Brigitte Bardot (born September 28, 1934) is a former French model, actress, dancer and singer from a bourgeois background who became an international sex symbol. Discovered by Roger Vadim at age 14, she went on to become France's biggest star and the symbol for a new breed of free 1960s femininity and sexuality. She helped to popularize French cinema, the bikini, free love and St Tropez. Since retiring from acting in the early 1970s she has devoted herself to animal rights and is the founder and chair of The Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the welfare and protection of animals.
Brigitte Bardot was born in her parents’ flat in the 15th arrondissement of Paris on September 28th 1934. Her father, Louis ‘Pilou’ Bardot, was a trained engineer who worked in the family business, Charles Bardot and Company, manufacturers of liquid air and acetylene. Her mother, Anne-Marie ‘Toty’ Mucel was a strict but cultured woman with a particular interest in music and dance. A second child, Brigitte’s younger sister Mijanou, was born in 1938. By then the family had moved to the bourgeois heartland of the 16th arrondissement. In their formative years, both girls were sent to a Catholic school.
At the age of 7, Brigitte’s mother enrolled her to study dance with Marcelle Bourgat, a former star of the Paris Opera. In 1947, at the age of 13, she was accepted as a student at the distinguished Conservatoire National de Danse, where, for three years, she attended the ballet classes of Russian choreographer Boris Knyazev. It was here she developed the perfect posture and elegant way of walking so characteristic of her unique style in the years to come.
Through one of her mother’s contacts, Brigitte was hired to model in a fashion show in 1949. This led to a fashion shoot for the magazine Jardin des Modes, which in turn led to a photo assignment for Elle magazine. She appeared on the cover of the 2 May 1949 issue with the credit, BB. While babysitting for a friend, a budding twenty-one-year-old screenwriter by the name of Roger Vadim picked up this particular edition of Elle and was so taken with the picture that he showed the magazine to film director Marc Allégret, for whom he was working as an assistant at the time. Allégret agreed to give Bardot a screen test for his next film but was unimpressed by the results and didn’t give her the part. It appeared that Brigitte’s acting career was over before it had begun.
Roger Vadim, however, was infatuated with Bardot, and remained convinced that she had the makings of a movie star. Some months after the screen test he called her number on a whim and was lucky enough to get Brigitte on the line rather than her over-protective mother, who would almost certainly have hung up on him. Brigitte, however, was excited to hear from him, explaining that her parents were away for the weekend, and she invited him over. Watched over by her grandmother, they spent the afternoon together. A few days later he showed up again, much to the disapproval of Pilou and Toty who were unimpressed by Vadim’s uncut hair and lack of a permanent job. However, the couple continued to see each other, and soon after her fifteenth birthday Brigitte announced that she and Vadim would be married.
Brigitte’s parents did everything they could to keep her from making what they believed to be such a serious mistake. They wanted her to get her high school baccalaureate. They wanted her to continue with her dancing. They insisted that she could not marry until she was eighteen. Pilou even threatened Vadim with a revolver, warning him that if he ever touched his little girl, he’d use it. The harder Brigitte tried to persuade them, the more they resisted. It was all too much for the Brigitte, who, one evening when the rest of the family was out, put her head in the oven and turned on the gas. By chance her parents returned early and managed to save her in time.
Bowing to the inevitable, Brigitte’s parents allowed their daughter to continue seeing Vadim, who was already preparing her for future stardom by insisting she take acting classes. Meanwhile she continued modelling and undertook her first and only contract as a professional dancer on a 15-day cruise ship around the Atlantic Islands.
Back in Paris, Brigitte’s film career began with a small part in Jean Boyer’s 1952 film Le Trou normand. It was an inauspicious start for Bardot who didn’t like the role she played, didn’t feel she knew what she was doing, and was not happy with her acting or the slow and mechanical process of making films. Nevertheless, almost immediately after, she went in front of the camera again when Vadim secured her the title role in Willy Rozier’s Manina – La fille sans voile (The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter). Shot in the summer of 1952, Brigitte spent most of the film scantily clad in a bikini. Her father was outraged and demanded cuts. Rozier compromised by agreeing to allow a judicial referee to see the film before it was officially released. In November 1952, with Brigitte now eighteen, the referee ruled that the film was decent and could be shown without any risk to her honour.
