So after seeing the Edith Piaf movie, I started reading a couple of biographies of her–the first, Piaf by Margaret Crosland, is unemotional and terse, firmly debunking the legend like a stern and ruthless nanny, and demonstrating scholarly intent by leaving song lyrics untranslated, in French. It skates in gracefully at about 196 pages, plus appendices. The second, Piaf: A Passionate Life, by David Bret, is happier to entertain the legend, gives song lyrics in translation as best he may (not that I don't appreciate Ms. Crosland's assumption that I'm a serious reader), and uses exclamation points! for moments of irony drama and surprise! It comes in at about 240 pages.
The movie skipped World War II. Crosland says Piaf's secretary worked for the resistance, taking pictures of prisoners posing with Piaf at camps around Paris, then clipping the prisoners' faces from the photos to use in forged identity documents for prisoners to use when they escaped. Bret says that Piaf was in on the work, and would descend on the camps with an entourage of seventeen that would mysteriously swell to twenty-five when she left the camp, sweeping a few prisoners up under her skirts, so to speak–it's a lovely story, but while I can believe that the German officers didn't know enough French to realize that Piaf was adding certain words about their mothers in some of her songs, I can't believe they were too addled by the little sparrow not to notice roll call was a few heads short after her visits.
The big thing the movie missed was how hard Piaf worked, not just touring, but as a songwriter as well–she did take her work seriously, it wasn't just a pretense to justify an artiste's bad behavior. That's unjust (ce n'est pas juste).