3. The Twilight Zone

Catherine Deneuve made her onscreen debut as Catherine Dorléac in 1957’s The Twilight Girls. She was just 12 years old. Both Deneuve and her youngest sister, Sylvie, had minor parts in the film; Catherine’s character didn’t even have a name.

Catherine Deneuve FactsThe Twilight Girls, Audubon Films

4. What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Despite her early debut, Deneuve didn’t take another role, or even think about acting, until she was 17. Deneuve later admitted she took the role because school was out for the summer and she wanted to make some pocket money.

5. Putting the “Sis” in Assistant

Despite sharing her onscreen debut with Deneuve, Sylvie Dorléac never became an actress herself. Instead, she spent nearly 40 years working as Deneuve’s secretary.

6. Catherine’s Comeback

After a hiatus that lasted most of her teenage years, Deneuve began to seriously pursue acting in 1960. Her first post-hiatus role was as Catherine in Jacques-Gérard Cornu’s film Ladies Man. Deneuve played a number of small roles until 1963, when director Roger Vadim cast her as the lead in his film Vice and Virtue.

7. Frosted Tips

Vadim made another important contribution to Deneuve’s career: he recommended she dye her brunette hair blonde. Deneuve has remained a blonde ever since.

8. Wedlock Picker

Catherine Deneuve shared a three-year relationship with Vadim which produced a son. Christian Vadim entered the family business and became an actor in his own right. Many feel that Deneuve’s handling of the birth helped destigmatize unmarried motherhood in France.

9. Holy Smokes

Deneuve is a smoker. At the depths of her addiction, Deneuve was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. She even resorted to hypnotherapy to try and kick the habit, but it didn’t work. She has cut back, however, and has recently switched to e-cigarettes.

10. Deneuve’s Daughter

After her divorce from Bailey, Catherine Deneuve began a relationship with the Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. During that time, Deneuve gave birth to her second child, a girl. Like her half-brother, Christian Vadim, Chiara Mastroianni followed her famous parents into the movie industry.

11. A Little on the Nose

At the time of their daughter’s birth, Deneuve and Mastroianni were filming a movie together called A Slightly Pregnant Man.

12. Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella

After climbing toward lead-actress status in Roger Vadim’s films, Deneuve landed her breakthrough role in Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. An instant classic, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Palme D’or at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for five Academy Awards in 1965 and 1966.

13. Screen Time

Deneuve has enjoyed an acclaimed film career, but she has no desire to ever perform onstage—she suffers from stage fright.

14. Twinsanity

Deneuve and Françoise played twins in The Young Girls of Rochefort. In reality, Françoise was a year older than Deneuve. The roles were originally intended for Brigitte Bardot and Audrey Hepburn—two actresses who are distinctly not related.

15. Count #Me Out

Given her history of supporting left-wing political causes, Deneuve surprised many when she signed an open letter denouncing the #MeToo movement in 2018. The letter, signed by more than 100 French women working in the media and academia, and published in French newspaper Le Monde, decried the movement as a “witch hunt.”

Deneuve later apologized to victims of assault, though she maintained her endorsement of the letter.

16. Welcome to the Jungle

Now 75, Catherine Deneuve has not slowed down at all. She appeared in three movies in 2019—Farewell to the Night, The Truth, and Happy Birthday—and she’s hard at work filming another. Terrible Jungle is set for release in 2020.

17. Dr. No

In 1969, Deneuve was offered a role in a James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Deneuve had no interest in becoming a “Bond Girl” and turned down the role.

18. Je Prefere le France

Rather than going to Hollywood, Deneuve preferred to concentrate on her work in European cinema. In the 1960s and 70s, she appeared in only two American films: 1969’s The April Fools, a romantic comedy with Jack Lemon, and 1975’s Hustle, a police drama co-starring Burt Reynolds.

Catherine Deneuve FactsThe April Fools,Cinema Center Films

19. How A-Muse-Ing

Throughout the 60s, Deneuve served as the muse of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent. The designer provided Deneuve’s costumes for Belle de Jour, Mississippi Mermaid, and many other films.

20. Going, Going, Gone!

In 2019, Deneuve auctioned off part of her personal wardrobe of Saint Laurent pieces. The collection, 129 items in total, sold for more than $1 million.

21. Model Citizen

Deneuve has also modeled for MAC, L’Oreal, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel. Deneuve is credited with driving the popularity of Chanel’s No.5 perfume in the United States.

22. Box Office Busts

The USA has Lady Liberty, the UK has Britannia, and France has Marianne, a feminine personification of French history, culture, and society. Deneuve is so iconic that, throughout the 1980s, all official images—busts, statues, and portraits—of Marianne were modeled after her likeness. Deneuve asked that all royalties from the use of her image be donated to Amnesty International.

