Jean Dorothy Seberg (//; French: [ʒin sebɛʁɡ]; November 13, 1938 – August 30, 1979) was an American actress who lived half her life in France. Her performance in Jean-Luc Godard's 1960 film Breathless immortalized her as an icon of French New Wave cinema.
Seberg in Gang War in Naples (1972)
Jean Dorothy Seberg
November 13, 1938
Marshalltown, Iowa, U.S.
|Died||August 30, 1979 (aged 40)|
|Cause of death||Probable suicide|
|Body discovered||September 8, 1979|
|Resting place||Montparnasse Cemetery|
|Alma mater||University of Iowa|
(m. 1958; div. 1960)
(m. 1962; div. 1970)
Dennis Charles Berry
|Partner(s)||Ahmed Hasni (1979)|
She appeared in 34 films in Hollywood and in Europe, including Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse, Lilith, The Mouse That Roared, Moment to Moment, A Fine Madness, Paint Your Wagon, Airport, Macho Callahan, and Gang War in Naples.
Seberg died at the age of 40 in Paris, with police ruling her death a probable suicide. Romain Gary, Seberg's second husband, called a press conference shortly after her death where he publicly blamed the FBI's campaign against Seberg for her deteriorating mental health. Gary claimed that Seberg "became psychotic" after the media reported a false story that the FBI planted about her becoming pregnant with a Black Panther's child in 1970. Romain Gary stated that Seberg had attempted suicide on numerous anniversaries of the child's death, August 25.
Jean Dorothy Seberg was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, the daughter of Dorothy Arline (b. Benson; July 11, 1909 – March 7, 1997), a substitute teacher, and Edward Waldemar Seberg (October 2, 1906 – September 5, 1984), a pharmacist. Her family was Lutheran and of Swedish, English, and German ancestry.
Her paternal grandfather, Edward Carlson, arrived in the U.S. in 1882 and observed, "there are too many Carlsons in the New World". He decided to change the family's last name to Seberg in memory of the water and mountains of Sweden. Jean had a sister Mary-Ann (b. August 27, 1936), and two brothers: Kurt (b. June 1, 1942) and David (February 2, 1950 – March 24, 1968), who was killed in a car accident at the age of eighteen.
In Marshalltown, Seberg babysat Mary Supinger, some eight years her junior, who would later become the stage and film actress known as Mary Beth Hurt. After high school, Seberg enrolled at the University of Iowa to study dramatic arts, but took up movie making instead.
Seberg made her film debut in 1957 in the title role of Saint Joan, from the George Bernard Shaw play, after being chosen from 18,000 hopefuls by director Otto Preminger in a $150,000 talent search. Her name was entered by a neighbor.
When she was cast, on October 21, 1956, her only acting experience had been a single season of summer stock performances. The film was associated with a great deal of publicity about which Seberg commented that she was "embarrassed by all the attention". Despite a big build-up, called in the press a "Pygmalion experiment", both the film and Seberg received poor notices. On the failure, she later told the press:
I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics. The latter hurt more. I was scared like a rabbit and it showed on the screen. It was not a good experience at all. I started where most actresses end up.
Preminger, though, promised her a second chance, and he cast Seberg in his next film Bonjour Tristesse the following year, which was filmed in France. Regarding his decision, Preminger told the press: "It's quite true that, if I had chosen Audrey Hepburn instead of Jean Seberg, it would have been less of a risk, but I prefer to take the risk. [..] I have faith in her. Sure, she still has things to learn about acting, but so did Kim Novak when she started." Seberg again received atrocious reviews and the film nearly ended her career.
She renegotiated her contract with Otto Preminger, and signed a long term contract with Columbia Pictures. Preminger had an option to use her services on another film, but they never worked together again. Her next role was for Columbia, in the successful 1959 comedy The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers.
Breathless and French careerEdit
During the filming of Bonjour Tristesse Seberg met François Moreuil, the man who was to become her first husband, and she then based herself in France, finally achieving success as the free-love heroine of French New Wave films.
