Jean Seberg

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Person.png Jean Seberg  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Camorra Jean Seberg.png
BornNovember 13, 1938
DiedAugust 30, 1979 (Age 40)
Victim ofsuicide?
Hollywood star blacklisted and smeared by COINTELPRO campaign

Jean Dorothy Seberg was an American actress who lived half her life in France. Her performance in Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 film Breathless immortalized her as an icon of French New Wave cinema.[1][2]

She appeared in 34 films in Hollywood and in Europe, including Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse, Lilith, The Mouse That Roared, Moment to Moment, A Fine Madness, Paint Your Wagon, Airport, Macho Callahan, and Gang War in Naples.

She was also one of the best-known targets of the FBI COINTELPRO project. Her targeting was in retaliation for her support of the Black Panther Party and was a smear directly ordered by J. Edgar Hoover.[3][4]

Seberg died at the age of 40 in Paris, with police ruling her death a probable suicide.[5] Romain Gary, Seberg's second husband, called a press conference shortly after her death where he publicly blamed the FBI's campaign against Seberg for her death. Gary noted that the FBI planted false rumors with U.S. media outlets claiming her 1970 pregnancy was a Black Panther's child, and how the trauma led to the child's miscarriage. Romain Gary stated that Seberg had attempted suicide on numerous anniversaries of the child's death, August 25.


FBI inter-office memo: "... cause her embarrassment and cheapen her image"
FBI inter-office memo: "Usual precautions to avoid identification of the Bureau"

During the late 1960s, Seberg provided financial support to groups supporting civil rights, such as the NAACP as well as Native American school groups such as the Meskwaki Bucks at the Tama settlement near her home town of Marshalltown, for whom she purchased US$500 worth of basketball uniforms.[6][7]

As part of its 'dirty tricks' aimed at black liberation and anti-war groups, which began in 1968, the FBI became aware of several gifts Seberg had made to the Black Panther Party, totaling US$10,500 (estimated) in contributions; these were noted among a list of other celebrities in FBI internal documents later declassified and released to the public under FOIA requests.[8][9]

The FBI operation against Seberg, directly overseen by J. Edgar Hoover, used COINTELPRO program techniques to harass, intimidate, defame, and discredit her.[10][11] The FBI's stated goal was an unspecified "neutralization" of Seberg with a subsidiary objective to "cause her embarrassment and serve to cheapen her image with the public", while taking the "usual precautions to avoid identification of the Bureau".[12] FBI strategy and modalities can be found in FBI inter-office memos.[13]

In 1970, the FBI created the false story from a San Francisco-based informant that the child Seberg was carrying was not fathered by her husband, Romain Gary, but by Raymond Hewitt, a member of the Black Panther Party.[14][15] The story was reported by gossip columnist Joyce Haber of the Los Angeles Times, with Seberg thinly disguised,[16] and was also printed by Newsweek magazine in which Seberg was directly named.[17] Seberg went into premature labor and, on August 23, 1970, gave birth to a 4 lb (1.8 kg) baby girl. The child died two days later.[18] She held a funeral in her hometown with an open casket that allowed reporters to see the infant's white skin, which disproved the rumors.[19]

Seberg and Gary later sued Newsweek for libel and defamation, asking for US$200,000 in damages. She contended she became so upset after reading the story, that she went into premature labor, which resulted in the death of her daughter. A Paris court ordered Newsweek to pay the couple US$10,800 in damages and ordered Newsweek to print the judgment in their publication, plus eight other newspapers.[20]

The investigation of Seberg went far beyond the publishing of defamatory articles. According to her friends interviewed after her death, she reportedly experienced years of aggressive in-person surveillance (constant stalking), as well as break-ins and other intimidation-oriented activity. These newspaper reports make clear that Seberg was well aware of the surveillance. FBI files show that she was wiretapped, and in 1980, the Los Angeles Times published logs of her Swiss wiretapped phone calls.[21] U.S. surveillance was deployed while she was residing in France and while travelling in Switzerland and Italy. Per FBI files the FBI cross-contacted the "FBI Legat" (legal attachés) in U.S. Embassies in Paris and Rome and provided files on Seberg to the CIA, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Military intelligence to assist monitoring while she was abroad.

FBI records show that J. Edgar Hoover kept U.S. President Richard Nixon informed of FBI activities related to the Jean Seberg case through President Nixon's domestic affairs chief John Ehrlichman. John Mitchell, then Attorney General, and Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst were also kept informed of FBI activities related to Seberg.[22] The FBI made its initial admission about targeting Seberg (via the spreading of a false rumor) shortly after her death was announced.[23]

Possible Hollywood blacklisting

At the peak of her career, Seberg suddenly stopped acting in Hollywood films. Reportedly, she was not pleased with the roles she had been offered, some of which, she said, bordered on pornography.[24] Conversely, she was not offered any great Hollywood roles, regardless of their size.[25] Experts in the FBI's actions in the COINTELPRO project suggest that Seberg was "effectively blacklisted"[26] from Hollywood films.

