Movie Stars: Bardot, Brigitte (BB)–French and International Sex Symbol

and_god_created_woman_6_bardotFrench-born Brigitte Bardot was the greatest international sex symbol during the 1950 and early 1960s.

 

 

In addition to being a world renowned sex icon, gifted actress, popular singer, and fashion model, she became an animal rights activist after early retirement from the screen, at age 39.

Born in Paris, on September 28, 1934, she grew up in a middle-class Roman Catholic observant home. Her mother enrolled Brigitte and her younger sister, Marie-Jeanne, in dance school.  In 1947, Bardot was accepted to the Conservatoire de Paris. For three years she attended ballet classes by Russian choreographer Boris Knyazev; Leslie Caron was one of her classmates.

Model

and_god_created_woman_5_bardotAn acquaintance of her mother invited Bardot to model in a fashion show in 1949. In the same year, she modelled for the fashion magazine “Jardin des Modes,” managed by journalist Hélène Lazareff.  At age 15, she appeared on the cover of Elle and was noticed by the young film director Roger Vadim. He showed the magazine to director-screenwriter Marc Allégret, who offered Bardot an audition for Les lauriers sont coupés.  Although Bardot got the role, the film was cancelled, but it introduced her to the showbusiness milieu.  In fact, meeting Vadim changed the course of her career–and life.

Starlet at Cannes Film Fest

Bardot made her debuted in the 1952 comedy Le Trou Normand (Crazy for Love), opposite the comedian Bourvil. From 1952 to 1956, she appeared in no less than 17 films.  In 1953. she played a role in Jean Anouilh’s stage play L’Invitation au Château (Invitation to the Castle).  She received extensive media attention when she attended the Cannes Film Fest in 1953.

English-Speaking Films

and_god_created_woman_4_bardotHer films of the 1950s were mostly light frivolous comedies or romantic melodramas.  She was often cast as an ingénue or siren, appearing semi-nude to tease  the men around her.   She played bit parts in three English-language films, the British comedy Doctor at Sea (1955) with Dirk Bogarde, Helen of Troy (1954), in which she served as understudy for Helen but appears only as Helen’s handmaid, and Act of Love (1954) with Kirk Douglas.

Roger Vadim (her husband at the time) was not content with this light fare; he felt that Bardot was being undersold. Looking for an art film to promote her as a serious actress, he showcased her in And God Created Woman (1956) opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant. The film, about an immoral teenager in a small-town setting, was a huge success and turned Bardot into an international star overnight.

During her early career, photographer Sam Lévin’s photos contributed to the image of Bardot’s sensuality. One prominent showed Bardot from behind, dressed in a white corset.  Meanwhile, British photographer Cornel Lucas made images of Bardot in the 1950s and 1960s that have cemented her public persona.

In May 1958, Bardot withdrew to the seclusion of Southern France, where she had bought the house La Madrague in Saint-Tropez.

The Lolita Syndrome

and_god_created_woman_2_bardotBardot caught the attention of the French intellectual elite, when Simone de Beauvoir published her 1959 essay, The Lolita Syndrome, which described Bardot as a “locomotive of women’s history.” Building upon existentialist themes, the noted philosopher declared Bardot to be the first and most liberated woman of post-WWII France.

In 1963, she starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s film Le Mépris. Bardot was featured in many other films along with notable actors such as Alain Delon (Famous Love Affairs; Spirits of the Dead); Jean Gabin (In Case of Adversity); Sean Connery (Shalako); Jean Marais (Royal Affairs in Versailles; School for Love); Lino Ventura (Rum Runners); Annie Girardot (The Novices); Claudia Cardinale (The Legend of Frenchie King; Jeanne Moreau (Viva Maria!); Jane Birkin (Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman.

She participated in several musical shows and recorded popular songs in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly in collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Zagury and Sacha Distel.

and_god_created_woman_1_bardotOn December 21, 1952, aged 18, Bardot married director Roger Vadim, seven years her senior. To get permission from Bardot’s parents, Vadim, a Russian Orthodox Christian, was urged to convert to Catholicism; it is not clear if he ever did. They divorced five years later, but remained friends and collaborated in later work.

Bardot had an affair with her And God Created Woman co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant (married at the time to actress Stéphane Audran) before her divorce from Vadim. Their relationship was complicated by Trintignant’s frequent absence due to military service and Bardot’s affair with musician Gilbert Bécaud.

In 1958, Bardot recovered in Italy from a reported nervous breakdown, according to newspaper reports. Rumors of a suicide attempt were later denied by her.