She appeared as the main lead in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (French title: À bout de souffle, 1960) as Patricia, co-starring with Jean-Paul Belmondo. The film became a success internationally and critics praised Seberg's performance; film critic and director François Truffaut even hailed her "the best actress in Europe". Despite her achievements, Seberg did not identify with her characters or the film plots, saying that she was "making films in France about people [I'm] not really interested in." Back in the US, she made another film for Columbia, Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960).
In France she appeared in Time Out for Love (Les grandes personnes, 1961) then Seberg took on the lead role in her then-husband François Moreuil's directorial debut, La recréation (Love Play, also 1961). By that time, Seberg had become estranged from Moreuil, and she recollected that production was "pure hell" and that he "would scream at [her]." She followed it with Five Day Lover (1962) and Congo vivo (1962). In the French Style (1962) was a French-American film featuring Stanley Baker released through Columbia. Les plus belles escroqueries du monde (1963) was an anthology movie and Backfire (1964) reunited her with Jean-Paul Belmondo.
In the United States, she starred with Warren Beatty in Lilith (1964) for Columbia, which prompted the critics to acknowledge Seberg as a serious actress. She returned to France to make Diamonds Are Brittle (1965).
Return to HollywoodEdit
In the late 1960s, she based herself increasingly in Hollywood. In 1965, Moment to Moment - her first major role in a Hollywood film after more than five years absence - was shot for the most part in Los Angeles, only a small part of the film being shot on the French Cote d'Azur. In late 1965, in New York, she acted in A Fine Madness (released in 1966) alongside Sean Connery under the direction of Irvin Kershner.
In 1966 and 1967, she acted as the lead in two French films directed by Claude Chabrol and co-starring Maurice Ronet: In February and March 1966, she starred in Line of Demarcation, shot around Dole, Jura in France, and in May and June 1967 played the title role in the French-Italian Eurospy film The Road to Corinth, shot in Greece.
After making Pendulum (1969), she appeared in her first and only musical film, Paint Your Wagon (also 1969), based on Lerner and Loewe's stage musical, and co-starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood. Her singing voice was dubbed by Anita Gordon. Seberg also starred in the disaster film Airport (1970).
Seberg was François Truffaut's first choice for the central role of Julie in Day for Night (1973) but, after several fruitless attempts to contact her, he gave up and cast British actress Jacqueline Bisset instead.
Her last US film appearance was in the TV movie Mousey (1974). Seberg remained active during the 1970s in European films. She appeared in Bianchi cavalli d'Agosto (White Horses of Summer) (1975), Le Grand Délire (Die Große Ekstase) (1975, with husband Dennis Berry) and Die Wildente (1976, based on Ibsen's The Wild Duck).
At the time of her death she was working on the French film Operation Leopard (La Légion saute sur Kolwezi, 1980). She had scenes filmed in French Guiana and returned to Paris for additional work in September. After her death, the scenes were reshot with actress Mimsy Farmer.
FBI COINTELPRO investigationEdit
During the late 1960s, Seberg provided financial support to various groups supporting civil rights, such as the NAACP as well as Native American school groups such as the Meskwaki Bucks at the Tama settlement near her home town of Marshalltown, for whom she purchased US$500 worth of basketball uniforms. The FBI became aware of several gifts to the Black Panther Party, totaling US$10,500 (estimated) in contributions; these were noted among a list of other celebrities in FBI internal documents later declassified and released to the public under FOIA requests. The financial support and alleged interracial love affairs or friendships are thought to have been triggers to an FBI investigation.
The FBI operation against Seberg used COINTELPRO program techniques to harass, intimidate, defame, and discredit Seberg. The FBI's stated goal was an unspecified "neutralization" of Seberg with a subsidiary objective to "cause her embarrassment and serve to cheapen her image with the public", while taking the "usual precautions to avoid identification of the Bureau". FBI strategy and modalities can be found in FBI inter-office memos.
