With great beauty comes great controversy, and that was certainly the case when it came to Brigitte Bardot, the gorgeous French darling. The feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir referred to Brigitte Bardot as “the locomotive of women’s history” in her 1959 essay “The Lolita Syndrome.” But Bardot’s success “interrupted” the traditional notions of a French postwar starlet. She is remembered as the first “liberated” woman in pop culture in France after World War II.
As a singer, actress, dancer, and model, Bardot was more than just a triple threat. She was the European sex symbol from the 1950s to 1970s. At 86 years old, Bardot continues to make headlines, pay court fines, and make shocking comments about the state of France. She is also extremely involved in animal rights.
From an estranged son to her political opinions, here are some intriguing facts about the absolutely stunning Brigitte Bardot.
A Rich, Pretty, French Girl
On September 28th, 1934, Bardot was welcomed into the world by a rich Catholic family in France. But her privilege was often diminished by her parents’ conservative morals. She wasn’t even allowed to choose her own friends. Brigitte also had to refer to her parents with the formal French “Vous” instead of the familiar “tu.”
The blonde beauty was born with eye problems. She had reduced vision in her left eye due to amblyopia. At the tender age of 15, Brigitte Bardot was the inspiration behind Bob Dylan’s first original song.
A Born Dancer
Bardot’s childhood took place against the Nazi Occupation of France in WWII. It wasn’t all bad for Bardot, though. Because of the war, she was forced to stay home quite often. So, to entertain herself, she would spend hours dancing around to records.
It didn’t take long for her mom to notice how talented Brigitte was. To help her reach her potential, her mom enrolled her in an elite private school that encouraged and supported her dancing. When she was only fifteen, the teenager was accepted into the Conservatoire de Paris.
Grandpa Knows Best
In 1949, Bardot embarked on a modeling career; the 15-year-old landed the cover of Elle magazine. That’s when she was “discovered” by director Marc Allégret, who offered her an audition for Les Lauriers Sont Coupés.
As you might have guessed, Bardot’s conservative parents were strongly against their daughter becoming an actress. Modeling and dancing were okay, but acting was not considered a respectable profession for their class. It was her grandfather who managed to convince them to support her, saying, “If this little girl is to become a whore, cinema will not be a cause.” That’s one way to put it…
Lost the Part, Won a Husband
Unfortunately, Bardot didn’t get the part in Marc Allégret’s film, but she did get something else: her future husband. At the failed audition, the young Bardot met Roger Vadim and instantly fell in love. Funny enough, the reason Vadim was there was to let her know that she didn’t get the part.
Brigitte Bardot’s first official movie role was in 1952’s Crazy for Love. Although she had a fairly minor part as the main character’s cousin, the well-established model was paid a whopping 500,000 francs for the cameo.
The Beatles Loved Her
The Beatles were huge Brigitte Bardot fans. They even had plans for her to star in A Hard Day’s Night, but it didn’t end up working out. Either way, their collective crush on the French bombshell had a huge impact on their personal love lives.
Reportedly, George Harrison always compared his wife to Bardot, and John Lennon’s wife dyed her hair blonde to look more like the gorgeous sex symbol. Rumor has it that Lennon was so obsessed with Bardot, he would actually ask his girlfriends to dress more like his fantasy girl.
Blondes Have More Fun
Believe it or not, Bardot is naturally a brunette. It wasn’t until her role in the Italian movie Mio Figlio Nerone (1956) that she decided to go blonde. Back in her day, it was much more common (and accepted) to put a wig on instead of straight-up dying your hair for a role.
But Bardot was way ahead of her time. She tried the peroxide once and loved it so much that she never went back to brown hair. Is it a coincidence that she rose to fame shortly after her new hair color? Well, it certainly didn’t hurt her career.
Her Big Break
The 1956 romance And God Created Woman is credited as the movie that turned Bardot into an international superstar. The film is about a morally “loose” girl in a small, traditional town. When it was released in the United States in 1957, it pushed the boundaries of how sexuality was represented in cinema.