In December Brigitte and Vadim were finally married. There were two ceremonies. The first was a civil ceremony at the town hall that served the 16th arrondissement. The second took place the following day at Notre Dame de Grace in Passy. After a brief honeymoon at Megeve, the couple returned to their own one-bedroom flat on the rue Chardon-Lagache, a gift from Brigitte’s parents.
During their first few years together, Bardot and Vadim developed a remarkable partnership. He shaped and influenced the way she spoke, what she wore, and her famous pout. Most importantly he changed the colour of her hair, turning her into a blonde. “Whenever I walked or undressed or ate breakfast,” she later remembered, “I always had the impression he was looking at me with someone else’s eyes and with everyone’s eyes. Yet, I knew he wasn’t seeing me, but through me his dream.”
Having created this new Bardot, Vadim signed her up with an influential agent. Together they got her cast in a quick succession of mostly forgettable movies, including La Portrait de son père (His Father’s Portrait, 1953), Act of Love (1953) starring Kirk Douglas, Si Versailles m’etait conte (Affairs in Versailles, 1954). Tradita (Concert of Intrigue, 1954), and Futures Vedettes (Sweet Sixteen, 1955). This last film was co-written by Vadim and directed by Marc Allégret, who had now reconsidered his earlier assessment of the young actress. Vadim and Brigitte collaborated on the dialogue together, modifying the lines to fit her carefully crafted persona.
But none of these film appearances had anything like the impact of Brigitte’s appearance at the 1953 Cannes Film Festival. The beach at Cannes was already crowded with stars when Bardot showed up in a bathing suit. Immediately, the photographers, orchestrated by Vadim, focused their attention on her. They photographed her on the beach and in front of the Carlton hotel. Then a photo opportunity was arranged for a group of famous stars on the aircraft carrier Midway anchored offshore. Brigitte managed to get herself invited too and when she slipped off her raincoat to reveal herself wrapped in a tiny dress, the sailors went wild. Still a relative unknown, she had stolen the limelight from some of the biggest film stars in the world.
Her growing fame brought the offer of a role in a British comedy, Doctor at Sea, staring Dirk Bogarde. At a press conference for the film, Brigitte packed the ballroom at the Dorchester Hotel in London and captivated the journalists with her witty replies to their hackneyed questions. “She is every man’s idea of the girl he’d like to meet in Paris,” wrote the film-critic Ivon Addams.
Back in France she worked with Michele Morgan and Gérard Philipe in Les Grandes Manoeuvres (Summer Maneuvers, 1955), as the sexy temptress in La Lumière d’en Face (The Light Across the Street, 1955), as Andraste in Robert Wise’s Helen of Troy (1956), bathing in milk in Mio Figlio Nerone (Nero’s Big Weekend, 1956) and tantalizing in the screwball comedy En Effeuillant la Marguerite (Mam’zelle Striptease, 1956). All the time, Vadim continued to feed stories about her to an increasingly hungry press.
And God Created Woman
Roger Vadim was still only 26 years old when he wrote the screenplay for the film that would catapult Bardot to international stardom and launch his own directing career. He had been planning the move for years but the breakthrough came when he met and teamed up with another ambitious young man, producer Raoul Lévy. Vadim’s screenplay was a melodramatic tale of love, marriage and betrayal set in Saint-Tropez. Levy not only agreed to back the project, he was willing to let Vadim direct, a very unusual concession at the time when most first-time directors were in the forties or fifties. Vadim also managed to persuade him that that film should be in colour and wide-screen Cinemascope. Levy then set to work trying to find financial partners but it wasn’t easy as Vadim later recalled, “In 1955 Raoul was a hard-up producer and I was a novice writer. Our first project brought shrugs of disbelief from film people who advised us to buy a lottery ticket instead.” Eventually a former band leader, Ray Ventura, agreed to co-produce the film, and once they had signed up the established actor Curt Jurgens and Columbia studios had agreed to distribute it, they had enough money to begin production.
