French actress Francoise Dorleac was born in Paris on March 21, 1942. Her father was Maurice Dorleac, a stage and screen actor. Her mother, Renee Deneuve, re-voiced Hollywood movies (including Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz). Both Maurice and Renee were lead players at the Comedie Francaise. Francoise’s younger sister, Catherine, was born October 22, 1943.
Francoise Dorleac made her first stage appearance at age 10 and debuted on film in a short, Mesonges, in 1957. Supporting herself as a model for Dior, she studied acting at the Conservatoire d’Art Dramatique. From 1960 – 1967 she appeared in 16 films, notably:
Philippe de Broca’s That Man from Rio (1964), co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo
Francois Truffaut’s The Soft Skin (1964)
Roger Vadim’s remake of La Ronde (1964), with Jane Fonda and Anna Karina
Genghis Khan, with Omar Sharif and James Mason (1965)
Where the Spies Are, co-starring David Niven (1966)
Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac (1966), with Donald Pleasance
Jacques Demy’s The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), co-starring her sister Catherine
Her final film, co-starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, was Ken Russell’s Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Francoise Dorleac and Michael Caine in “Billion Dollar Brain”
Francoise’s love life was emblematic of the 1960s, ever-changing. She was engaged to Jean-Pierre Cassel (The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Murder on the Orient Express), father of actor Vincent Cassel (A Dangerous Method, Black Swan, Ocean’s 12), for a time in the early ‘60s. She had an affair with Truffaut briefly in the mid-‘60s and was involved with photographer’s agent Albert Koski at the time of her death.
As her star quickly rose, Dorleac’s onscreen mystique was likened to that of Garbo and Dietrich. Her film career was thriving when she was killed in a horrendous car accident near Nice in 1967.
Many years later, an interviewer asked Catherine Deneuve what had been the lowest point of her life. The actress answered quietly, “When my sister died. She was a lovely actress, Francoise Dorleac,” and added, “My sister was a beautiful woman, my closest friend…”
Catherine and Francoise