Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
August 31
Jean Seberg August 31, 1979
Jean Seberg dies

With her close-cropped blonde hair and plucky, can-do charm hawking newspapers on the streets of Paris, American-born Jean Seberg became one the iconographic figures of the French New Wave by starring in one of its most important films: Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless. She died of an overdose on August 30, 1979, in the back-seat of a parked car in Paris, a sad end to a life that embodied so many of the cultural currents and contradictions of the time. American-born, Seberg became an actress after winning a talent search for the lead in Otto Preminger’s 1957 film St. Joan. The film was a flop, but she went on to work again with Preminger on Bonjour Tristesse before Godard cast her as Patricia, the woman who falls for a gunmen played by Jean-Paul Belmondo in a film that would launch a revolution in cinema. “As played by Iowa-born Jean Seberg, Patricia is a star-spangled sphinx whose unforgettable blend of goddess and bitch could be a European’s metaphor for the New World’s promise and perfidy,” wrote John Powers in an essay celebrating the film. Seberg went on to other memorable roles, most notably as a schizophrenic in Lilith and opposite Clint Eastwood in the Western musical Paint Your Wagon, but her post-Breathless life was mostly characterized by a highly visible series of tragedies and punishing scandals. She was harassed by the FBI for her involvement with members of the Black Panthers; had a daughter who died two days after her birth; married multiple times and was clinically depressed. It is said that she attempted suicide each year on the anniversary of her daughter’s death. But in 1968, she was still a star, and this excerpt from an interview is a blend of her charming innocence and the world-weary fatigue at the movie-star game that would later consume her: “This is a paid advertisement, she says, before continuing, “Any man who sends me flowers every day can have me. No diamonds, no jets, no Bentleys. Also I am hooked on good manners. I don’t mean opening car door good manners, I mean opening of hearts good manners. But I’ve learned a little on the way. I’m a lot less selfish, more giving. And if he’s someone who wants children, I’m now prepared to have piles of them. Maybe it’s a biological thing. Maybe the career just means less at a time when it should mean more. That, too, is a paid advertisement.”


More Flashbacks
August 31, 1946
The Big Sleep released

One of film noir’s most confusing hits was released in its final form on August 31, 1946.

Read more »
31 August 1946
Sleep Disorder

With such literary greats as Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner behind it, how did The Big Sleep become one of the most confusing plots in film history?

Read more »