Oh Jeanne, why do you look so young? I mean, so old. Wait, which one is it?
(Note: To avoid work misattribution, please see the Authorship section at the end of this article)
In part 2 of my series of articles on Jeanne Calment, I wrote that she looks way too young on her ID card photo:
The ID was issued sometime in the 1930s:
Let’s take a closer look at that date:
Could this be 1931? Let’s use the same “1” digit and try superimposing it so it coincides with the “remains” of the cut-off digit. Here’s what I got:
So it probably wasn’t 1931. Could it have been 1934? First of all, I think the remaining part of the last digit is too close to the third digit for it to be a “4”. Secondly, January 11, 1934 is just 8 days before Yvonne’s alleged death, who, according to Jeanne, was on her deathbed for several weeks — Jeanne said they took Yvonne home from the hospital before Christmas. Would Jeanne really be getting an ID card at this time?
Ok, how about a “7”?
Seems plausible. I used a “7” from the other side of the ID card, it’s a tad too long for my taste, but no reason why a “7” on the side of interest to us couldn’t have been just a bit shorter. Then it would be a perfect fit.
Under the identity switch hypothesis, Jeanne would have been long dead by 1937, which would explain why the family would use an old photo of her (in collusion with the issuing authorities, of course). Because this just does not look like someone between 55 and 64 years old to me:
As I mention in part 2, a nearly identical photo (almost certainly from the same photo shoot) is labeled “at age 40” on the Gerontology Research Group website:
If this photo was indeed taken at age 40, this would place it at 1915, i.e. 15 to 24 years before the ID card was issued. Which is already an issue. Another issue is that just below that photo, GRG lists the “mystery photo” from part 1 of my series on Jeanne, as “Jeanne at age 60”:
This would mean the photo was taken in 1935, and, if that were true, I just don’t understand how Jeanne could have gotten away with getting an ID card with a photo in which she looks 20 years younger by GRG standards. If Jeanne looked that old in the 1930s, no diligent passport officer would let her get an ID with a photo in which she looks nothing like herself. Come on:
You know what’s funny, though? The photo on the right actually looks more like a proper ID photo. Moreover, it looks like a recreation of the photo on the left: same necklace, same hairstyle. To my eye, the neck is still longer in the photo on the right, and the chin is more protruding.
Now, remember the common photo of Jeanne and Yvonne? This one:
How old would you say Yvonne is here? Let’s backtrack a bit. Here is Yvonne between age 15 and 28:
Why do I say before 28? Because in 1926 she got married and had a baby, and the national costume she is wearing in the photo above was almost certainly worn for this annual festival:
“The Fête du Costume (Costume Festival) started in 1903, instigated by Frédéric Mistral (a famous French writer from the South of France) when he created the Festo Vierginenco (Festival of Virgins).
Young girls were invited to wear the dress and hair ribbon as a symbol of their passage into adulthood (up to the age of 15 they could only wear the “Mireille” costume).”
In fact, I believe that Yvonne is actually 22 in that photo — the age at which the photo was originally reported as Jeanne on Wikipedia and Gerontology Research Group (as far back as 2007):
In fact, I think I now know the source of the incorrect identification of the above photo as Jeanne — it is the very same 1988 Paris Match interview fraught with inconsistencies that I wrote about in part 2.
Curiously, the current web version of the interview no longer contains the above photo, but an archived version still does, labeled as “Jeanne Calment, then aged 22, in 1897”:
So I think it was old Jeanne herself that told her interviewers “this is me at 22”. I believe it truly was her, except not in 1897 but in 1920.
In any case, in the common photo with Jeanne, Yvonne looks much older. She had also gained some weight since the bow hat photo, and the bodyfat profile of her face looks similar to that of the face in the “Highlander photo” (the plucked eyebrows are identical too):
By the way, do you see the same issue with the skin above the right eye?