In 1970, the FBI created the false story, from a San Francisco-based informant, that the child Seberg was carrying was not fathered by her husband Romain Gary but by Raymond Hewitt, a member of the Black Panther Party. The story was reported by gossip columnist Joyce Haber of the Los Angeles Times, and was also printed by Newsweek magazine. Seberg went into premature labor and, on August 23, 1970, gave birth to a 4 lb (1.8 kg) baby girl. The child died two days later. She held a funeral in her hometown with an open casket that allowed reporters to see the infant's white skin, which disproved the rumors.
Seberg and Gary later sued Newsweek for libel and defamation, asking for US$200,000 in damages. She contended she became so upset after reading the story, that she went into premature labor, which resulted in the death of her daughter. A Paris court ordered Newsweek to pay the couple US$10,800 in damages and ordered Newsweek to print the judgment in their publication, plus eight other newspapers.
The investigation of Seberg went far beyond the publishing of defamatory articles. According to her friends interviewed after her death, she reportedly experienced years of aggressive in-person surveillance (constant stalking), as well as break-ins and other intimidation-oriented activity. These newspaper reports make clear that Seberg was well aware of the surveillance. FBI files show that she was wiretapped, and in 1980, the Los Angeles Times published logs of her Swiss wiretapped phone calls. U.S. surveillance was deployed while she was residing in France and while travelling in Switzerland and Italy. Per FBI files the FBI cross-contacted the "FBI Legat" (legal attachés) in U.S. Embassies in Paris and Rome and provided files on Seberg to the CIA, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Military intelligence to assist monitoring while she was abroad.
FBI records show that J. Edgar Hoover kept U.S. President Richard Nixon informed of FBI activities related to the Jean Seberg case through President Nixon's domestic affairs chief John Ehrlichman. John Mitchell, then Attorney General, and Deputy Attorney General Richard Kleindienst were also kept informed of FBI activities related to Seberg.
Possible Hollywood blacklistingEdit
At the peak of her career, Seberg suddenly stopped acting in Hollywood films. Reportedly, she was not pleased with the roles she had been offered, some of which, she said, bordered on pornography. Conversely, she was not offered any great Hollywood roles, regardless of their size. Experts in the FBI's actions in the COINTELPRO project suggest that Seberg was "effectively blacklisted" from Hollywood films, as was Jane Fonda, for a period of time.
On September 5, 1958, aged 19, Seberg married François Moreuil, a French lawyer (aged 23) in her native Marshalltown, having met him in France 15 months earlier. They divorced in 1960. Moreuil had ambitions in movies and directed his estranged wife in La récréation. According to Seberg, the marriage was a "violent" one and said that she "got married for all the wrong reasons."
On living in France for a period of time, Seberg said in an interview:
I'm enjoying it to the fullest extent. I've been tremendously lucky to have gone through this experience at an age where I can still learn. That doesn't mean that I will stay here. I'm in Paris because my work has been here. I'm not an expatriate. I will go where the work is. The French life has its drawbacks. One of them is the formality. The system seems to be based on saving the maximum of yourself for those nearest you. Perhaps that is better than the other extreme in Hollywood, where people give so much of themselves in public life that they have nothing left over for their families. Still, it is hard for an American to get used to. Often I will get excited over a luncheon table only to have the hostess say discreetly that coffee will be served in the other room. ... I miss that casualness and friendliness of Americans, the kind that makes people smile. I also miss blue jeans, milk shakes, thick steaks and supermarkets.
Despite extended stays in the United States, she remained Paris-based for the rest of her life. In 1962, she married French aviator, resistant, novelist and diplomat Romain Gary, who was 24 years her senior and had been married to Lesley Blanch. Gary's divorce took place on September 5, 1962, and he married Seberg on October 6. The marriage in Corsica was secret and used accommodations with the law.
Their sole child together, Alexandre Diego Gary, was born in Barcelona on July 24, 1962. The child's birth and first years of life were hidden from even close friends and relatives. Thanks to his contacts in the diplomat services, Gary later "established" Diego's birth at the French village of Charquemont on October 26, 1963, after his parents' marriage.
