September 28, 1934 — Brigitte Bardot, one of the leading sex symbols of the 20th Century, was born in Paris on this day to wealthy bourgeois parents. Originally intending to become a ballerina, Bardot's life began to change when she modelled in a French fashion show in 1949 and later in the same year for a fashion magazine.
This led in 1950, when she was just 15, to her appearance on the cover of Elle – France's leading women's magazine – drawing her to the attention of a young film director, Roger Vadim.
He not only introduced her to the world of movies, but guided her career and carefully developed her public and screen image as an erotic, sensuous and amoral child of nature.
After a few undistinguished movies, she took the world by storm in 1956 when Vadim directed her in the sensational film, Et Dieu Créa La Femme (And God Created Woman), having told her to dye her naturally dark hair and become an alluring blonde.
Filmed at St Tropez on the French Riviera, where Bardot has lived ever since, it tells the story of an immoral teenager's escapades in a respectable small town. The film was a global triumph not so much for its plot, but for Bardot's screen magnetism. It turned her into an international star.
Breaking taboos of the time against nudity, the film set box office records in Europe, the United States and other parts of the world.
Vadim married Bardot in 1952 when she was 18 – a marriage that would last less than five years, though they would remain close. The stated reason for the divorce was Bardot's alleged affairs with two other men.
She retired in 1973 at the age of 38 having appeared in 47 films, performed in several musical shows and recorded over 60 songs. Her legion of fans included John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but Bardot was never impressed with her own abilities. She said in her autobiography: "I started out as a lousy actress and have remained one."
Nevertheless, Time magazine described her as "the princess of pout, the countess of come hither. Brigitte Bardot exuded a carefree, naive sexuality that brought a whole new audience to films."
After her retirement from the entertainment business Bardot began devoting her life to animal rights and in 1986 established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals. She raised millions to fund the foundation by auctioning off jewellery and personal belongings.
"I gave my beauty and my youth to men. I am going to give my wisdom and experience to animals," she said, adding: "Animals have never betrayed me. They are an easy prey, as I have been throughout my career. So we feel the same. I love them."
Her fourth husband, Bernard d’Ormale is a former adviser to the National Front, a party with strong anti-immigration and anti-Muslim views. Bardot supported the National Front candidate in the 2012 elections and has been fined five times for remarks considered to incite racial hatred. In her 2003 book, A Scream in The Silence, she warned against the Islamisation of France and the dangers from Muslim immigration.
Looking back on her life in which she attempted suicide on more than one occasion, Bardot said: "I have been very happy, very rich, very beautiful, much adulated, very famous – and very unhappy."
And to criticism of her appearance in some parts of the media: "What could be more beautiful than a dear old lady growing wise with age? Every age can be enchanting, provided you live within it."
Published: September 20, 2018