No doubt about it — the world’s a bit less interesting without Jeanne Moreau in it.


This celebrated French actress had an essential mystery all her own. Highly intelligent and intuitive, her characters were often complex, ambivalent, ambiguous. Off-screen, she was fearless.


Louis Malle, the director who made her a star in 1958’s “Elevator to the Gallows” and its follow-up, “The Lovers,” nailed her unique, mesmerizing power when he observed: “She could be almost ugly, and then ten seconds later, she would turn her face and be incredibly attractive. But she would be herself.”


Born to a French father and English mother, Jeanne became the youngest member of the prestigious Comedie Francaise theater company at age 20. Still she had to keep her budding career from her father, who likened actresses to prostitutes. Far from discouraging her, his blind, cruel disapproval fed her drive to succeed. She wanted to prove him wrong.


She started appearing in films soon after. Look for her playing a showgirl in the Jean Gabin classic, “Touchez Pas Au Grisbi” (1954). Though its a fairly minor part, you cannot take your eyes off her.


In Malle’s “Elevator,” Jeanne is an adulterous wife who wanders the streets of Paris waiting to rendezvous with her lover. Shot in natural light with a minimum of make-up, she telegraphs just who and what she is: a desperate, haunted woman about to throw her life away.


Off-screen, Jeanne enjoyed the company of writers like Jean Genet, Henry Miller, Jean Cocteau, and Marguerite Duras. She also had a string of affairs with directors, actors and other artists, including Lee Marvin, Francois Truffaut, Miles Davis, Tony Richardson, Pierre Cardin, and William Friedkin (to whom she was married in the late seventies).


Orson Welles called her “the greatest actress in the world.” She’d chair the Cannes Film Festival Jury twice, a rare distinction. She directed not only films but an opera. She could sing, and had a solid recording career. In 1984, she even performed on-stage with Frank Sinatra at Carnegie Hall. And in between films, she stayed active in the theater, her first love.


Notably, she achieved all this with a minimum of compromise and mostly outside the Hollywood system. And finally her stubborn father could no longer ignore her success, though he never fully understood it. No matter — for Jeanne that was enough.


Below are 17 portraits of this fascinating, enigmatic talent, accompanied by her own words and wisdom.


Bravo, Jeanne Moreau.





Everything I have, I have wanted.



Love is like soup: the first spoonfuls are too hot, the last ones too cold.



If you don't give a damn, men look at you.



While I'm doing the role, I'm the part. I'm the person. But once I'm finished, I'm me.



Each time an actor acts, he does not hide; he exposes himself.



While you work, while you create, you have doubts, and this is essential.


Age does not protect you from love, but love, to some extent, protects you from age.



I'm a passionate woman who falls in love very easily.



I'm intelligent, but I'm not an intellectual.



To act is to move. It is that power to move that gives me real happiness.



You have to know cold to appreciate warmth.



Acting is transmitting life.



For me, a man I have loved becomes a kind of brother.



People who want to be nice...always say, ‘You remind me of Bette Davis.’  Very nice, except I can't stand Bette Davis.



One's soul is like a vast unexplored country.



I'm not measured. I'm not lukewarm. It's not always easy to live with me.



Like every human being, I have everything in me — the best and the worst.




More:  23 Beautiful Pictures of Brigitte Bardot You've Never Seen