During her marriage to Gary, Seberg lived in Paris, Greece, Southern France and Majorca. Diego married and as of 2009[update] resides in Spain where he runs a bookstore and oversees his father's literary and real estate holdings.
While filming Macho Callahan in Mexico in 1969–70, Seberg became romantically involved with a student revolutionary named Carlos Ornelas Navarra. She gave birth to Navarra's daughter, Nina Hart Gary, on August 23, 1970. The baby died two days later, on August 25, 1970, and is buried at Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown. Estranged husband Romain Gary had publicly claimed to have been the father during Seberg's pregnancy, but she acknowledged that Navarra was actually the father.
In 1972, she was married for the third time, to aspiring film director Dennis Berry. In 1979, while separated from her husband, Seberg went through "a form of marriage" to an Algerian, Ahmed Hasni. Hasni persuaded her to sell her second apartment on the Rue du Bac, and he kept the proceeds (reportedly 11 million francs in cash), announcing that he would use the money to open a Barcelona restaurant. The couple departed for Spain, but she was soon back in Paris alone and went into hiding from Hasni, who she said had grievously abused her.
On the night of August 30, 1979, Seberg disappeared. Hasni told police that they had gone to a movie that night and when he awoke the next morning, Seberg was gone. After Seberg went missing, Hasni told police that he had known she was suicidal for some time. He claimed that she had attempted suicide in July 1979 by jumping in front of a Paris subway train.
On September 8, nine days after her disappearance, her decomposing body was found wrapped in a blanket in the back seat of her Renault, parked close to her Paris apartment in the 16th arrondissement. Police found a bottle of barbiturates, an empty mineral water bottle and a note written in French from Seberg addressed to her son. It read, in part, "Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves." In 1979, her death was ruled a probable suicide by Paris police, but the following year additional charges were filed against persons unknown for "non-assistance of a person in danger".
Romain Gary, Seberg's second husband, called a press conference shortly after her death where he publicly blamed the FBI's campaign against Seberg for her deteriorating mental health. Gary claimed that Seberg "became psychotic" after the media reported a false story that the FBI planted about her becoming pregnant with a Black Panther's child in 1970. Romain Gary stated that Seberg had repeatedly attempted suicide on the anniversary of the child's death, August 25.
Six days after the discovery of Seberg's body, the FBI released documents under FOIA admitting the defamation of Seberg, while making statements attempting to distance themselves from practices of the Hoover era. The FBI's campaign against Seberg was further explored at this time by Time magazine in a front-page article, "The FBI vs. Jean Seberg".
Media attention surrounding the abuse Seberg had undergone at FBI hands led to examination of the case by the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, a.k.a. "the Church Committee", which noted that notwithstanding FBI claims of reform, "COINTELPRO activities may continue today under the rubric of investigation".
In his autobiography, Los Angeles Times editor Jim Bellows described events leading up to the Seberg articles, in which he expressed regret that he had not vetted the Seberg articles sufficiently. He echoed this sentiment in subsequent interviews.
In June 1980, Paris police filed charges against "persons unknown" in connection with Seberg's death. Police stated that Seberg had such a high amount of alcohol in her system at the time of her death, that it would have rendered her comatose and unable to get into her car without assistance. Police noted there was no alcohol in the car where Seberg's body was found. Police theorized that someone was present at the time of her death and failed to get her medical care.
In December 1980, Seberg's former husband Romain Gary committed suicide. Gary's suicide note, which was addressed to his publisher, indicated that he had not killed himself over the loss of Seberg but over the fact that he felt he could no longer produce literary works.
In popular cultureEdit
The Talent Scout by Romain Gary (1961) features a recognizable portrait of Seberg.
In 1986, pop singer Madonna copied Jean Seberg's iconic Breathless look in her music video for "Papa Don't Preach", sporting a pixie blonde haircut, French striped jersey shirt and black capri pants in her interpretation of the New Wave ingenue that Seberg played in Breathless.
