More from Paul Donnelley’s compellingly horrible Fade to Black, I’m afraid. The entry on Jean Seberg is MASSIVE, since her eventual suicide took at least ten years to actually come to its ghastly and tragic fruition. Skip this entry if you’re feeling a bit fragile. Go watch some Preston Sturges instead.
“She was paid $100,000 to appear as Confederate colonel’s widow Alexandra Mountford in MACHO CALLAHAN (1970). On set she contracted a disease that caused her tongue to turn jet black. She would wander the location jokingly asking if ‘anybody want[ed] to kiss the lady with the black tongue.’.”
“The following month on a flight to America, Jean drank heavily, disappeared to the toilet and came out completely naked and screaming that hijackers were attempting to take over the plane. Her bodyguard managed to make her return to her seat where she gobbled tranquillisers. By the time the flight landed in Chicago, Jean was out of it, barely able to stand. Her bodyguard put her into a luggage trolley and began wheeling her through the airport. Then she spotted a black policeman and began screaming at him that he was a traitor to his race, making a grab for his gun.”
And: “On September 8, 1979, her decaying body was discovered by police. Jean’s car had been parked around the corner from her home for ten days. One of the first journalists to arrive at the scene noted: ‘It wasn’t a pretty sight. The car doors were the sort that close hermetically, so the body had literally baked in the sun for ten days. The odour was unimaginably foul. It just seemed to hang in the warm summer air for hours.'”
It isn’t always possible to help people who are dedicated to self-destruction. Seberg was obviously surrounded by people who wanted to use her (by definition, anybody making a film with her is in this category, however nice they might be), but also with quite a few people who loved her or wanted to help her. It’s the kind of story that’s heartbreaking, magnetically lurid, and ultimately depressing.
I hope no one films it.