‘L’Amour Fou’: Marilyn and Yves Montand

Marilyn’s adulterous affair with Yves Montand, her co-star in Let’s Make Love (1960), is featured in the latest issue of UK nostalgia mag Yours Retro (#32, with Steve McQueen on the cover.) It was quite a scandal at the time, with gossip columnists turning on Marilyn in favour of Yves’ wife, Simone Signoret – who had, ironically, just won an Oscar for her role as an unfaithful wife in Room at the Top, and never blamed Marilyn although it shattered their friendship. The affair also signalled the winding down of Marilyn’s four-year marriage to Arthur Miller, although they were still committed to filming The Misfits together.

Marilyn was not Yves’ first dalliance, nor would she be his last. Shirley MacLaine has written about their affair on the set of My Geisha (1962), yet this is now all but forgotten. Outside of France (where Montand is still an icon), Marilyn’s well-documented affair with Yves is routinely overlooked, while the largely unconfirmed speculation about her association with President John F. Kennedy has become the stuff of myth.

In fact, those who wish to understand Marilyn’s complex love life would be well advised to focus on Yves instead. While she had been involved with married men before – including Johnny Hyde, Elia Kazan, and even Arthur Miller – Marilyn never romanced her co-stars or directors, except for Yves Montand. She also had quite old-fashioned views about marital fidelity, although she couldn’t always live up to her own high standards. When she did cheat on her partners, it usually meant the marriage was in trouble already. Perhaps this is why Arthur, like Simone, didn’t seem to bear a grudge. For several months after Let’s Make Love wrapped and the Montands returned to France, Marilyn continued trying to rekindle the affair, without success.

While the Montands were thought of as more ‘sophisticated’ in their liberal views on fidelity – and their marriage would last until death, although some felt that Simone never recovered from her very public humiliation – Marilyn did not share this view. “I think this is all some part of [Simone’s] problem, and not mine,” she told Redbook magazine in 1962. Signoret shared her bittersweet memories of Marilyn in her autobiography, Nostalgia Isn’t What It Used To Be; and Yves later recounted the affair in his own autobiography, You See, I Haven’t Forgotten.

The seriousness of Marilyn’s feelings for Yves can be seen in a letter she wrote to her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, in 1961, when she had divorced Miller and was recuperating in hospital after a complete nervous breakdown. “From Yves I have heard nothing,” she admitted in a postscript, “but I don’t mind since I have such a strong, tender, wonderful memory.” She then added, “I am almost weeping…”