Family reaction to FBI abuse of Seberg

Her father reacted strongly to the story of FBI abuses, stating that "if this is true, why in the dickens didn't they just shoot her, instead of having all this travail that's gone on. I have this flag in the corner, that I used to put out every morning, and I haven't put it out since."[27]

Personal life

On September 5, 1958, aged 19, Seberg married François Moreuil, a French lawyer (aged 23) in her native Marshalltown, having met him in France 15 months earlier.[28] They divorced in 1960. Moreuil had ambitions in movies and directed his estranged wife in Love Play. According to Moreuil he said the marriage was a "violent" one and said that she "got married for all the wrong reasons."[29]

On living in France for a period of time, Seberg said in an interview:

I'm enjoying it to the fullest extent. I've been tremendously lucky to have gone through this experience at an age where I can still learn. That doesn't mean that I will stay here. I'm in Paris because my work has been here. I'm not an expatriate. I will go where the work is. The French life has its drawbacks. One of them is the formality. The system seems to be based on saving the maximum of yourself for those nearest you. Perhaps that is better than the other extreme in Hollywood, where people give so much of themselves in public life that they have nothing left over for their families. Still, it is hard for an American to get used to. Often I will get excited over a luncheon table only to have the hostess say discreetly that coffee will be served in the other room. ... I miss that casualness and friendliness of Americans, the kind that makes people smile. I also miss blue jeans, milk shakes, thick steaks and supermarkets.[30]

Despite extended stays in the United States, she remained Paris-based for the rest of her life. In 1961 she met French aviator, French resistance member, novelist and diplomat Romain Gary, who was 24 years her senior and married to authoress Lesley Blanch. Seberg gave birth to their son, Alexandre Diego Gary, in Barcelona on July 17, 1962.[31] The child's birth and first year of life were hidden from even close friends and relatives. Romain Gary's divorce from Blanch took place on September 5, 1962, and he married Seberg on October 6, 1962. The marriage in Corsica was secret.[32]

During her marriage to Gary, Seberg lived in Paris, Greece, Southern France and Majorca.[33] She filed for divorce in September 1968, and it was final on July 1, 1970. As of 2009, their son resides in Spain, where he runs a bookstore and oversees his father's literary and real estate holdings.[34]

Seberg reportedly had affairs with co-stars Warren Beatty (Lilith), Clint Eastwood (Paint Your Wagon) and Fabio Testi (Gang War in Naples).[35][36] She also had an affair with writer Carlos Fuentes, according to him.[37]

While filming Macho Callahan in Durango, Mexico in the winter of 1969–70, Seberg became romantically involved with a student revolutionary named Carlos Ornelas Navarra. She gave birth to Navarra's daughter, Nina Hart Gary, on August 23, 1970. The baby died two days later, on August 25, 1970, as a result of complications sustained from Jean overdosing on sleeping pills during her pregnancy. Ex-husband Romain Gary had assumed responsibility for the pregnancy, but Seberg acknowledged that Navarra was the father.[38] Nina is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown.

On March 12, 1972, she married director Dennis Berry. The couple separated in May 1976, but never divorced.[39] Her next lover was aspiring French filmmaker Jean-Claude Messager, who later spoke to CBS's Mike Wallace for a 1981 profile of the actress.

In 1979, while still legally married to her estranged husband Berry, Seberg went through "a form of marriage" to an Algerian, Ahmed Hasni.[40] Hasni persuaded her to sell her second apartment on the Rue du Bac, and he kept the proceeds (reportedly 11 million francs in cash), announcing that he would use the money to open a Barcelona restaurant.[41] The couple departed for Spain, but she was soon back in Paris, alone, and went into hiding from Hasni, who she said had grievously abused her.[42]


Grave of Jean Seberg

On the night of August 30, 1979, Seberg disappeared. Hasni told police that they had gone to a movie that night and when he awoke the next morning, Seberg was gone.[43] After Seberg went missing, Hasni told police that he had known she was suicidal for some time. He claimed that she had attempted suicide in July, 1979, by jumping in front of a Paris subway train.[44]

On September 8, nine days after her disappearance, her decomposing body was found wrapped in a blanket in the back seat of her Renault, parked close to her Paris apartment in the 16th arrondissement. Police found a bottle of barbiturates, an empty mineral water bottle and a note written in French from Seberg addressed to her son. It read, in part, "Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves."[45] In 1979, her death was ruled a probable suicide by Paris police,[46] but the following year additional charges were filed against persons unknown for "non-assistance of a person in danger."[47]