In 1991, actress Jodie Foster, a fan of Seberg's performance in Breathless, purchased the film rights to Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story, David Richards' biography of Seberg. Foster was set to produce and star in the film, but the project was cancelled two years later.
In 1995, Mark Rappaport made a documentary of her life, From the Journals of Jean Seberg. Mary Beth Hurt played Seberg in a voice-over. Hurt had been born in Marshalltown, Iowa, in 1948, had attended the same high school as Seberg, and had been babysat by Seberg.
|1957||Saint Joan||St. Joan of Arc|
|1959||The Mouse That Roared||Helen Kokintz|
|1960||Breathless||Patricia Franchini||Original title: À bout de souffle|
|1960||Let No Man Write My Epitaph||Barbara Holloway|
|1961||Les Grandes Personnes||Ann||Alternate title: Time Out for Love|
|1961||La Récréation||Kate Hoover||Alternate title: Love Play|
|1961||Five Day Lover||Claire||Original title: L'amant de cinq jours|
|1963||In the French Style||Christina James|
|1964||Les plus belles escroqueries du monde||Patricia Leacock||(segment "Le Grand Escroq")|
|1964||Backfire||Olga Celan||Original title: Échappement libre|
|1965||Un milliard dans un billard||Bettina Ralton|
|1966||Moment to Moment||Kay Stanton|
|1966||A Fine Madness||Lydia West|
|1966||Line of Demarcation||Mary, comtesse de Damville||Original title: La Ligne de démarcation|
|1967||Estouffade à la Caraïbe||Colleen O'Hara|
|1967||Who's Got the Black Box?||Shanny||Alternate title: The Road to Corinth|
|1968||Birds in Peru||Adriana|
|1969||Paint Your Wagon||Elizabeth|
|1970||Ondata di calore||Joyce Grasse||Alternate title: Dead of Summer|
|1970||Macho Callahan||Alexandra Mountford|
|1972||Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!||Emily Hamilton|
|1972||Questa specie d'amore||Giovanna||Alternate title: This Kind of Love|
|1972||Gang War in Naples||Luisa||Original title: Camorra|
|1972||L'Attentat||Edith Lemoine||Alternate titles: Plot, The French Conspiracy|
|1973||The Corruption of Chris Miller||Ruth Miller||Original title: La corrupción de Chris Miller|
|1974||Les hautes solitudes||Silent film without named characters|
|1974||Mousey||Laura Anderson / Richardson||Television movie|
|1974||Ballad for the Kid||La star||Director, writer, producer|
|1975||Bianchi cavalli d'Agosto||Lea Kingsburg|
|1975||The Big Delirium||Emily||Original title: Le Grand délire|
|1976||The Wild Duck||Gina Ekdal||Original title: Die Wildente|
|1979||Le bleu des origines||herself||(final film role)|
- Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2012). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. p. 8. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved November 26, 2016.
Final cause of death was left as 'probable suicide,' ...
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- Sharf, Zack; Sharf, Zack (March 14, 2018). "Kristen Stewart to Play 'Breathless' Star and French New Wave Icon Jean Seberg in 'Against All Enemies'". IndieWire. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
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- "At the time I was due to audition for Preminger, I was enrolled to study dramatic art at the State University of Iowa, my eventual goal being stardom on Broadway, hopefully."
Seberg in Films and Filming, p. 13, June 1974.
- "Seberg: Real-life Cinderella" by Peer J. Oppenheimer, The Palm Beach Post, April 28, 1957, p. 11
- "'Saint Joan' Chosen", The Spokesman-Review, October 22, 1956, p. 1
- "Second Chance for Jean", The Age, October 8, 1957, p. 13
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- Charles Champlin. "Jean Seberg: A Hollywood tragedy", The Modesto Bee, September 16, 1979, pg. F6
- Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2014). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. p. 77. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2014). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2014). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. p. 107. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- Coates-Smith, Michael; McGee, Garry (2014). The Films of Jean Seberg. McFarland. p. 116. ISBN 9780786490226. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- Tyler, Don (2008). Music of the Postwar Era. United States of America: Greenwood Press. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-313-34191-5. Retrieved June 25, 2010.
