As the daughter of two English professors employed at a Protestant University in Dijon, Claude Jade -- christened Claude Jorré -- attended her native city's Conservatory of Dramatic Art, where she trained extensively as a stage actor. The teenage Jade displayed prodigious dramatic promise and, at the tender age of 18, netted the Conservatory's highly coveted Best Actress prize for her interpretation of the role of Agnès in Molière's L' École des Femmes. From there, the young woman traveled to Paris, where she studied under the tutelage of Jean-Laurent Cochet at the Edouard II theater and signed on for a production of Pirandello's Henri IV, mounted by Sacha Pitoeff at the Théâtre Moderne.
Serendipitously, François Truffaut happened to catch one of the performances of Henri IV, and, delighted with Jade, instantly cast her as Christine, the love interest and eventual wife of his onscreen alter-ego, Antoine, in Baisers Volés (1968), the third installment of the Antoine Doinel series. He coyly referred to her as "French cinema's little sweetheart." (And "the director's little sweetheart" -- during this period, the two began an off-camera romantic entanglement as well and became engaged, but Truffaut ended the engagement on the night before the wedding.) Although Variety termed Jade's contributions to Baisers Volés "first-rate," journalists from most other sources, at the time, oddly failed to single out her extraordinary work despite lavishing much-deserved torrents of praise onto the film as a whole. (In an unrelated article, Vincent Canby later termed her performance "lovely.")
Through Truffaut, Jade became acquainted with one of the director's closest friends, Alfred Hitchcock, who cast her in her English-language film debut, the massive, lavishly scaled espionage thriller Topaz, with Frederick Stafford, John Forsythe, John Vernon, and fellow French actors Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret. In the film, Jade plays Michèle Picard, wife of François Picard (Michel Subor of Godard's Le Petit Soldat). Unfortunately, despite scattered solid reviews, the film tanked with the public, and went down in the minds of most as one of Hitchcock's dullest efforts; Canby observed that Jade "frowns a lot" in the role and failed to list her among the film's most memorable performers.
Over the course of the '70s, Jade adorned the casts of many additional cinematic efforts from multiple countries, including Belgium (Home Sweet Home, 1973), Italy (La Ragazza di Via Condotti, 1973), Japan (Kita no Misaki, 1975), and her native France (La Grotte aux Loups, 1979). She re-teamed with Truffaut for two additional episodes in the Doinel cycle, 1970's Bed and Board and 1979's Love on the Run.
Jade essayed countless additional film roles during the '80s and '90s, but never again reached the heights she scaled under Truffaut's wing. Projects during these two decades include Patrick Villechaize's Treize (1981), Henri Helman's Lise et Laura (1984), André Thiéry's Qui Sont Mes Juges (1987), Jean-Pierre Mocky's Bonsoir (1993), and Iradj Azimi's Le Radeau de la Meduse (1998). Jade's many contributions to French culture were recognized in 1998, when she was named a female Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur; two years later, she received the Palm Beach Film Festival's New Wave Award for the "trend-setting role she [had] played in the world cinema." She also participated in Claude de Givray's 1985 documentary Vivement Truffaut, an elegy edited together and released a year after the director's passing, and published a 2004 autobiography, Baisers Envolés, about her personal involvement with Truffaut. It wraps with an open letter to the filmmaker.
Tragically, Claude Jade contracted eye cancer in her late fifties, which rapidly spread to the rest of her body. She died at a hospital in the Parisian suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt on December 1, 2006, at 58 years old. At the time of her death, she was married to the diplomat Bernard Coste, whom she wed in 1972 and with whom she had one child, a son. While Coste was stationed in Russia during the early '80s, Jade acted in two Russian films, Teheran '43 (1981) and Lenin in Paris (1981).