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Jean Seberg
1/4/58

Film star Jean Seberg, whose first film, Saint Joan, was panned by the critics, talks to Wallace about her new film, Bonjour Tristesse, critics, acting in Hollywood, and private life.

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THE MIKE WALLACE INTERVIEW
Guest: Jean Seberg
1/4/58

WALLACE: Good evening… tonight we go after the story of a girl who personifies an American dream, the dream of sudden money, sudden glamour and sudden fame as a motion picture star. Our guest is nineteen-year-old Jean Seberg who was an Iowa schoolgirl before she was chosen in a talent contest just a year ago to star in her first film Saint Joan. Both she and the film were panned by the critics. Now she's taking her career on a controversial new film “Bonjour Tristesse" If you want to know how a film star is made, what she thinks of herself and her work, and if you're curious to know what fame has done to her, we'll try to get some answers from Jean Seberg. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.

(OPENING CREDITS)

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: And now to our story... Jean Seberg was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, population approximately twenty-three thousand. Today she stands on the threshold of a motion picture career that could make her an idol of millions, but Miss Seberg's Cinderella story is more than just grist for the movie magazines. It says something about America's dreams and values. Let's try to find out what? Jean, first of all, let me ask you this, last spring after a deluge of publicity, you were hailed as a bright new star and then after your picture, Saint Joan was released, you were roundly panned by the critics in your very first film. You wait now for your second film “Bonjour Tristesse,” to be released around the country and a lot rides on it for you, obvious question, how does it feel?

SEBERG: Naturally I want people to like the film. It would be abnormal if I didn't. It opens now the fifteenth of this month which popped up soon so I don't have that much more time to worry but I think after the last one, I realize that the fun of doing a film actually is in doing the film and even with Saint Joan which was a terrible flop, certainly I -- I think I learned a lot and I'm not sorry for it and although probably more does ride on this film in the sense of my career and--and the future roles I might play. It's also a -- a part of a girl I feel I can identify more with and I feel that I was a bit more relaxed in my work this time and I hope people will think it made a difference.

WALLACE: Did the notices really for Saint Joan did the notices really beat you up pretty badly inside?

SEBERG: At the time they did, yes because it happened under rather unfortunate circumstances. I was all alone in Nice, I'd gone there on vacation Nice, on the Riviera, and rented an apartment and a car and I didn't know anybody who spoke English except Melaine de Mongeau, who was in “Bonjour Tristesse” with us -- who was working there so when the offices in London and in New York sent me the criticisms of the thing, it was pretty crushing because there was no one to laugh it off with and say "who cares" or "you tried hard" et cetera so in a way, I suppose I did take it quite hard.

WALLACE: Suppose the critics were to pan you as badly once again, what would you do? Now really, what would you do -- have you thought about it?

SEBERG: Not really too much because I I think if they did it again, it wouldn't hurt quite as much because I'd have been prepared for it. It's always hard when anybody in any field, not only acting, works terribly hard on something and everyone does and everyone's very excited about it and there's enthusiasm on the set and everyone remarks about it and has great hopes for it, it's disappointing always when it's a failure in the same way that if your television rating goes down, it's disappointing but uh --I don't think it will up-set me quite as much if it does happen, probably

WALLACE: Could you...

SEBERG: ...I'll study.

WALLACE: Probably you'd study, you say and try again?

SEBERG: Uhmmmm I think so.

WALLACE: Could you conceivably shrug your shoulders and say to yourself, well, it was fun while it lasted and you pack up your bags and go back to Marshalltown, Iowa?

SEBERG: I don't think so.

WALLACE: You don't think you could?

SEBERG: No, because it would be especially hard to go back if I went back admitting to myself that I'd failed. That's probably possibly a silly sort of pride but it's true.

WALLACE: Perhaps I sense this, Jean, gets to the major reason that we wanted to talk with you tonight because you actually are living the life so many young people in America dream about, fame, money, glamour, travel and all under the aegis of Hollywood. Most youngsters dream about it, few of them really do anything about it but you did, do you know why? What moved you to try so hard to get that part in “Saint Joan”?