The film was shot quickly in May and June 1956, on location in St Tropez and at the Victorine Studios in Nice. In the story Bardot plays eighteen-year old orphan Juliette, a seductive beauty whose habit of sunbathing naked and walking around the town barefoot, attracts the attention of various men. Her suitors include wealthy middle-aged businessman Eric Carradine (Curt Jurgens) and the local Tardieu brothers, Antoine (Christian Marquand) and Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Sparking rivalry between the brothers by agreeing to marry Michel but sleeping with Antoine, she also continues to toy with Carradine’s affections, putting on a frenzied dance for him in the neighbourhood bar, leading to a confrontation and a final shoot out.
While the storyline was relatively conventional, it was the audacity of Bardot’s performance and the frank portrayal of sexuality on screen that made contemporary audiences react so strongly. “She does whatever she wants,” Eric says of Juliette, “whenever she wants.” This was a new kind of woman, untamed and untroubled by conventional morality; Vadim had captured perfectly what was unique and special about Brigitte’s character and people responded. They didn’t know whether to be shocked or excited. The censor reacted predictably with outrage and demanded cuts. He reprimanded Vadim for the scene in which Bardot gets out of bed and walks naked across a room and insisted it be cut. Vadim told him he had imagined the scene, that in fact she was wearing a long shirt in the shot. The censor remained sure he’d seen her naked, forcing Vadim to rerun the film again to prove otherwise. “That was one of the most amazing things about Brigitte’s presence on film,” Vadim later recalled, “people often thought she was naked when she wasn’t.”
When Et Dieu… Créa la femme (And God Created Woman) opened in Paris in 1956 the reviews were damning. “What a terrible image this film will give of France as portrayed by the vulgarity of Mlle Bardot,” wrote one. Initially the box office returns were poor and it looked like the film would sink without trace; that is until it began opening around the rest of the world. Before the film opened in London the British censor demanded cuts, but it didn’t stop the film being released in cinemas across the country to great success. In America the Catholic Church tried to have the film banned but the scandal only added to the publicity. It became the first French film ever to out-sell a homegrown blockbuster when it topped the charts ahead of big Hollywood films like The Ten Commandments. Life magazine commented, ‘Since the Statue of Liberty, no French girl has ever shone quite as much light on the United States.’ Based on the unbelievable response to the film throughout the rest of the world, it was re-released and became a huge success in France too.
New Life, New Loves
While filming Et Dieu… Créa la femme, Brigitte had fallen in love with her co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant. At first it seemed merely an attempt to make Vadim jealous, but when he didn’t get jealous it became something more serious. As for Vadim, he had seen the end coming for some time: “I’d liberated Brigitte and shown her how to be truly herself. That was the beginning of the end of our marriage. From that moment, our marriage went downhill.” For Bardot, Trintignant offered an alternative to a life of constant hectic socializing in film studios and cocktail parties. He was a quiet young man who read poetry, and, unlike her stormy relationship with her husband, they never argued. Her separation from Vadim, which took place in 1957, was a civilized affair. “I’ve never seen any divorce go as smoothly,” he later recalled. They stayed good friends and he remained an important confidant for her in the years to come.
In the wake of Et Dieu créa la femme, Bardot was a hot property and continued making films at a steady pace, including La Mariée est trop belle (The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful, 1956) with Louis Jordan, La Parisienne (1957), and Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune (Heaven Fell That Night, 1958) again directed by Jean Vadim. Otto Preminger wanted to cast her as the wayward daughter in his adaptation of Francoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, but on Vadim’s advice she turned it down. She also turned down an opportunity to make a film with Frank Sinatra because it would mean upping sticks and moving to America. Instead she starred with Jean Gabin in En cas de malheur (Love Is My Profession, 1958).