Many critics and historians felt like the role reduced Bardot’s character to an “object” in order to clarify what was still considered a sexist view of female sexuality. When the movie reached international success, it undoubtedly launched Bardot’s status as the world’s first “sex kitten” on screen.
Never Meet Your Heroes
Along with her rising acting career, Bardot maintained her music career. Throughout her life, she produced more than 60 singles, including a duet with Serge Gainsbourg, but she begged for it not to be released to the public.
John Lennon was so nervous when it came time to meet his celebrity crush, Brigitte Bardot. His biography states that he took LSD to calm him down. Sadly, neither Brigitte Bardot nor John Lennon lived up to the fantasy image in each other’s minds. As Lennon put it, “I was on acid, and she was on her way out.”
The Bardot Myth
In 1973, Bardot and ex-husband Roger Vadim produced their last joint film together. She portrayed a Don Juan-esque woman who recounts her sexual and murderous exploits in the movie titled, If Don Juan Were a Woman. Vadim said the movie was about talking about the cultural myth surrounding his ex, but he put it in crude terms:
“Underneath what people call ‘the Bardot myth’ was something interesting, even though she was never considered the most professional actress in the world […] Brigitte always gave the impression of sexual freedom – she is a completely open and free person, without any aggression. So, I gave her the part of a man – that amused me.”
Dedicating Her Life to Animals
In 1979, right before her 39th birthday, Brigitte Bardot announced that she was ready to retire from acting. She wanted to “get out elegantly.” Her last starring role was in The Edifying and Joyous Story of Colinot.
Ever since she retired, Bardot has spent her time as an animal rights activist. In 1986, she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals and also became a vegetarian. Bardot even had a Canadian fast interceptor vessel named after her, the MV Brigitte Bardot, by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society after she condemned the practice of Seal-hunting.
Bardot introduced what has become known as the “Bardot pose” to modeling. In a photoshoot from 1960, she was shown wearing only black pantyhose, with her arms and legs crossed to make herself appear just “decent” enough. This posture has been emulated by almost every cover girl, from Monica Bellucci to Lindsay Lohan.
There was a time where a good old beehive hairdo was a look every girl was going for. Well, you can thank Brigitte Bardot for popularizing the choucroute updo, a variation of the beehive. The weirdest part is choucroute is French for sauerkraut. Interesting name for a hairstyle!
Think About Flipper!
In 1999, Bardot wrote a strongly worded letter to President Jian Zemin of China. Why? The animal-loving actress said the Chinese were “torturing bears and killing the world’s last tigers and rhinos to make aphrodisiacs.” The public letter was published in the French magazine VSD.
Bardot was not done with her public appeals to world leaders on behalf of animals. She wrote to Queen Margarethe II of Denmark in 2010 demanding an end to dolphin hunting in the Faroe Islands. Just like her letter to the Chinese, Bardot weaponized her words calling the practice a “macabre spectacle” that “is a shame for Denmark and the Faroe Islands.”
Save Them All
If you ask the former French actress, we shouldn’t have to choose between which animals to save. In 2015, she criticized Australia’s plan to euthanize millions of feral cats in order to save their endangered bird and animal species. Despite the fact that feral cats were behind 10% of the native mammal extinctions in Australia, Bardot said the project was “animal genocide” and “absolutely useless, since the rest of them will keep breeding.”
I see her point, but they are trying to save an animal that’s going extinct. I guess sometimes people have to make a tough choice.
Not a Good Donkey Sitter
Although Bardot loves animals, you might not trust her to pet-sit. In 1989, she was taking care of her neighbor’s pet donkey while he was away and decided to castrate the animal without his owner’s consent. The owner took Bardot to court, where the actress argued that the donkey was “sexually harassing” her pet donkey and mare. So, she decided to take things into her own hands.
She is no stranger to court appearances, but this is insane. I didn’t realize you could even file a sexual assault claim about a donkey. Learning something new every day.
