Diminutive, fiery-tempered Simone Simon was born in France, but spent much of her early childhood in Madagascar, where her father managed a graphite mine. Her schooling was somewhat unsettled, her family moving from city to city (Berlin, Budapest, Turin) before finally establishing themselves in Paris in 1930. Simone started as a dress designer, fashion model and occasional performer in stage musicals. She eventually met the director Marc Allégret, who took her under his wing. Her film debut was in 1931 and she had her first major hit as Jean Gabin's co-star in La Bête Humaine (1938), directed by Jean Renoir.
There were two halves to Simone's history in Hollywood. In 1936, Darryl F. Zanuck signed her to a contract at 20th Century Fox on the strength of a picture she had made two years earlier, Allegret's Ladies Lake (1934). She was launched with an expensive publicity campaign which accentuated her continental allure, particularly, her 'sexy pout'. During her tenure, problems surfaced regarding her command of English and also her limited singing skills. Dissatisfied with the roles she was given, Simone returned to France and 'La Bete Humaine'. She made a second attempt at Hollywood, acting in William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) as Belle, the devil's handmaiden. The New York Times review of October 17 considered her 'completely out of key'. Simone's best work, however, was to come in the shape of the cult horror classic Cat People (1942). Producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur used her triangular-faced feline qualities to best effect in the story of a girl who obsesses about an ancient Balkan curse turning her into a panther. The film was stylish and subtle, creating imagined rather than actual menace. Simone's performance was commensurate with perfectly studied cat-like mannerisms. During the production of 'Cat People', Simone was under FBI surveillance because of her relationship with MI5 spy Dusko Popov. She made two further, less successful, films at RKO, then returned to France for good. Simone made several films there and worked on the stage. In spite of many affairs and relationships, she never married.