Romain Gary, Seberg's second husband, called a press conference shortly after her death where he publicly blamed the FBI's campaign against Seberg for her deteriorating mental health. Gary claimed that Seberg "became psychotic" after the media reported a false story that the FBI planted about her becoming pregnant with a Black Panther's child in 1970. Romain Gary stated that Seberg had repeatedly attempted suicide on the anniversary of the child's death, August 25.[48]

Seberg is interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris.[49]


Six days after the discovery of Seberg's body, the FBI released documents under FOIA admitting the defamation of Seberg,[50][51] while making statements attempting to distance themselves from practices of the Hoover era. The FBI's campaign against Seberg was further explored at this time by Time magazine in a front-page article, "The FBI vs. Jean Seberg."[52]

Media attention surrounding the abuse Seberg had undergone at FBI hands led to examination of the case by the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a.k.a. "the Church Committee," which noted that notwithstanding FBI claims of reform, "COINTELPRO activities may continue today under the rubric of investigation."[53][54]

In his autobiography, Los Angeles Times editor Jim Bellows described events leading up to the Seberg articles, in which he expressed regret that he had not vetted the Seberg articles sufficiently.[54] He echoed this sentiment in subsequent interviews.[55]

In June 1980, Paris police filed charges against "persons unknown" in connection with Seberg's death. Police stated that Seberg had such a high amount of alcohol in her system at the time of her death, that it would have rendered her comatose and unable to get into her car without assistance. Police noted there was no alcohol in the car where Seberg's body was found. Police theorized that someone was present at the time of her death and failed to get her medical care.[56]

In December 1980, Seberg's former husband Romain Gary committed suicide. Gary's suicide note, which was addressed to his publisher, indicated that he had not killed himself over the loss of Seberg, but over the fact that he felt he could no longer produce literary works.[57]

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  4. and Victim|work=The New York Times
  5. Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2012). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. p. 8. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved November 26, 2016. "Final cause of death was left as 'probable suicide,"
  7. Richards, David (1981). Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story. Random House page=204
  9. Richards, David (1981). Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story. Random House. p. 204
  12. { 159–65]
  14. Richards 234–38
  15. Munn, p. 90
  16. Richards, David (1981). Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story. Random House p. 239
  17. Richards, p. 247
  18. Richards, David (1981). Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story. Random House p. 253
  19. Friedrich, Otto (1975). Going crazy: An inquiry into madness in our time. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 230.
  20.,3844237%7Ctitle=Seberg awarded $20,000 in Newsweek libel suit|date=1971-10-26|work=The Telegraph-Herald|page=18
  26. FBI Secrets: An Agent's Expose. by M. Wesley Swearinge
  29. Jean Seberg Failed As Saint On Screen, Scores Success In France As A Sinner" by Bob Thomas, The Blade, August 6, 1961, p. 2
  30. Jean Seberg Failed As Saint On Screen, Scores Success In France As A Sinner" by Bob Thomas, The Blade, August 6, 1961, p. 2
  31. Ralph Schoolcraft: Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold His Shadow, Chapter 3, p. 69. On-line (retrieved 10 August 2012)
  32. "Le "oui" secret de jean Seberg et Romain Gary", Le Monde, August 15, 2014.
  33. "What makes Jean Seberg Run?", Tri-City Herald, June 21, 1970, p. 8
  34. in the World is Alexandre Diego?|website=Movie Star
  36. Curti, Roberto (2013). Italian Crime Filmography, 1968-1980.
  38. Richards 234–8
  39. Paul Donnelley (2000). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Omnibus. p. 530
  40. Richards, p. 367
  41. Richards, p. 368
  42. Richards, p.369
  43.,1534506%7Ctitle=Police Rule Out Violence In Death of Actress Seberg|date=1979-09-10|work=Pittsburgh Post-Gazette|page=21
  44.,4749074%7Ctitle=Forgive me, Seberg wrote in suicide note to her son|date=1979-09-10|work=Edmonton Journal
  45.,4713117%7Ctitle=The Life and Death of Jean Seberg|date=1981-07-19|work=Reading Eagle|page=36
  46. Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2012). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. p. 8. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved November 26, 2016. "Final cause of death was left as 'probable suicide,"
  47.,1267220%7Ctitle=Charges filed in Seberg death|date=1980-06-23|work=The Montreal Gazette|page=41
  49. Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs
  50. "FBI Admits Spreading Lies About Jean Seberg", Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1979.
  52. Nation: The FBI vs. Jean Seberg,, September 24, 1979.
  53. Cointelpro: The FBI's Covert Action Programs Against American Citizens, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities. United States Senate, April 23, 1976.
  54. a b Bellows, Jim. The Last Editor, Andrews McMeel Publishing (May 2011).
  55. Kevin Roderick, "Bellows, Jean Seberg and the FBI", LA Observed, March 13, 2009.