At the end of 1958 Cinémonde magazine voted Bardot and Gabin their number one stars. But she wasn’t just popular in France; she was beginning to top popularity lists in countries across the world. Such immense fame brought with it the constant attention of the press, who pursued her relentlessly. She often felt trapped and admitted to friends that she felt she was missing out on a normal life. Her relationship with Jean-Louis Trintignant had lasted only six months, after which she had even briefer flings with actor Gustavo Rojo and singer Gilbert Becaud.
Looking for a refuge, she bought a house in the small coastal town of St Tropez and began spending whatever time off she had there. It was here she met the singer Sacha Distel. Their whirlwind love affair became front-page news. Photographers followed them from St Tropez to Paris. Mob scenes greeted them in Italy when they attended the Venice Film Festival together in 1958. For a while there was serious talk of marriage but the burden of being engaged to Brigitte became too difficult for Distel to bear. “She needed the man she was in love with to be with her constantly, to do the things she wanted to do, and to take second place,” he later lamented, although his association with her did no harm to his budding career. By the end of the summer their romance was just a memory.
Brigitte’s next film was a comedy set in World War II, Babette s’en Va-t-en Guerre (Babette Goes to War, 1959). Her co-star was a good-looking young twenty-two-year-old actor named Jacques Charrier. During shooting in Paris and London, Brigitte quickly fell for Charrier. After filming they went on holiday together to Chamonix-les-Houches. Staying in a chalet, isolated by a snowstorm, Brigitte got pregnant. As soon as she found out she called Vadim and asked his advice. He knew that she didn’t like children, yet he advised her to have the child because if she didn’t she might regret it. When he found out, Charrier insisted that not only must she have the child but they must get married as soon as possible.
The ceremony took place in a quiet Paris suburb. Despite attempts to keep it secret, someone tipped off the press who besieged the church. During the ceremony there were flashbulbs going off constantly and an argument broke out between Brigitte’s father and the local mayor who was conducting the event. It was an ill omen for a marriage that seemed jinxed from the start. First Charrier suffered an attack of appendicitis and was forced into hospital. Before he had recovered, Brigitte had to start work on her next film, Voulez vous dancer avec moi (Come and Dance With Me). No sooner was Charrier out of hospital than he was called up by the army for military service. In the barracks, he was taunted mercilessly by the other men. He lost 20 pounds, had a breakdown and tried to slit his wrists.
Released for a year on compassionate grounds, he returned to live with Brigitte in her Paris apartment. Already the press were camped outside awaiting the birth of the child. It became virtually impossible for her to leave the apartment. ‘It was inhuman what the press put me through,” Bardot recalled in an interview many years later. “I couldn’t take a walk. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t go to see my doctor. I couldn’t even go to have my baby in a hospital. I was encircled by the press from all over the world.” Finally on Monday 11 January 1960, Nicholas Charrier was born. However his birth failed to bring out the maternal instincts Vadim had predicted. “How could you expect me to raise a child when I still needed my mother?” She commented later. Bardot would only see Nicholas intermittently through his childhood, and not until she was in her sixties and he was married with two children, would they have a lasting reconciliation.
Six weeks after the birth, Brigitte had a small part in L’Affair d’une nuit (It Happened at Night, 1960). This was followed by the leading role in Henri-Georges Cluzot’s La Verite (The Truth, 1960). In the film she played Dominique, a young girl from the provinces who comes to Paris and gets caught up in the bohemian life. When she discovers her lover is having an affair, she kills him and is put on trial for murder. Unable to explain to anybody her inner torment, she slashes her wrists.