SEBERG: I really don't know that -- the actual part in Saint Joan came about by accident when my high school teacher, Carol Hoton sent my name in but, before that I was somehow always interested in acting, I was to begin with the family show-off and then when I was twelve, I saw Brando in his first film "The Men" in which he played a paraplegic and for some reason, maybe the timing was right I -- it had a -- a very great affect on me and made me more interested in acting and at that time in in stage acting.

WALLACE: You wanted to be an actress but was there something that you didn't want, for instance, last April McCalls' Magazine quoted you as saying this about your hometown of Marshalltown. You said "I've never felt as if I belonged there, I'd look at all the people in this town who just get up in the morning and go to work and go home to bed and I'd think, if that's all there is to life, I don't want it...Now surely there's more to that kind of life than you said and it's led by nearly a hundred and seventy million Americans, Jean. What's wrong with that kind of life that you wanted to leave it?

SEBERG: Since I said that and by traveling and by certainly seeing a different life, I have realized that there is more to it because now for the first time, I am settled in a place of my own where I'm getting up and going out and studying and coming home at night and going to bed just as they are. At the time I said it, I was tremendously excited about what was happening and convinced I didn't even realize I couldn't conceive that all the people in show business actually do the same thing in their work although, perhaps, they go to bed during the day and get up at night to do their work. Uh -- I think probably what I might have meant by that was that for me personally what I wanted couldn't be found in Marshalltown and not in Marshalltown, which is a wonderful town, but any small town or or any town of that size because I wanted more than anything to act and certainly the opportunities for acting are greater in New York than in Marshalltown.

WALLACE: But could it be that you were fooled by the phony glamour that oozes out of fan magazines

SEBERG: Yes.

WALLACE: .....and some of Hollywood films

SEBERG: Uh Oh yes.

WALLACE: I'm told that they were your chief interests.

SEBERG: Oh they were, yes. I used to work in my father's drug store and I actually was fired (LAUGHS) by him because I spent all my time off in corners reading movie magazines and at that time I believed everything they said and now I discovered that many things which you say and which other people say are exaggerated or are sometimes even misinterpreted but, I'm sure I was attracted by the glamour of it and certainly until I got in it, I didn't realize that it's tremendously hard work and that seems very glamorous when you see it for a an unusual example, an actress in a a mink coat or something and posing very beautifully with a her leg sticking out or something, she spent hours under hot lights and with a hair dresser and with a make-up man, getting ready for this photograph and even trying to look glamorous and trying to appear relaxed is in a way work too.

WALLACE: But there's more to it than just phony glamour too, isn't there, Jean.

SEBERG: Oh much more, yes.

WALLACE: Let me quote to you from Max Lerner's book "America As A Civilization" . He says this, he says "To create what it does, Hollywood has to draw young people, often of unstable temperment, from all over the world. It plunges them into exacting work", which you've been talking about, "surrounds them with a sensuous life and cuts them off from the normal sources of living". One of these very people, Marlon Brando, whom I know you admire, has said this, he said "Most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings". Aren't you the least bit afraid of being tainted that way yourself, Jean?

SEBERG: A little bit because when you are surrounded constantly as you are in this business, suddenly you are a celebrity, or at least a name and if you go into a restaurant, people look at you and if you even go to a private party, people watch you in a -- in a special way and you're constantly a center of attention and usually are not usually but often the center of fawning attention and actually this is involved with your work and if you take it terribly seriously and let it carry over into your life, I think you're really finished.

WALLACE: And what about the people whom you know, whom you've met in the film industry, the stars and I'm not asking for any names at all. Marlon Brando says most of the successful people in Hollywood are failures as human beings. Have you found that honestly to be true at all? Or are your values sufficiently well-grounded in Marshalltown Iowa, to know the difference between good and bad values.

