Juliette Gréco: Zanuck’s Parisian Muse

With her long, dark fringed hair, black turtle-necks and a cigarette always at hand, the legendary French torch singer Juliette Gréco embodied the beatnik ideal before the term was invented. As news of her death aged 93 broke yesterday, The Guardian noted her unlikely affair with Darryl F. Zanuck in its obituary.

“During the mid-1950s Gréco made many film appearances in France, while in Hollywood she was in The Sun Also Rises (1957), The Naked Earth (1958), The Roots of Heaven (1958) and Crack in the Mirror (1960). She had a long relationship with Zanuck: the cigar-smoking mogul and the moody chanteuse made an odd couple, and their partnership did not outlast Gréco’s Hollywood career, but after Zanuck’s death in 1979 Gréco wrote that he had left a void in her life that was never to be filled.”

Greco was one of Zanuck’s many muses – he had cast his Polish girlfriend, Bella Darvi, as Nefer in The Egyptian (1953), a role Marilyn had coveted. Darvi’s affair with Zanuck was stormy, and she cheated on him openly. Zanuck’s wife, Virgina Fox, finally lost patience and insisted that Darvi must leave Hollywood. Back in Europe, her addiction to drink, drugs and gambling escalated. She died by suicide in 1971.

The timing of the Zanuck/Gréco romance is interesting for Monroe fans. Throughout 1955, Zanuck had been involved in a legal battle with Marilyn after she walked out on the studio. On December 31st, the dispute was resolved and Marilyn returned to Fox in February 1956 to film Bus Stop. By then, Zanuck – who had first formed 20th Century Pictures with Joe Schenck in 1933 –  had made his own strike for freedom, leaving both Hollywood and his wife of thirty years behind to relaunch his career in Europe as an independent producer.

For Greco, unlike Darvi, those years with Zanuck were merely another thrilling episode in a fabled career. However, Greco did publish a ‘kiss-and-tell’ memoir of their affair in the French press, which Zanuck managed to quash.

In 1960, Marilyn co-starred with Gréco’s friend, the French-Italian singer Yves Montand, in Let’s Make Love. Zanuck would return to Fox in 1962 as the studio faced bankruptcy, and is said to have supported Marilyn’s reinstatement after she was fired from Something’s Got to Give.