Filming proved fraught with Brigitte struggling to cope with the pressures of constant press intrusion and the jealousy of her husband over her love scenes with handsome young co-star Sami Frey. To calm her down Cluzot prepared her for certain scenes by doping her with tranquillizers and whiskey. The film was a critical and commercial success and Brigitte later considered it her favourite film, but Cluzot’s often-tyrannical methods did nothing to help her nerves. There were fights between them on the set. During one of these, Brigitte slapped the director and called him a psychopath. The press speculated that the two of them were having an affair, though the truth was she was actually seeing her co-star Frey.
By the end of the filming Brigitte was at the end of her tether. In love with Sami Frey but unsure whether she wanted to end her marriage to Charrier, she left them both to take a holiday with her friend Mercedes Zavka in a secluded villa in a tiny coastal village where the press would never think to find her. For the first couple of weeks, the pair lived like carefree recluses. Brigitte went under a false name and wore a headscarf and sunglasses when outside. Inevitably a photographer spotted her. The word got out and soon the paparazzi were camped outside the villa.
The next day was Brigitte’s 26th birthday. She tried to carry on as normal, having lunch at a beachside restaurant, but somebody took a photograph. It was the last straw for Brigitte. That evening she went for a walk and didn’t come back. She was found sitting at the bottom of the garden. She’d slashed her wrists and taken an overdose of barbiturates. An ambulance was called and took her to a clinic in Nice. The next day doctors at the clinic issued a statement saying that she was out of danger, although adding that she was suffering from acute depression. They also acknowledged she’d come within minutes of dying. Brigitte left the clinic on the 2nd of October and returned to her house in St Tropez. Within a few weeks she was seen shopping in the village as normal accompanied by Roger Vadim who had helped her through the crisis. Bardot’s divorce from Jacques Charrier was finalized in 1962. In an uncontested plea, Charrier was awarded custody of Nicholas.
While making La Verite, Bardot had mentioned to friends that she planned to quit making movies once she’d completed her contractual obligations. So within three months of her attempted suicide, she was back at work on what she planned would be a last hurrah in front of the camera lens. The first film, La Bride sur le cou (Please, Not Now, 1961) was supposed to be a slapstick comedy and should have been fun to make but became embroiled in conflict and a court case after Brigitte became disenchanted with the director, Jean Aurel, and had him fired and replaced by Roger Vadim. This was followed by Les Amours celebres, in which she played a medieval maiden opposite Alain Delon’s knight in one of several sketches. Her next part was something more challenging. Vie Privée (A Very Private Life) began as an adaptation of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, but when MGM wouldn’t release the rights, the producer Christine Gouze-Renal and director, Louis Malle, decided they would keep the title and instead make a film about the private life of a movie star.
Although initially enthusiastic, Bardot soon began to hate the project. Once again crowds and paparazzi pursued her wherever she went in Geneva and Italy where the film was being shot. Adding to these difficulties she didn’t get on with her co-star Marcello Mastroianni, who in turn couldn’t stand her. But the hardest thing of all for Brigitte was the movie’s script, which forced her to relive some of her worst experiences. Indeed Malle often rewrote incidents lifted straight out of her life. “Many people found the film exaggerated,” Malle commented. “They thought we made the story up. They couldn’t believe these things actually happened. But most of them did. Most of it was right out of Brigitte’s life. We didn’t have to exaggerate. That’s what happened to her all the time.” Despite some powerful moments however, the film ultimately proved a disappointment with both critics and public.
Brigitte teamed up with Vadim once again for Le Repos du guerrier (Love On A Pillow, 1962), and then announced her retirement from acting. “In life,” she said, “it’s sometimes good to step back. I’ve been filming for ten years without a pause. I need to get my bearings.” Despite this resolution, within the next year she made four more films.
