|Born||Martha Simone de Bouillard
15 August 1928
|Died||30 November 1957
|Years active||1950 – 1957|
Simone Silva (15 August 1928 – 30 November 1957) was an Egyptian-born French film actress who appeared in a handful of British B-movies during the 1950s. Silva, who was once quoted as saying she would "do anything" to get in the newspapers, was known however less for her acting than for her voluptuous figure and shameless publicity-seeking activities. She briefly made global headlines following a notorious incident at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival where she posed topless with Robert Mitchum for photographers, causing a sensation when the photographs were flashed around the world.
Born in Cairo to French-Italian parents in 1928, Silva moved to England in 1946 after marrying an Englishman (divorced 1953), believing that England would provide opportunities for her to be noticed by American talent scouts and give her a better chance to achieve her ultimate goal of making a career in the U.S.
From the early 1950s until her last days Silva made a living by posing as a photographic pin-up model for the cheesecake magazines of the era. She broke into British films in 1951 with a small uncredited non-speaking part in Lady Godiva Rides Again as a beauty pageant contestant. This was followed by two more anonymous bit part roles before she landed a slightly more substantial part in the adventure film South of Algiers (1953). She was fifth-billed in crime drama Escape by Night, then appeared among a lengthy female cast list in the women's prison drama The Weak and the Wicked (1954). Her first and only top-billing came as a femme-fatale opposite Lloyd Bridges in the Hammer Films programmer Third Party Risk.
In March 1954 Silva travelled to Cannes for the seventh Film Festival in an attempt to get herself noticed. She succeeded, and the festival organisers awarded her the honorary title of "Miss Festival 1954". She was asked to pose for press photographs with Robert Mitchum on a beach of one the French Riviera's Lérins Islands, near Cannes. The photocall turned into the story of the festival when Silva removed her top and posed cupping her bare breasts in her hands, while Mitchum played along. Such was the scramble to get the best shots that several photographers were injured in the melée, with two reportedly suffering broken limbs. The press loved it, and the photographs were published around the world. The festival committee, however, were horrified that what they considered a vulgar and tacky publicity stunt had completely overshadowed the serious business of the fortnight, and Silva was asked to leave the festival.
Immediately after the Cannes furor, Silva traveled to the U.S., hoping to cash in on her new-found notoriety. However she soon ran into trouble with the Immigration and Naturalization Service when it was learned that she had entered the country on a tourist visa and had not applied for a work permit, although she had been offered a contract by an independent filmmaker, Al Petker, and was picking up a salary. In June 1954, the District Immigration Director in Los Angeles refused her retroactive application for a work permit, ordering her to leave the U.S. within 60 days, and observing that: "She did not make a sufficient showing to conclude if she was a person of unusual ability and talent, or professional attainment." The decision was appealed on Silva's behalf by Petker, and she was granted a temporary work permit pending the appeal being heard. Relations with Petker quickly soured, and by November 1954 Silva was hospitalised with severe vomiting, claiming that worry was the root cause of her illness. Silva accused Petker of failing to pay her salary, while he countered that he had suspended her for gaining a significant amount of weight.
Silva's application to become a permanent U.S. resident was heard in Los Angeles on 3 December 1954, and was denied. She was again given the right of appeal. In February 1955, Silva was again in court when she filed suit against a nightclub in Palm Beach, Florida, alleging that they had offered her a contract for seven weeks' work but had reneged at the end of the first week. Silva's final appeal for U.S. residency was heard on 4 May 1955, and was turned down. She was told to leave the country by 7 June, or face deportation back to England. Silva could not be located on 7 June and it was reported that she had not been seen by her lawyer in Los Angeles for two weeks. It was concluded that she had made her way back to England under her own steam, without notifying the relevant parties.
Return to England and death
After her return to England, Silva found it difficult to resurrect her fledgling film career. She made only one more screen appearance, in a small role in low-budget crime picture The Gelignite Gang in 1956. She briefly tried her hand at stage acting, with little critical success – a performance in Glasgow in June 1956 was described as "too brash, too strident". Her last credit was two episodes of television adventure serial The Gay Cavalier in early 1957. Silva attempted again to garner some publicity by hinting to journalists that she was planning another audacious stunt for the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, but what she had in mind, if anything, is unknown as nothing materialised.
Silva was found dead in her London apartment on 30 November 1957, aged 29. An autopsy gave the cause of death as a stroke. Silva's struggles with her weight had been ongoing, and friends believed that her lengthy period of excessively rigorous crash-dieting had been a likely contributory factor in her premature death.
Filmography (original titles)
- Le Tampon du Capiston (1950)
- Boniface somnambule (1951)
- Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951)
- The Secret People (1952)
- Bachelor in Paris (1952)
- South of Algiers (1953)
- Desperate Moment (1953)
- Turn the Key Softly (1953)
- Street of Shadows (1953)
- Escape by Night (1953)
- The Weak and the Wicked (1954)
- Duel in The Jungle (1954)
- Third Party Risk (1954)
- The Gelignite Gang (1956)
- The Golden Age of the Cannes Film Festival Daily Telegraph Culture Picture Galleries. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Simone Silva ordered to leave U.S." Reading Eagle, 15-06-1054. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Simone Silva, the Bare One, hospitalized" Sarasota Journal, 11-11-1954. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Simone Silva loses plea to be resident" Palm Beach Post, 04-12-1954. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Simone Silva alleges breach of contract" Palm Beach Post, 24-02-1955. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Actress ordered out of U.S." New York Times, 05-05-1955. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Authorities search for Simone Silva" Spartanburg Herald, 08-06-1955. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- Glasgow Theatres Glasgow Herald, 05-06-1956. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- The Voice of Broadway Kilgallen, Dorothy. Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 08-05-1957. Retrieved 24-10-2010
- "Bosomy British actress found dead" Beaver Valley Times, 02-12-1957. Retrieved 24-10-2010