Marvin and Eastwood sang, but Miss Seberg's vocals were dubbed by Anita Gordon.
- McGee, Garry (2008). Jean Seberg – Breathless. Albany, GA: BearManor Media. p. 238. ISBN 978-1-59393-127-8.
- "The Wild Duck". IMDb.com. April 28, 1977. Retrieved October 14, 2017.
- Richards, David (1981). Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story. Random House. p. 204. ISBN 0-394-51132-8.
- Allan M. Jallon "A journalistic lapse allowed the FBI to smear actress Jean Seberg", The Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2002.
- Janet Maslin,"Star and Victim", The New York Times, July 12, 1981.
- Brodeur, Paul (1997). A Writer in the Cold War. Faber and Faber. pp. 159–65. ISBN 978-0-571-19907-5.
- Ronald Ostrow, "Extensive probe of Jean Seberg Revealed", The Times via jfk.hood.edu, January 9, 1980.
- Richards 234–38
- Munn, p. 90
- Richards, p. 239
- Richards, p. 247
- Richards, p. 253
- Friedrich, Otto (1975). Going crazy: An inquiry into madness in our time. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 230. ISBN 0-671-22174-4.
- "Seberg awarded $20,000 in Newsweek libel suit". The Telegraph-Herald. October 26, 1971. p. 18. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- "The Jean Seberg Enigma: Interview With Garry Mcgee". Film Threat. Retrieved July 17, 2011.
- FBI Secrets: An Agent's Expose. by M. Wesley Swearinge
- Marie Adam-Affortit (February 28, 2011). ""Romain Gary a séduit mon épouse Jean Seberg". Par François Moreuil". Paris Match (in French). Retrieved November 8, 2015.
- "Le "oui" secret de jean Seberg et Romain Gary", Le Monde, August 15, 2014.
- Ralph Schoolcraft: Romain Gary: The Man Who Sold His Shadow, Chapter 3, p. 69. On-line (retrieved 10 August 2012)
- "What makes Jean Seberg Run?", Tri-City Herald, June 21, 1970, p. 8
- "Where in the World is Alexandre Diego?". Movie Star. Retrieved October 14, 2017.
- Richards 234–8
- Richards, p. 367
- Richards, p. 368
- Richards, p.369
- "Police Rule Out Violence In Death of Actress Seberg". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. September 10, 1979. p. 21. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- "Forgive me, Seberg wrote in suicide note to her son". Edmonton Journal. September 10, 1979. p. A2. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
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- "Charges filed in Seberg death". The Montreal Gazette. June 23, 1980. p. 41. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs
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- Nation: The FBI vs. Jean Seberg, time.com, September 24, 1979.
- Cointelpro: The FBI's Covert Action Programs Against American Citizens, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities. United States Senate, April 23, 1976.
- Bellows, Jim. The Last Editor, Andrews McMeel Publishing (May 2011).
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- https://www.lexpress.fr/culture/livre/jean-s_809633.html. Missing or empty
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- This episodic film was originally a collaboration of five directors. Despite being directed by Jean-Luc Godard and shot by Raoul Coutard, Seberg's 20-minute episode was cut from the final release (McGee, p.110). It was resurrected and partly shown in From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995)
- Bellos, David (2010). Romain Gary: A Tall Story. London: Harvill Secker. ISBN 978 1843431701.
- Coates-Smith, Michael, and McGee, Garry (2012). The Films of Jean Seberg. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-6652-8.
- Guichard, Maurice (2008). Jean Seberg: Portrait francais. Paris: Editions Jacob-Duvernet. ISBN 978 2 84724 194 5. (in French)
- McGee, Garry (2008). Jean Seberg – Breathless. Albany, GA: BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-127-1.
- Moreuil, Francois (2010). Flash Back. Chaintreaux: Editions France-Empire Monde .ISBN 978-2-7048-1097-0. (in French)
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- Richards, David (1981). Played Out: The Jean Seberg Story. Random House. ISBN 0-394-51132-8.