On June 18, 1959, she married actor Jacques Charrier, by whom she had her only child, Nicolas-Jacques Charrier (born 1960). After she and Charrier divorced in 1962, Nicolas was raised in the Charrier family and did not maintain contact with Bardot until his adulthood.

Bardot’s third marriage, from 1966 to 1969, was to German millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs.

In the 1970s, Bardot lived with sculptor Miroslav Brozek and posed for some of his sculptures. In 1974, Bardot appeared in a nude photo shoot in Playboy magazine, which celebrated her 40th birthday.

Bardot’s fourth and current husband is Bernard d’Ormale, former adviser of Jean-Marie Le Pen, former leader of the far right party Front National; they have been married since 1992.

Despite her success, Bardot was then and has always remained an entirely French creation. The critic Jacques Sicilier has said: “Bardot exhibits her nudity without chastity, without complex, as a normal thing. She makes love whenever she feels like it.  Able to have feelings, passion, she claims the right to choose her own men.”

What disarmed her rivals (Martine Carole, Francoise Arnoul) was that Bardot did not seem to be acting–she claimed she was simply herself on the screen.  Bardot’s powerful look, temperamental outbursts, and modern (slightly dishevelled)  hair, and overall mannerism influenced many copycats, on and off screen.

Height of Career

Popular films that Bardot made at the height of her career, from 1956 to 1963, include Autant-Lara’s “Love Is My Profession” (“En cas de Malheur,” 1958), opposite Jean Gabin; Henri Georges Clouzot’s courtroom drama “The Truth” (“la verite,” 1960); Louis Malle’s “A Very Private Affair” (“Vie privee,” 1962), which used some elements of her life and stardom, and Godard’s masterpiece “Contempt” (“Le mepris, 1963).

In 1973, before her 39th birthday, Bardot announced that she was retiring from acting as “a way to get out elegantly.” After appearing in more than 40 pictures and recording music albums, she decided to use her fame to promote animal rights.

In 1986, she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals. She became a vegetarian and raised money to fund the foundation by auctioning off jewelry and many personal belongings. She is a strong animal rights activist and a major opponent of the consumption of horse meat.

Pop Culture Icon

In fashion, the Bardot neckline (a wide open neck that exposes both shoulders) is named after her. Bardot popularized this style, which is especially used for knitted sweaters or jumpers although it is also used for other tops and dresses.

Bardot popularized the bikini in her early films such as Manina (1952) (released in France as Manina, la fille sans voiles). The following year she was also photographed in a bikini on every beach in the south of France during the Cannes Film Fest. She gained additional attention when she filmed …And God Created Woman (1956) with Jean-Louis Trintignant (released in France as Et Dieu Créa La Femme). Bardot portrayed an immoral teenager cavorting in a bikini who seduces men in a respectable small-town setting. The film was an international success. The bikini was in the 1950s relatively well accepted in France but was still considered risqué in the US.

Bardot also brought into fashion the choucroute (“Sauerkraut”) hairstyle (sort of beehive hair style) and gingham clothes after wearing a checkered pink dress, designed by Jacques Esterel, at her wedding to Charrier. She was the subject for an Andy Warhol painting.

Bardot has also put on the map the city of St. Tropez and the town of Armação dos Búzios in Brazil, which she visited in 1964 with her then boyfriend, Brazilian musician Bob Zagury. The place where she stayed in Búziosis now a small hotel, Pousada do Sol, and also a French restaurant, Cigalon.

A statue by Christina Mott honors Brigitte Bardot in Armação dos Búzios.

Bardot was idolized by the young John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They made plans for a film featuring The Beatle and Bardot, similar to A Hard Day’s Night, but the plans were never fulfilled.  Lennon’s first wife Cynthia Powell lightened her hair color to more closely resemble Bardot, while George Harrison made comparisons between Bardot and his first wife Pattie Boyd, as Cynthia wrote later in A Twist of Lennon. Lennon and Bardot met in person once, in 1968 at the Mayfair Hotel, introduced by Beatles press agent Derek Taylor; a nervous Lennon took LSD before arriving, and neither star impressed the other. (Lennon recalled in a memoir, “I was on acid, and she was on her way out.”)

According to the liner notes of his first (self-titled) album, musician Bob Dylan dedicated the first song he ever wrote to Bardot. He also mentioned her by name in “I Shall Be Free,” a song on his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

She dabbled in pop music and played the role of a glamour model. In 1965, she appeared as herself in the Hollywood production Dear Brigitte (1965), starring James Stewart, one of her few American films. Since she refused to travel to Hollywood to shoot her scene, the cast and crew traveled to Paris.