Breakups and Affairs
Bardot dated her And God Created Women co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant for two years while they were both still married to other people. Sadly, the relationship barely even lasted a year after she split up with Roger Vadim. So, what got in the way of their whirlwind romance? Trintignant’s military service and Bardot’s new love affair with musician Gilbert Bécaud.
1958 was a hard year for Brigitte Bardot. Her public split with Roger Vadim was immediately followed by a break-up with her two-year sidepiece. The back-to-back loss resulted in rumors of a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. However, her public relations team shut down the allegations.
The Prodigal Son
Bardot didn’t have the greatest relationship with her only son, Nicolas-Jacques Charrier. First of all, he was conceived before she married her baby daddy, actor Jacques Charrier in the summer of 1959. Less than three years later, in 1962, Bardot and Charrier got divorced. At that point, Nicholas was raised by her father’s side of the family.
In fact, he had almost no relationship with his mother until he was an adult. The little relationship they have now remains strained. Many people have criticized her for having no maternal instincts and abandoning her child.
She Certainly Has a Type
Bardot has been romantically linked to singer Serge Gainsbourg, writer John Gilmore, and actor Warren Beatty. She also dated her If Don Juan Were a Woman co-star, Laurent Vergez… which was directed by her first husband, Roger Vadim.
In 1996, Bardot walked the aisle for the third time, this time with the German millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs, who was the heir to one of Germany’s largest automobile suppliers. He gave the starlet a Hollywood courtship, flying to her French home on a helicopter and dropping dozens of roses for her. That sounds sweet, but the pair split up three years later in 1969.
Fourth Time’s the Charm
Bardot’s fourth and current husband is a notorious name when it comes to right-wing politics: Bernard d’Ormale. He used to be an advisor to Jean Marie Le Pen, aka the former leader of National Front, France’s far-right party.
For the 2017 French Presidential election, Bardot endorsed Marine le Pen, calling the National Front party leader “the Joan of Arc of the 21st century.” Needless to say, Brigitte Bardot may have unpopular opinions when it comes to politics, but we’ll get into all that later.
Less Is More
Brigitte Bardot was the inspiration behind various looks, clothes, and hair. She is also credited for popularizing the bikini in modern culture. One of her most famous appearances at the Cannes Film Festival presented the blonde stunner in this “new” bathing suit, and so did her early movie role in 1952’s Manina.
Bardot bore it all in a nude photoshoot for Playboy magazine in honor of her 40th birthday. Talk about a birthday suit! But she also inspired clothes! The Bardot neckline was named after the iconic French bombshell. She had a personal liking for open-necked knotted sweaters and shirts, which inspired this cut.
The Cost of Hatred
Bardot was charged a total of five times to date for racial hatred against Muslims in France. In 2008, she fined €15,000 after writing an open letter to the Interior Minister criticizing the practice of murdering sheep during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
The actress wrote that she is “fed up with being under the thumb of this population, which is destroying us, destroying our country and imposing its habits.” In 2000, she received her first charge after she expressed sentiments against Muslim immigration and the “Islamification of France” in her book.
Political Correctness, Please!
Brigitte Bardot also openly critiqued “racial mixing.” In her 2003 book, Un cri dans le silence (A Scream in the Silence), she praised her French ancestors for keeping their genes pure and now allowing any invaders. Yikes! But that’s not the end of her unprogressive opinions.
Bardot is also highly critical of the LGBTQ community. Also, in 2003, she compared their public behavior to “fairground freaks.” She defended her opinion in a gay French magazine, stating that her gay friends are from the previous, more “refined” generation.
She Has Daddy Issues
According to Bardot, her father treated her and her sister as “strangers” after they accidentally broke his favorite vase. As their punishment, each sister got 20 lashes. This one incident forever changed the parental dynamic and is cited as the reason for Bardot’s rebellious streak.
Brigitte’s relationship with Roger Vadim was one example of a long line of disappointments for her parents. Her parents were passionately against their union and insisted that their daughter finish her education in England. It wasn’t until Bardot’s suicide attempt when they took it seriously… we’ll get to all that in a second.