While both Yvonne and the person in the mystery photo have a somewhat chubbier face, Jeanne, on the contrary, seems to have lost weight in the common photo since her ID photo (which is probably truly from around 1915, when Jeanne was 40, as the GRG label states):
Curiously, the 1988 Paris Match piece (that was the source of the mislabeled young Yvonne photo) thought that Jeanne is even younger in her ID card photo than GRG — Paris Match lists the ID card as “Jeanne at age 20”:
This is a kindergartner mistake, because Jeanne was aged 20 in 1895, and National ID cards were only created in 1917.
But back to the common photo of Jeanne and Yvonne. Reportedly, Jeanne looked quite young at Yvonne’s wedding:
According to a sister of Joseph Billot [Yvonne’s husband — YD], at the magnificent wedding of Yvonne in 1926, Jeanne looked so young that she could be taken for a 28-year-old daughter . This mistake was allegedly made by Joseph’s father at his first acquaintance with Jeanne .
Would anyone really mistake Jeanne for a 28-year old woman in the common photo? I don’t think so. That is why I think the common photo is taken many years after Yvonne’s wedding of 1926. Yvonne’s weight gain also likely happened after she gave birth to her son, not before. All things considered, I would estimate the date of the common photo sometime in the 1930s. This doesn’t leave much room, as either Yvonne or Jeanne died in 1934. Which brings me back to the mystery photo:
Could Jeanne really go looking from left to right in a span of 4 years? Or even 10 years?
I highly doubt it. What also strikes me is that, unlike Yvonne, Jeanne didn’t seem to pluck her eyebrows, but then the person in the mystery photo also has hers plucked. Isn’t that surprising?
Also, some researchers have claimed that Yvonne had been sick with tuberculosis for a number of years before ultimately succumbing to it in 1934. This was subsequently confirmed by Jeanne’s distant niece, Gilberte Mery, in an interview with JDD:
“Aunt Jeanne has always been in good health,” recalls Gilberte Mery another time. On the other hand, in the family, “she has always heard of Yvonne’s illness”. The young woman contracted tuberculosis which degenerated into pleurisy, a disease that was incurable at the time. Gilberte Mery does not remember being told about Yvonne’s condition at the time: it must be said that she was 5 years old at the time of her death. “At that time, we did not mix children with all that.” She remembers very well, however, that in the year of her 20s, when she in turn contracted pleurisy, her mother told her, “Do not be like Yvonne.”
Tuberculosis is widely known to lead to significant weight loss — so much so that it had historically been called “consumption”. But in the common photo with Yvonne, it is Jeanne who actually looks to have lost significant weight since her younger photos, while Yvonne, on the contrary, looks somewhat overweight.
Tuberculosis might actually add further credence to the identity switch hypothesis: if Jeanne had been slowly wasting away for years, her family members would have plenty of time to mull over the financial consequences of her passing, especially given the tax hit they endured from recent deaths of Jeanne’s father and mother-in-law. Moreover, the family could plan the fraud well in advance, including acquiring support from local authorities for the forging of Yvonne’s death certificate and possibly Jeanne’s ID card. Jeanne could even provide Yvonne with intimate details of her childhood — details which decades later gullible validators of her longevity record would tout as irrefutable evidence that old Jeanne is who she says she is:
“We have never done so much to prove the age of a person. … We had access to information that only she could know, such as the names of her teachers of mathematics or the history of a building. She was asked questions about these topics. Either she did not remember, or she just answered. Her daughter could not have known that.”
Does that sound convincing? Not to me.
One final point I would like to address is the nose. Some people point out that old Jeanne’s tip of the nose is found much lower than that of young Yvonne’s. That is true, but it is common knowledge among gerontologists that the nose continues to grow throughout life, and that its tip droops over time in some people. Moreover, young Jeanne’s nose was probably less prone to drooping than that of Yvonne, as it was smaller.
But even putting the nose differences between mother and daughter aside, the differences in their lower skull shape are hard to ignore: Yvonne had a more pronounced chin and lower jaw. To me that is the biggest mismatch between photos of young and old Jeanne:
PS: There is now an online petition to extract Jeanne’s and Yvonne’s DNA from their remains to conclusively establish whether the identity switch hypothesis is true or false.
Authorship: This article is based on my own research.
Update: Here is a detailed overview of how I became interested in Jeanne’s story, what my role was in the investigation and what were my research contributions: