Picks and Pans Review: Played Out: the Jean Seberg Story

updated 07/27/1981 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/27/1981 01:00AM

by David Richards

Actress Jean Seberg's body was found in a car on a Paris street in September 1979. A tube of barbiturates and a suicide note, addressed to her only child, provided a grim ending to what had started as a Cinderella story. At 17, the sheltered daughter of a Marshalltown, Iowa pharmacist, Seberg was chosen by director Otto Preminger from 18,000 neophytes to star in his 1957 film Saint Joan. It flopped, and Seberg became handicapped by premature stardom. Of her 37 movies, only Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard's cult favorite, and Lilith, in which she plays a demonic schizophrenic, gained her much respectability. Lilith's director, Robert Rossen, said of her, "She's got that flawed-American-girl quality—sort of like a cheerleader who's cracked up." In this sensitive biography, Richards, a Washington Star drama critic, explores Seberg's three marriages and numerous liaisons, including affairs with two black militants. One of them, according to a lie circulated by the FBI to discredit her support for the Black Panthers, fathered her second child. The baby, born prematurely following publication of the rumor, died after three days. Though the detailed narrative plods at times, its pathos and drama befit a subject whose life was lived like the Broadway musical it will soon become. (Random House, $13.95)

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