Her Parents Did Not Approve
To her parents’ dismay, Brigitte lost her virginity to Roger Vadim. When they first met, he was 22, and she was only 14. It’s no surprise that her strict, conservative family didn’t support their relationship. Her parents even tried sending her to England to keep them apart, but nothing worked.
When Vadim proposed to Brigitte, her father threatened him with a gun. It seems like an extreme reaction, but her reaction was even more hasty. She stuck her head in an oven to get them to budge, or at least to agree that she could marry him when she turned 18.
Her Steamy Love Song
In 1967, Bardot and her boyfriend at-the-time Serge Gainsbourg wrote and recorded the famously steamy love song, “Je t’aime… moi non plus.” At the time, Bardot was married to a powerful man who wouldn’t allow the song to come out. Bardot begged Gainsbourg not to let the song see the light of day, and he agreed.
The following year, Gainsbourg re-recorded the song with his new girlfriend, Jane Birkin. This version was an international success. Ultimately, the version with Bardot made it to the public in 1986 and was officially released as a download in 2006.
According to Bardot, her marriage to her first husband, Roger Vadim, came crumbling down because of Vadim’s affairs with men. But Bardot wasn’t so innocent either. For her part, the actress was involved in an affair with Jean-Louis Trintignant, her co-star in And God Created Woman.
In 1957, after less than five years of marriage, she and Vadim officially divorced. They didn’t have children together, but the pair remained friends as well as creative collaborators for the rest of her career. After going against her parents to be with him, it’s comforting to know they remained in each other’s lives.
Her Director Drugged Her
Directors at the time didn’t exactly have the best reputation. If you know anything about old Hollywood, they took advantage of their starlets. Mental abuse, physical abuse, drug abuse, and even sexual abuse were not rare. In fact, it’s sad how common it was.
The director for La Vérité (Henri-Georges Clouzot) was extremely harsh on set. In order to get the best performance out of Brigitte, he tormented her to make her appear desperate on screen. He even went as far as to slip her a sleeping pill to make her look drowsy. La Vérité was one of her best movies but slipping a girl a sleeping pill is never okay!
Not a Good Mixture
With everything she was dealing with, you can only imagine how unhappy and unsafe Brigitte became. After filming La Vérité, she attempted suicide by slashing her wrists and overdosing on pills. Unfortunately, it wasn’t her final attempt.
From her nude photoshoot to her retirement, Bardot’s birthday presents have always been eventful. However, this one is a little more tragic: When her 49th birthday rolled around in 1983, she was taken to the hospital for a stomach pumping after she overdosed from a cocktail of sleeping pills, tranquilizers, and red wine.
It’s important to remember that we are living in a very progressive time, but back when Brigitte Bardot was gracing the big screen, the rules were a little different. Especially when it came to women’s bodies and sexuality. And Bardot was pushing the boundaries.
As a celebrity, she was already receiving criticism; it comes with the territory. But she was starting to get death threats and was attacked by the public who was against her “sexy” roles. I’d like to see their reaction to a Cardi B.’s music video. Oh, how times have changed!
Made Bikinis Cool
Back in the 1920s, before Bardot was even born, women were not allowed to show their bare skin on the beach. Many local governments had laws in place and standards for women’s bathing suits that prohibited them from showing too much leg. Police would patrol beaches with measuring tape.
If women wore something less than an ankle-length potato sack, they were asked to change. If they didn’t listen, they could be arrested. But in the 1950s, things were progressing, and restrictions were lifted, but showing too much skin was still considered scandalous. It wasn’t until Brigitte Bardot was seen wearing a bikini that it became a must-have accessory.
In 1958, Paris-Match deemed Brigitte Bardot “immoral from head to toe.” Still, she was considered “the most beautiful woman in the world” by many, and in 1973 she decided to leave the limelight. Instead of enjoying the peak of her fame and beauty, she dedicated her life to animals.