SEBERG: I don't know, by saying I think I know what good values are would sound pretty pretentious, but I -- I'm certainly no judge of people however in the first place I haven't met that many people in films... I've only been Hollywood four days in my life and this is the first time I've been in New York a period of time, but from the people I've worked with I--I haven't come away with that impression and Deborah Kerr for example is -the -probably the first-class example right now of a wonderful woman who has made a success of herself and David Niven is a - charming man whom everyone likes very much, who has done the same thing. I don't think I have met any more failures than I have in any other business, because they're in this business, because some of the values are different -- the values depend perhaps on success, perhaps on money, perhaps on one certain performance or another - perhaps sometimes they're a little twisted and therefore, people become very insecure about themselves personally, but I -- I've had quite good luck.

WALLACE: Jean tell me this if you had it to do over again sounds so silly, because you've only been in it a year, but you were made; you are a synthetic star..

SEBERG: Yes.

WALLACE: You have no real professional background; you are a pretty girl, but not the prettiest girl in the world. Otto Preminger found you and in a sense played God with you, and the first one you came a cropper, and the second one you're sitting here waiting. If you had it to do again would you rather learn your job first, and become a star, or become a celebrity second, or would you be perfectly content to do it the quick and the easy way that you've done it.

SEBERG: Well, first I'll disagree with you if I may because

WALLACE: Surely

SEBERG: Certainly it hasn't been an easy way for me, because in a sense I've been taking my acting lessons in the most public possible way, because having no professional experience before I made all the mistakes, which ordinarily when you perhaps play a small part in graduating to larger parts on the stage, or the screen you make, but no one notices until you gain assurance. I don't think it's been easy, however, I would have welcomed the opportunity to study, I went to college six days before this happened and planned to come on to New York and study. Certainly I'm not sorry it happened, because it might never have happened at all if things had gone according to my own plans.

WALLACE: Do you feel as though you belong to yourself? Do you feel as though you deserve what you've been getting?

SEBERG: Well, I think I've been getting both wonderful things and certainly there have been a lot of them. I love traveling and I really enjoy the work and I've worked with very nice people, and I've been getting some bad things in the in the way of press bumps, which you get used to but probably I deserve it as far as my work goes certainly they -- I have a -- trusted the judgment of critics on any number of other things and there is no reason why I should distrust them after the take a crack at me.

WALLACE: Jean, you told our reporter earlier this week-- "You said I admire Hollywood Rebels, like Marlon Brando and James Dean, they try to protect those things which made them individuals, they fight conformity." What do you mean by conformity and what do you do to fight conformity?

SEBERG: I think maybe not fighting conformity, maybe I didn't use the right word, but rather than fighting something, they're trying to preserve something I think, which was basically what they were and which was what made them on the screen the personality which made both adults and teen-agers like them and identify with them, and it's terribly easy to become ah a synthetics version of yourself. I have to watch myself all the time, because suddenly, very superficial phony things start coming out of your mouth and as long as you know they're phony or superficial then that's all right, but when you stop knowing then a I think as an actress too, you're in a very bad condition, because the only thing you have which is going to appeal to people, which is going to make them believe you is -- if you are a person above all.

WALLACE: Well, you in this regard, again with our reporter earlier this week, you said that in order to protect yourself from the pressures and the demands around you --you had to adopt not only a public face, but a public private face as well. What did you mean by a public private face?

SEBERG: I think that's true, in the sense that I think you have to guard some little things for yourself and for the people who are closest to you and who mean a great deal to you. Certainly you have a - a - private face for the public to the extent that you are married or unmarried, you have so many children, you live in a house or an apartment, you have a dog, but to the extent of what your dreams are and what your hopes, I think you should keep that for people who mean a great deal to you, because, this is something at least which I found out, maybe other actresses or actors will not agree with me. When you tell something which is very important to you -- something you really want to do and then you see it in print or you hear it afterwards on a transcript

SEBERG: it --ah - it doesn't mean as much anymore somehow, you've lost some of the hope of it because suddenly it's become a terribly public thing rather than a little secret thing for yourself.

WALLACE: What are you showing us tonight. The Jean Seberg that is talking here tonight is this a contrived public private Jean Seberg.

