PLAYED OUT: The Jean Seberg Story by David Richards
Kirkus Star

PLAYED OUT: The Jean Seberg Story

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She committed suicide in 1979. But was off-and-on movie star Jean Seberg really ""destroyed by the FBI,"" as her second husband Romain Gary (himself a suicide some months later) claimed? Probably not, it seems--because Richards' superficial but grimly cumulative biography makes it clear that the FBI's dirty trick (evidence of which remains half-conjectural) was only one incident in a life full of tortured behavior and mental illness. ""Lutheranism exacerbated the sensitivities of an already sensitive child."" That's virtually the only explanation here of Seberg's miseries, but Richards does (with rather too much reliance on interview quotes) fill in all the details: from Iowa girlhood to summer stock to winning the not-so-wonderful title role in St. Joan (bullying, damaging Otto Preminger ""had not discovered an actress; he had engaged a puppet""); from impetuous first marriage to the affair with also-married Gary (they wed a year after Jean had Gary's baby) to an affair with Clint Eastwood while filming Paint Your Wagon; from French triumphs (Breathless) to US potboilers; and, in the late '60s, from sympathetic interest in a black Montessori school to frenetic involvements with Malcolm X's paranoid, self-styled successor and then a Black Panther leader: ""Sometimes Jean's idealism went so far beyond the bounds of reason and judgment as to become a virtual invitation to a form of spiritual rape."" Plus: growing dependence on liquor and pills. So, even as sympathetically portrayed here, Jean's haywire political moves seem to justify the FBI surveillance they elicited. And it's proven only that the racist FBI planned on spreading the rumor that her 1970 pregnancy was the result of a Panther liaison (the father was, in fact, a Mexican student-rebel). Whatever the source, however, the rumor got printed in Newsweek and became the supposed cause of Jean's miserable last decade: miscarriage (followed by grotesque public display of the fetus), madness, obesity, liquid-protein diet, promiscuity, physical ills, a failed third marriage, and grisly suicide. Richards has neither the insights to make Seberg's tragedy understandable nor the writing gifts to make it movingly dramatic. But all the sad particulars are here, and that will be enough for a broad film/politics audience.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1981
Publisher: Random House