If Françoise Hardy had a rival in Italy, it was Catherine Spaak. The blonde shot to fame as an actress before enjoying chart hits aplenty with covers of Hardy originals and songs in Hardy’s style. When her singing career fizzled out, she continued working as an actress, TV host and journalist.
She was born Catherine Spaak in Boulogne-Billancourt, a western suburb of Paris, on 3 April 1945. Her father was the Belgian screenwriter Charles Spaak and her uncle, Paul-Henri Spaak, was a Belgian prime minister.
She got her big break into acting in 1959 with a bit part in the film Le trou. When she moved to Italy later that year, her father introduced her to film director Alberto Lattuada, who cast her in his film I dolce inganni, which was released in cinemas in 1960.
Further film roles followed, including Le puits aux trois vérités (Il pozzo delle tre verità), La voglia matta, Diciottenni al sole and, in her first lead part, L’amore difficile. She played a variety of adolescent, Lolita-type roles and became hugely popular.
Her screen success, combined with her love of singing and playing the guitar, led, almost inevitably, to an offer of a recording contract. She signed with the Ricordi label in 1962.
Given her star status, she was teamed with the label’s top talent. Perdono – written by Gino Paoli (who had worked with stars such as Mina) and arranged by Ennio Morricone – was issued as her debut single and swiftly made the Italian top 20.
Vocally, Catherine drew comparisons with France’s newest star, Françoise Hardy, so Ricordi opted to have their young signing record a couple of Hardy songs for the Italian market. Issued in 1963, the bilingual Tous les garçons et les filles (Quelli della mia età) – backed with J’ai jeté mon coeur (Ho scherzato con il cuore) – gave Hardy’s original a run for its money, reaching number seven in September 1963 and confirming Catherine as a new star.
The perkier Prima di te, dopo di te consolidated her success when it made the top ten later that same month.
She rounded off 1963 with another hit, Tu ridi di me (with another bilingual track, Mes amis, mes copains on the flip), and an album comprising her hits to date plus some new material.
Her acting career had continued unabated during this period, and she even appeared alongside Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s La ronde.
The very Hardy-esque Questi vent’anni miei, taken from the soundtrack of the film I malamondo, became her first single of 1964.
Non è niente, from the film La calda vita, was issued as the follow up, but despite the success of the film, the single could only scrape into the top 30.
No matter. An appearance at the Festivalbar song contest with L’esercito del surf – penned by top songwriters Mogol and Vito Pallavicini – soon saw Catherine return to the charts. The song remains one of her best known hits.
Her 1965 album, Noi siamo i giovani (whose title was taken from the chorus of L’esercito del surf) sold well, and contained further singles La nostra primavera, In un giardino and Ieri (her take on The Beatles’ Yesterday), though each failed to win over record buyers as convincingly as her earlier releases.
After appearing opposite Rod Taylor in the US film Hotel in 1967, Catherine cut her first record in over a year – the lounge-tastic La notte è fatta per rubare, from the soundtrack of a film of the same name. From this point on, she went into the recording studio only sporadically.
Seeking a new direction, she joined fellow singer Johnny Dorelli in the operetta La vendova allegra in 1968. The pair went onto enjoy a lasting relationship, both personally and professionally. She also switched record labels, joining Det for the release of Igor e Natacha (another Mogol composition).
After a couple more solo singles, Oh! and I regali del passato, Catherine joined up with Dorelli to enjoy success as a duo with songs such as Song sung blue in 1972 and Una serata insieme a te in 1973.
Catherine continued to focus on her acting career for the remainder of the decade, cutting only the occasional record.
In 1987, she began a 15-year run of the Harem TV talk show. By this time she had also moved into journalism, writing for Il corriere della sera, among other titles.
More recently, she took part in reality TV’s Ballando con le stelle, while continuing her acting, principally in the theatre.
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