SEBERG: Not really. To the extent that - I'm not telling you a if I have a fellow or who my best friends are or where I like to eat. Probably it is yes...but to the extent that I am trying to tell you what I think really, I don't think it is.

WALLACE: We spoke a few days ago with your co-stars in Bonjour Tristesee, David Niven and Deborah Kerr, whom you mentioned and both of them said just about the same thing, about you, that you're wonderful and a talented girl, but that with this burst of tremendous publicity you've had to leap into a high and a very vulnerable position, vulnerable to criticism to self-doubts, to the stresses of your job, because you're so young and have so little background. Maybe we've answered this already, I'm not sure, --ah - you tell me if we have. What does that do to a girl, how have you changed, in the last twelve or fifteen months, Jean.

SEBERG: I don't know exactly how I've changed, because I've been so busy. I'm afraid I haven't had as much time as even I should for self-analysis. I'm sure I have changed. I mentioned one way in which you have to watch yourself by being superficial or by becoming extremely egotistical, because you're constantly the center of attention. I think if anything probably I've become more quiet, because when I was working I was alone almost all the time,-the working day, and then I'd go to my room and then I'd eat my dinner and then I'd go to bed and so I started reading more and listening to records and in that way I feel that that's not a bad thing. I feel in that way I've grown and in the way I think you have to watch yourself all the time. It's a difficult question to answer.

WALLACE: Jean possibly in your public life you belong... to this category I'm going to talk about next. I quote from the sociologist C. Wright Mills, He writes as follows: He says among those whom American honor, none is so prominent as the young girl. Everywhere one looks there is this glossy little animal. She sells beer and clothes; every night she's on the TV* screen and at the movies there she is too. Why do you think that - ah we Americans are so fascinated with the Natalie Woods and the Elizabeth Taylors and the Jean Sebergs??

SEBERG: Oh, I think ah -- this is something which I really don't know -- I would guess that it is because first of all they are young, and to people of all ages they would represent what they can be in some way even to a lady of sixty-five -- maybe there is something in Natalie Wood or someone else which she finds -- and maybe she was like that when she was a girl and maybe there is something -- maybe she has a niece like that or daughter and I think it's basically just identification and also, because humanly they're like a new-born baby in an advertisement --they're at least supposedly -- and for the public fresh and alive,

WALLACE: What have you got what have you got in your heads and your hearts to admire, or shouldn't we bother about that kind of thing when we look at pretty, young American girls.

SEBERG: Well, I think if you're going to let them influence your life if -for example ah ah --a cult builds up around a young actor or young actress, and I think it is important. But I certainly think like anyone else basically everyone is different and what they have in their heads and their hearts is something which only as individuals they can tell you and the few I've met I've not met many. I don't know very many young actresses have had pretty good things in their heads and their hearts.

WALLACE: Isn't it too bad though, that we or is it too bad that we Americans almost do form ourselves into cults worshipping young actors young actresses --that we are in a sense taken in by this surface and slick attractiveness "

SEBERG: Maybe you're taken in by it or maybe and I think where the real cults are formed there is something in that person or at least in the performance they give which is really the influential thing. There is something which strikes true and which is why people identify with them. There is something in their role or in themselves when they play that role which is something which someone can say I know this or I've experienced this or I understand it, and I can't believe that people can in the first place give these very true emotions unless they've experienced themself in the same way that a-- people watching won’t identify with them, unless they experienced them and won't become so influenced by it.

WALLACE: In a moment Jean, I'd like to ask you about your picture Bonjour Tristesse, which is going to be released around the country in a couple of weeks. It's the story ofen a moral French schoolgirl who drinks too much, sleeps too little, and probably knows too much about life for a seventeen-year-old. The director of the film Otto Preminger, told us this. He said this girl is characteristic of the wishful thinking of many young people of our generation. In a moment I'd like you to tell me what you think about that commentary upon your generation. We'll get the answer to that question in just sixty seconds.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: All right Jean. In “Bonjour Tristesse” you play a seventeen-year-old who drinks too much, winks at the immorality of her own father and she herself has a love affair. The director of the film Otto Preminger says this girl is characteristic of the wishful thinking of the many young people of our generation--of your generation. What do you think?