Firstly, Jean-Luc Godard approached her to star in Le Mepris (Contempt, 1963), his adaptation of the novel by Alberto Moravia, an offer she found too hard to turn down. There was also the incentive of 2.5 million francs for her work – the largest paycheck she’d received to date – courtesy of producers Joseph E. Levine and Carlo Ponti. An emotionally raw account of a marital break up set against the intrigues of the international film industry, the movie was short at the Cinecitta studios in Rome and on Capri Island. As Camille Javal, the wife who loses faith in her husband, Bardot gives what many consider her greatest performance. Production was far from harmonious, however, with Godard dramatizing his own traumatic break up with the actress Anna Karina. In the long scene in the middle of the film where husband and wife wander through their apartment, arguing and reconciling, Godard made Brigitte wear a black wig to more resemble Karina. The producers got their money’s worth too, insisting Bardot strip off for the famous nude opening scene. A less distinguished run of films followed including Une Ravissante Idiote (A Ravishing Idiot, 1964), and uncredited cameo roles in Marie Soleil (1964) and Dear Brigitte (1965), as the object of an eight-year-old boy’s crush, whose father is played by James Stewart.
During 1964, Louis Malle signed her for his new movie, Viva Maria. On the way to Mexico where the film was to begin shooting in January 1965, Brigitte stopped off in Brazil with her new boyfriend Robert Zagury. A great throng of journalists and photographers met their plane when it touched down in Rio and for four days the couple were virtual prisoners in their penthouse hotel room. Finally Zagury persuaded the journalist to back off by agreeing to supply them with photographs taken by his own photographer during their entire stay in South America. The result was the first extended period of peace and quiet Bardot had known since becoming a star. For four idyllic months they stayed in the tiny remote fishing village of Buzios where nobody knew who she was.
The next stop was Mexico. Arriving there, Bardot was met once more by hundreds of journalists and photographers. The press frenzy continued for the duration of the production making filming extremely difficult. Added to the difficulties facing director Louis Malle was the supposed rivalry between Bardot and her co-star Jeanne Moreau. Malle later remembered, “The first day of shooting there were something like 130 journalists trying to get on the set. Brigitte refused to come out of her trailer. Jeanne had to show up and make a little speech to appease them before we could get them off the set. Then the journalists started writing stories about how angry Jeanne was with Brigitte and how angry Brigitte was with Jeanne, when none of it was the case. But when Brigitte and Jeanne saw those stories, they started getting angry at each other.” Actually the two actresses got on well in private, although Moreau found Bardot to be surprisingly unsure of herself. “Being an actress was never Brigitte’s dream. Because she was always praised for her beauty, I felt I she didn’t have enough self-esteem. No one ever told her how good she was as an actress. And I thought she was very good.”
Regardless of their friendship, Moreau became exasperated when Bardot kept turning up late for work and the film went over schedule. “It was nerve wracking for everyone. Louis started getting upset. Everybody got upset. It all got so out of hand. I wish somebody had calmed it down. I couldn’t understand how we’d turned such a beautiful situation – with a lot of money, a good script, good people, a fun film – and transformed it into a nightmare.” Bardot later said she felt as if she and Moreau had lived together like two comrades in the army who’d fought a war.
To publicize the film, Bardot flew to the United States for the first time. Accompanying her was Robert Zagury and a large entourage, including ace documentary director Francois Rauchenbach recording everything for posterity. Arriving in Kennedy Airport, she was hustled off the plane and into a press conference in front of 50 photographers and 100 journalists. Fielding questions such as “What do you think about being called a sex-kitten?” and “What do you think about free love?” Brigitte responded with some quick-witted answers that delighted the assembled throng. In fact her reviews for the press conference outshone the reviews she got for the film which were mostly lukewarm. Nevertheless, the premiere held in Times Square was mayhem with 5,000 people gathering to catch a glimpse of the star. The crowd frenzy and media spotlight continued in Los Angeles and never let up throughout her visit.
Bubblegum Pop Singer
Back in Paris, Zagury encouraged Bardot to continue her on/off career as a recording artist, filming her singing various compositions in different filmed clips. These clips would eventually make up a prime-time American TV special. Bardot had begun playing guitar and singing back in the 1950s around the time she was going out with Sacha Distel. She recorded her first single C’est rigolo in 1962, and had contributed songs to several of the soundtracks of her films. Zagury asked Serge Gainsbourg to write a song for her. He wrote Harley Davidson overnight and they shot the clip for it two days later. It was the first of a string of hit pop songs written by Gainsbourg for Bardot including Bonnie and Clyde, Contact, and the controversial Je t’aime moi non plus, which Gainsbourg withdrew at Bardot’s request, later re-recording it with Jane Birkin.
