Simone Thérèse Fernande Simon (23 April 1910 – 22 February 2005) was a French film actress who began her film career in 1931. Born in Béthune, Pas-de-Calais (some sources say Marseille) France, she was the daughter of Henri Louis Firmin Champmoynat, a French engineer, airplane pilot in World War II, who died in a concentration camp, and Erma Maria Domenica Giorcelli, an Italian housewife. Before settling and growing up in Marseille, Simon lived in Madagascar, Budapest, Turin and Berlin. She went to Paris in 1931 and worked briefly as a singer, model and fashion designer.
After being spotted in a restaurant in June 1931, Simon was offered a film contract by director Victor Tourjansky. She made her screen debut in Le chanteur inconnu (The Unknown Singer, 1931), and quickly established herself as one of the country’s most successful film actresses. After seeing her in Ladies Lake, Darryl F. Zanuck brought her to Hollywood in August 1935 with a widespread publicity campaign.
She was scheduled to make her American film debut in A Message to Garcia (1936), playing a Spanish girl, but was replaced by Rita Hayworth. In mid-1935, she was cast in the female lead in Under Two Flags (1936), but was discharged during production.
In the late 1930s Simon returned to France, dissatisfied with the lack of development of her American film career. There she appeared in the Renoir film La Bête Humaine (The Human Beast) in 1938. With the outbreak of World War II she returned to Hollywood and worked for RKO Radio Pictures where she achieved her greatest successes in English language cinema with The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), Cat People (1942) and The Curse of the Cat People (1944); the latter two formed part of the horror film series produced by Val Lewton.
Cat People is a 1942 horror film directed by Jacques Tournier, and based on the Val Lewton short story The Bagheeta published in 1930. The film stars Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph and Tom Conway. Cat People tells the story of a young Serbian woman (that explains away the accent), Irena, who believes to be a descendant of a race of people who turn into cats when sexually aroused.
Lewton accepted the assignment of producing a follow-up film called The Curse of the Cat People in 1944, which retained Kent Smith and Jane Randolph’s characters, directed by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise. This film, which was then-film editor Robert Wise’s first directing credit, is the sequel to Cat People (1942) and has many of the same characters. However, the movie has a completely different story, and no visible cat people, only the ghost of a character established as a cat-person in the previous film.
Unfortunately for Simon, these films did not lead to greater success and she languished in mediocre films until the end of the war. She returned to France to act, and appeared in La Ronde (Roundabout, 1950). Her film roles were few after this and she made her final film appearance in 1973.
She died on the 22nd February, 2005, in Paris of natural causes.