In a country where people tell the story of a president, Felix Faure, who died after making love to a younger woman, few fingers wagged when Yves Montand was named by a minor actress as a defendant in a paternity suit in 1989.
But Wednesday night there was a sense of outrage across France when, under cover of darkness and behind locked gates, the authorities dug up his body from Pere Lachaise Cemetery and took it to a laboratory for DNA tests to settle a 22-year-old woman's claim to be his unacknowledged child. Since his death in 1991 his remains had lain next to those of his wife of 36 years, Simone Signoret.While he was alive Montand declined to submit to blood tests ordered in a paternity suit brought by Anne-Gilberte Drossard, an actress, on behalf of her daughter, Aurore. Drossard said her daughter was conceived during a liaison with Montand in the mid-1970s while they were both working on a film, "Vincent, Francois, Paul et les Autres."
Despite a striking resemblance to Aurore Drossard, Montand denied that he was her father, saying he had never heard of her until 1989. He died of a heart attack at 70 three days before he was to testify in the trial, which concluded in 1994 with a ruling that Drossard was indeed his child.
An appeal by his family, including the two heirs to a fortune said to be about $3.7 million, produced an order by the court of appeals last fall to open his tomb for a DNA test.
Bernard Kouchner, the health minister, called the ruling outrageous, and the family, like many other people in France, were appalled by the indignity inflicted on the image of an artist who, though born in Italy, had become one of France's greatest cultural icons.
Since French law allows DNA testing even on rape and murder suspects only with their consent, the debate focused on whether the living had any right to impose it on a dead man who had never consented while he could still draw breath.