A Whirlwind Romance
In the summer of 1966, Brigitte first met Gunter Sachs in St Tropez. He was a multi-millionaire German industrialist and playboy with a passion for life. Brigitte, who by this time had split up with Bob Zagury, couldn’t help but fall for Sachs’s grand romantic gestures such as hiring a helicopter and dropping 100 dozen roses over her house. After a whirlwind courtship, he took her to see his home in Germany and put on the biggest fireworks display ever seen in Bavaria. “He romanced me like James Bond,” she later recalled. “I was seduced by the sort of madness Gunter put into seducing me.” They were married in Las Vegas and flew to Tahiti for their honeymoon.
The thrill ride couldn’t last; Bardot couldn’t stand constantly being on the move, always going out, always surrounded by people. She found solace in affairs with young actors like Mike Sarne and Patrick Gilles. For his part, Sachs complained he “couldn’t tell ten minutes ahead what she was going to be like. She’d go from wonderfully happy to being extremely annoyed in seconds. I felt the possibility of a nervous breakdown or even suicide was always hanging in the air.” They were divorced in 1969.
The Last Act
Following Viva Maria!, Bardot’s film appearances became more infrequent. She had a cameo in Godard’s Masculin, Feminin (1966), starred in the woeful A Coeur joie (Two Weeks in September, 1967), appeared opposite Alain Delon in the Edgar Allan Poe compendium Histoires extraordinaires (1968), and opposite Sean Connery in the lacklustre western Shalako (1968). The attractions of the movie business had long faded for her. “The cinema is an absurd world. I decided to live my life as I am, not as anyone else wanted me to be. When I’m working, that’s fine. But when I stop and think about all of that, I am horrified by the extraordinary image that has been created around me."
Her indifference lead to some cavalier choices throughout her career, especially towards the end. Her final films included Les Femmes (1969), L’Ours et la poupée (The Bear and the Doll, 1970), Boulevard du Rhum (Rum Runners, 1971), and Les Petroleuses (The Legend of Frenchie King, 1971). Fittingly, her final film before she announced her retirement was directed by Roger Vadim. Don Juan ou si Don Juan était une femme (1973) starred Bardot as a female Don Juan. It should have been a memorable swansong but instead turned out to be another disappointment. In 1973, at the age of 39, Brigitte had had enough.
Still in the Spotlight
After her retirement from the movie business, Bardot might have wished that she could return to some level of anonymity again, but it was not to be.
People still arrived at her home in St Tropez unannounced, sent her mail, followed her through the streets and sneaked onto her property.
Controversies such as her disagreement with the local town mayor over her building of a wall around her property continued to make headlines.
Her romantic relationships were also a constant source of press and public interest. After her retirement there was a string of relationships with younger men, one of the most enduring was with animal right activist and TV journalist Allain Bougrain-Dubourg. In 1992 she married for a fourth time to Bernard d’Ormale whose past role as an adviser to the far right Front National party resulted in criticism aimed at her by association, even though she has never expressed support for the party. She also faced accusations of racism for her open disapproval of France’s immigration policy and her objections to the Muslim policy of ritually slaughtering sheep without anesthetizing them first.
Making a Difference
From a young age Brigitte Bardot had always been extremely fond of animals. As early as 1962, she publicly protested against the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses leading to a change in the law that required slaughterhouses to use faster, less painful methods. From 1973 onwards she began to concentrate most of her time into her campaigns. She has crusaded for better treatment of animals in zoos, battled against the fur trade, and personally paid for many sick animals to be nursed back to health. One of her most famous campaigns was against the annual slaughter of baby seals for their fur in Newfoundland, Canada. In 1986, she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals. She raised three million francs to fund the foundation by auctioning off jewellery and other personal belongings.