23. Read My Diary

Deneuve published a portion of her diaries in 2005. A l’ombre de moi-meme (“In My Shadow”) recounts Deneuve’s experiences filming Indochine and Dancer in the Dark.

24. For the Record

Deneuve released a record, Souviens-toi de m’moublier, with songs by French songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, in 1981. Since then she has recorded duets with Joe Cocker, Gerard Depardieu, and several others.

25. Creatures of the Night

In 1983, Deneuve made a rare appearance in an American film, playing a 6,000-year-old vampire in The Hunger. The film co-starred Susan Sarandon—with whom Deneuve shared a sex scene—and David Bowie, who later admitted he found it intimidating to be working with Deneuve.

26. She Loves Hugh

While working on The Hunger, Deneuve met cameraman Hugh Johnson. Deneuve and Johnson would share a two-year relationship before going their separate ways.

27. She Doesn’t Kiss and Tell

In an effort to keep her romantic life private, Deneuve has not publicly dated anyone since 1991, when she split from French media tycoon Pierre Lescure. Nonetheless, gossip columnists have linked her to songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, director Francois Truffaut, and American actors Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, and John Travolta.

28. Beyond the Academy

Despite nearly 60 years of near-continuous cinematic success, Deneuve has only ever been nominated for one Academy Award. She was nominated for Best Actress for her role in 1992’s Indochine, but lost to Emma Thompson.

29. Hail César

Deneuve has not had much success at the Oscars, but she has been nominated for 14 César Awards, the national film awards of France. Only Isabelle Huppert has more, with 16.

30. Fan Mail

Deneuve was so impressed with Lars von Trier’s 1996 film, Breaking the Waves, that she wrote him a letter begging for a part in his next movie. When von Trier made Dancer in the Dark four years later, he cast Deneuve as Cathy.

31. Social Justice Warrior

Deneuve has been active in a number of political causes. most notably the global fight to abolish the death penalty. She has supported Amnesty International, the Climate Project, and Reporters Without Borders, and was a signatory of the Manifesto of the 343. The manifesto, written by noted feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir, aimed to legalize abortion in France.

32. Stand by Your Manifesto

By adding her name to the Manifesto of the 343, Deneuve acknowledged that she, herself, had obtained an illegal abortion. The manifesto spurred public support toward the right to choose, and Deneuve was never prosecuted.

33. Thrown for a Curve

In 1995, Deneuve threatened to sue a San Francisco-based lesbian magazine for using her name. The matter was resolved out of court, and the former Deneuve magazine continues to publish under its new name, Curve.

34. A Woman of Many Talents

Deneuve, it turns out, is a real renaissance woman. In addition to her acting, and her singing, she also designs shoes, jewellery, perfume, and eyewear. She even has her own line of greeting cards.

35. Hi, Mom!

Deneuve joined an ensemble cast for the 2002 musical 8 Women. That cast included Danielle Darrieux as the mother of Deneuve’s character. It was the third time Darrieux and Deneuve played mother and daughter, having done so previously in The Young Girls of Rochefort and The Scene of the Crime.

36. Coming Home for Christmas

2008 marked the debut of Deneuve’s 100th film. The movie, a comedy called A Christmas Tale, co-stars Deneuve’s daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.

37. An Animated Performance

Deneuve and Mastroianni had previously shared the screen—sort of—in 2007 when they lent their voices to a film adaptation of the graphic novel Persepolis. Deneuve and Mastroianni played the mother and daughter protagonists in both the English and French versions of the film.

38. Two Young Girls

Deneuve’s elder sister, Françoise Dorléac, was an actor as well, appearing in films by Francois Truffaut and Roman Polanski. Deneuve and Dorléac even appeared together in the 1967 musical The Young Girls of Rochefort. Françoise may have gone on to even bigger cinematic success, had she not perished in a car accident shortly after the release of The Young Girls of Rochefort.

39. Alarm Belles

In 1967, Deneuve appeared as the lead in Belle de Jour. The film was a major critical success, and arguably features Deneuve’s most iconic role. Filming Belle de Jour was not an entirely positive experience for Deneuve, however. In a 2004 interview, Deneuve said the film made her feel “exposed in every sense of the word,” and that the film showed more of her body than she had been promised would appear on screen.

40. Welcome Back

Despite the negative experiences of filming Belle de Jour, Deneuve still admired director Luis Buñuel. The feeling was mutual. Buñuel offered Deneuve in his 1970 film, Tristana, which Deneuve readily accepted.

41. Just His Type

Alfred Hitchcock, famously fixated on blondes, had plans to cast Deneuve in his 1979 movie The Short Night. Sadly, filming had to be canceled when Hitchcock fell ill. Hitchcock never recovered, and The Short Night was never completed.

42. Wedding Photos

In 1965, Deneuve married British photographer David Bailey. They divorced in 1972, and while Deneuve did have a number of notable long-term relationships after, she never married again.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

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