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Iowa History Daily: November 13 - Jean Seberg & the Silver Screen

Iowa History Daily: On November 13, 1938, actress Jean Seberg was born in Marshalltown. An icon of the French New Wave known for her role in “Breathless,” Seberg died at age 40 to cut her promising career short.

Growing up in the seat of Marshall County, Seberg shined in school productions while also babysitting another future actress who eventually went by the stage name Mary Beth Hurt. After graduating from Marshalltown High School, Seberg enrolled at the University of Iowa to study dramatic arts before ultimately deciding to study filmmaking.

Seberg made her film debut in the title role of Joan of Arc in “Saint Joan” (1957), when director Otto Preminger picked her from 18,000 hopefuls in a $150,000 talent search after a neighbor submitted Seberg’s name. Seberg appeared in 34 films in Hollywood and in Europe, including “Saint Joan”, “Bonjour Tristesse”, “Lilith”, “The Mouse That Roared”, “Breathless”, “Moment to Moment”, “A Fine Madness”, “Paint Your Wagon”, “Airport”, “Macho Callahan”, and “Gang War in Naples”.

During the late 1960s, Seberg provided financial support to various civil rights groups and Native American school groups including the Meskwaki Bucks at the Tama settlement near her hometown of Marshalltown, for whom she purchased $500 worth of basketball uniforms. As part of an extended campaign to smear and discredit Black liberation and anti-war groups starting in 1968, the FBI targeted Seberg after she donated $10,500 to the Black Panther Party.

Seberg died at age of 40 in Paris, and the French police ruling her death a probable suicide. Seberg's second ex-husband, Romain Gary, called a press conference after her body was found, blaming the FBI's campaign against Seberg for her mental demise. Gary described how the FBI planted false rumors in the media suggesting Seberg's pregnancy in 1970 was by a Black Panther, and how the trauma resulted in her overdosing on sleeping pills while pregnant. Gary stated Seberg attempted suicide on numerous anniversaries of the infant's death. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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