I will shamefully admit, I had no idea who he was until as a 16-year-old musical theatre queer, I saw On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) in the theatre and lost my shit. In case you may have missed it, or you were born after 1990, the film stars Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand (1921-1991) and was directed by gay Vincente Minnelli from a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner based on his 1965 Broadway production of the same name. It has songs with lyrics by Lerner and music by Burton Lane. I think it is one of the greatest musical films ever, and I sort of fell in love with Montand.
I wish that someone had told me that openly gay actor Jean-Claude Brialy, a star in the late 1950s and 1960s and one of the most prolific actors of the French “nouvelle vague”, had an affair with Montand. And, all of France was even more shocked when Braily revealed that Montand had a romance with Reda Caire (born Youssef Gandhour), the son of a high official in Egypt and an aristocratic mother. Caire had the right to the title of Count through his mother, although he never used it. He became a major singing sensation in the 1920s and was a well-established star by the 1930s, appearing in half a dozen films, but is now nearly forgotten. Though flamboyant, openly queer Caire was especially popular in the rather macho city of Marseille, where he met the young Montand, the handsome young son of an immigrant Italian dockworker.
Montand became Caire’s private secretary and was his lover for more than a year. Caire taught the unsophisticated Montand about singing, stage presence, wardrobe, and deportment. In Montands’s memoir, You See, I Haven’t Forgotten (1992) he writes that Caire had made advances to him, which he refused, but still became his secretary. But Brialy’s outing of their affair was no surprise to Parisians. It seems everyone in showbiz knew that Montand had been Caire’s lover. In the 1950s, Montand used to make homophobic jokes about Reda, who called him and said: “If you say nasty things about me, I can also tell stories about you.”
Reda said of Montand: “C’est étrange qu’un garçon doté d’un si joli membre puisse sentir si mauvais des pieds.” (It is odd that a boy with such a beautiful member should have such smelly feet.) Montand was known for the size of his “membre”; his wife, Simone Signoret, called Montand “mon etalon”.
In a 1981 interview with the French weekly Gai Pied, Montand admitted having had sex with other guys. Montand: “You know, like all the boys from the Meditérannée.”
Montand was one of France’s most revered, and versatile, cultural icons, equally at home as a “chanteur pour dames” in nightclubs as well as starring in 50 films.
Described as having “the bedroom voice in the body of a lorry driver”, he was regarded as the epitome of virile Gallic charm, yet he was not French at all. He was born Ivo Livi in Tuscany. His Jewish family fled from the Fascists and settled in France.