At age 86, Bardot is a legend. Her fashion and style certainly made an impact on the world. From her rough childhood to issues in adulthood, the actress has gone through a lot. However, she got through it all, found happiness, and is now enjoying her retirement with her latest husband, Bernard d’Ormale.
Director Roger Vadim
Roger Vladimir Plemiannikov was first an aspiring actor and attended drama school with Marcel Marceau. He then dabbled in journalism before working as an assistant director. When he was 21, he met the beautiful Bardot and married her as soon as she turned 18.
After he passed away in 2000, President Jacques Chirac of France said: “Apart from an original and important body of work, which sometimes rocked minds, he was more than anyone else, the filmmaker of life, of passion for life, of liberty. He hatched new talents and knew how to create myths, aided by some of the greatest actresses of the past few decades.”
Brigitte’s Brilliant Performance
If all you know about Roger Vadim is that he married Brigitte Bardot, he was much more than just a first husband. Throughout his 40-year career, he directed at least 25 movies but never became an art-house favorite.
However, his debut in 1956 earned him a permanent stop in postwar French cinema because of Brigitte’s remarkable performance as a young married woman seeking sexual freedom. Sure, there were protests about the movie, and the actress was considered controversial. But that doesn’t take away from her talent.
How Times Have Changed
In one particular scene, Bardot danced on a table barefoot like a wild Carmen. It’s often considered the breakthrough on what is and isn’t allowed to be shown on screen. Three decades later, the director said this:
“There was really nothing shocking in what Brigitte did. What was provocative was her natural sensuality.” With feminism and body positivity at the forefront, it’s really amazing to see how the world has changed. I wonder what Bardot thinks when she sees how sexual this generation is and how women get praised for it instead of criticized.
More Erotic Films
Many of Vadim’s subsequent movies were also erotic, but he stayed in the spotlight because of his connection to the beautiful, young actresses whose careers he helped launch, such as Annette Stroyberg, Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, Angie Dickinson, Jeanne Moreau, Susan Sarandon and of course, Brigitte Bardot.
Some of his best-known films include No Sun in Venice (1958), Les Liaisons Dangereuses (1961), Blood and Roses (1960), Vice and Virtue (1962), and Barbarella (1968). In 1972, he made the famous film Don Juan 73, starring Bardot as the seducer. His last movie was a remake of And God Created Women (1988).
Discovering Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot had already appeared in a few small films before Vadim directed her in And God Created Women. She played a married woman trying to escape life in an orphanage by getting married. She ended up falling in love with her new husband’s little brother, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant.
“I wanted to show a normal young girl whose only difference was that she behaved in the way a boy might without any sense of guilt on a moral and sexual level,” Vadim explained. It’s not surprising that the movie was controversial, but it’s crazy that women would feel so much guilt over having sex.
Vadim’s Wives and Children
In 1957, when his marriage to Bardot crumbled, he tied the knot with Annette Stroyberg. Vadim had his first child with her: Nathalie. After that marriage ended, Vadim moved in with Catherine Deneuve, and the pair had a son named Christian (who is also now an actor).
Then, in 1967, the director married Jane Fonda and made the science-fiction movie Barbarella for her. They had a daughter named Vanessa. Eight years later, Vadim walked down the aisle for the fourth time. This time, with Catherine Schneider; they also had one daughter, Vania. And finally, in 1990, he married Marie-Christine Barrault.
Can Spot Talented Women
Throughout the 1990s, Vadim focused his attention on made-for-television mini-series. He also wrote a book of memoirs, D’une Étoile à l’Autre (or From One Star to the Next), where he recounts his playboy life and multiple marriages. He also spoke about how it was hard for him not to cheat on his partners.
Much of his success and lifestyle comes from his discovery of Brigitte Bardot. One cinema dictionary noted: “Because of the laziness of this otherwise intelligent director, Vadim’s life’s work creates an impression of superficiality, if not actual mediocrity.” But they added that he certainly had a knack for discovering talented starlets.