The Reluctant Legend
Regardless of the criticisms and controversies that have surrounded her, Brigitte Bardot remains a major cultural icon of the twentieth century. When she first came on the scene, she represented a new sense of freedom not seen before. She lit up the screen with a wild, liberated, animal presence that struck a resounding chord with the younger generation of the late 1950s and 1960s. Her sense of style influenced what women wore all over the world and still does. The Bardot neckline (a wide open neck that exposes both shoulders) is named after her. She is recognized for popularizing bikini swimwear in early films such as Manina, in her appearances at Cannes and many photoshoots, as well as gingham clothes and the Choucroute (Sauerkraut) hairstyle. She also popularized the town of St Tropez and made it the tourist Mecca it has since become.
Not surprisingly, as someone so closely associated with France, she was asked and agreed to become the official model for the bust of Marianne, the French national emblem and the symbol of liberation. However, lucrative offers from Hollywood and elsewhere have failed to entice her back in front of the camera. As one close friend commented: “She hates the myth and hates the legend that surrounds her. She doesn’t want to hear about that. She doesn’t understand it and never did. She doesn’t want to know that she’s a legend. She realizes that she influenced a generation of young people. She accepts that. But the rest, the legend thing, she doesn’t want to know and definitely doesn’t care.” Whatever her personal feelings, Brigitte Bardot’s cultural legacy lives on in the fashions and attitudes of successive generations.
Le Trou normand (1952) ... Javotte Lemoine
Manina, la fille sans voile (1952) ... Manina
Les Dents longues (1952) ... Marriage witness
Un acte d'amour (1953) ... Mimi
Le Portrait de son père (1953) ... Domino
Tradita (1954) ... Anna
Si Versailles m'était conté (1954) ... Mademoiselle de Rozille
Futures vedettes (1955) ... Sophie
Le Fils de Caroline chérie (1955) ... Pilar d’Aranda
Doctor at Sea (1955) ... Helene Colbert
Les Grandes manoeuvres (1955) ... Lucie
Mio figlio Nerone (1956) ... Poppea
La lumière d'en face (1956) ... Olivia Marceau
La Mariée est trop belle (1956) ... Chouchou
En effeuillant la marguerite (1956) ... Agnes Dumont
Helen of Troy (1956) ... Andraste
Et Dieu… créa la femme (1956) ... Juliete Hardy
Les Bijoutiers du clair de lune (1957) ... Ursula
Une parisienne (1957) ... Brigitte Laurier
La femme et le pantin (1958) ... Eva Marchand
En cas de malheur (1958) ... Yvette Maudet
La testament d'Orphee (1959) ... brief appearance
Babette s'en va-t-en guerre (1959) ... Babette
Voulez-vous danser avec moi? (1959) ... Virginie Dandieu
L'Affaire d'une nuit (1960) ... Woman in restuarant
La Vérité (1960) ... Dominique Marceau
Vie privée (1961) ... Jill
Les Amours célèbres (1961) ... Agnes Bernauer
La Bride sur le cou (1961) ... Sophie
Le Repos du guerrier (1962) ... Genevieve Le Theil
Le Mépris (1963) ... Camille Javal
Paparazzi (documentary, 1963) ... herself
Une ravissante idiote (1964) ... Penelope Lightfeather
Marie Soleil (1965) ... Cameo
Viva María! (1965) ... Maria
Masculin, féminin (1966) ... Elle-meme
À coeur joie (1967) ... Cecile
Histoires extraordinaires (1968) ... Giuseppina
Shalako (1968) ... Countess Iina Lazaar
L'Ours et la poupée (1969) ... Felicia
Les Femmes (1969) ... Clara
Les Novices (1970) ... Agnes
Les Pétroleuses (1971) ... Louise
Boulevard du rhum (1971) .Linda Larue
Don Juan 73 (1973) ... Jeanne
Colinot (1973) ... Arabelle