SEBERG: I don't think it's the winking at immorality, or possibly a little bit, or the drinking so much, or possibly having the love affair, which is what makes her characteristic of wishful thinking -- I think it's because this girl is first of all what we would consider a modern girl. But mainly because everything that she experiences in the book young girls go through. There's always a period when a girl admires an older woman who is very chic and dresses beautifully, such as Ann who is played by Deborah Kerr, in “Bonjour Tristesse” -- there's a period that when I think sociologically they say there is anyway when every young girl has a crush on her father -- usually girls outgrow it, but in this case, the girl's mother died, so she never did;--all she had was her father, and I think girls go through periods of jealousy, in which they want terribly to protect the things they have and they love and if a girl is going to lose the only thing she loves, which is her father, she's going to fight for him and I think it's admirable and

WALLACE: But aren't you over simplifying really just a little bit Jean. I think that you'll agree that Cecile the girl in “Bonjour Tristesse” carries all of these things that you've been talking about to an extreme.

SEBERG: Yes. And also not only that -- but she does them, these are things young girls basically think about doing. I think this is true, I think young girls do think about carrying out their plans when they are jealous of someone, everyone at sometime I know I did maybe I'm in a - especially horrible young monster or something, I don't know but I think girls do think about these things. I think it's true they do identify with them.

WALLACE: Well, would you --

SEBERG: Have I answered your question enough?

WALLACE: Just about would you like to act now you're only nineteen. Would you like to he like Cecile.

SEBERG: Not now, because I'm two years older than Cecile, but I think if you'd ask me that when I was seventeen, and if I had been very brave, I would have said -- well at least I dream about acting like Cecile.

WALLACE: Then you'll agree that society generally frowns on that kind.

SEBERG: Yes, I think they do.

WALLACE: Now either society or the teen-age generation is wrong. Which one?

SEBERG: Not really, because society was the teen-aged generation and I'm sure at the same time they went through their jealousies, they went through their little complexities too and the fact that they frown on this way of living is something, which in a way is necessary in order to keep any kind of moral codes in society. But I think at the same time that most of the teen-agers who have these instincts and these basic desires come out of them as fairly decent human beings and very few of them carry them out. I certainly don't believe in the theory that teen-agers are all bad nowadays, which many people think.

WALLACE: Quick answer to this one Jean, but a -- but an honest answer. You're putting every ounce of energy in hope into your career what's going to happen when you're going to have to choose between your career and getting married and devoting most of your time to your family. What are you going to do.

SEBERG: I don't really know, because the question hasn't arisen. I don't know what will happen. I hope I don't have to do it, I hope I'll find someone who is understanding and will let me have a career.

WALLACE: Um urn. And you think that can work out?

SEBERG: Deborah Kerr is again the classic example.

WALLACE: Jean I thank you very very much for coming and talking, and I surely know that all of America who has seen you tonight join me in hoping that the notices on Bonjour Tristesse for Jean Seberg will be all that you deserve, very very good ones.

SEBERG: Thank you Mike.

WALLACE: I suppose that a good many of us at one time or another in our lives would rather envy Jean Seberg, she is young and attractive, she's already had sudden fame, some fortune and the chance for great success. What she said tonight and the way that she said it would seem to indicate that Miss Seberg's Cinderella story will have a happy ending. In just a moment I'll bring you a run-down on next week's interview with the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1957.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: Next week a special event, a special telecast we'll tackle the issues of war and peace with a forum of Nobel Prize Winners headed by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 1957 -- you see him behind me He's Canada's former foreign minister Lester Pearson, who says that "We prepare for war like precocious giants and for peace like retarded pygmies." If you want to hear Mr. Pearson's opinions on colonialism, the satellite countries, the cold war and the arms race --we'll go after those stories next week in a live remote telecast from the American Nobel Anniversary Committee Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, here in New York. 'Til then for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace, good night.

ANNCR: The Mike Wallace interview is brought to you by Philip Morris Incorporated, the Quality house.

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