Brigitte Bardot is one of a kind.
When Bardot burst onto the screen with her dynamic performance in …And God Created Woman (1956), the world took notice. Her uninhibited screen persona and private life were shocking, magnetic, stylish, and unapologetic.
Audiences were fascinated with this free spirit who redefined the modern woman. And they couldn’t stop looking.
As her friend and director Nina Companeez once said about BB,
“Call it charisma or magnetism, or just the magic spell she could cast. Whatever, it was, it was truly incredible. There was something so obviously unique about her. Of course she had perfect posture and the most beautiful walk. But it was much more than just that. She’d step into a crowded room and the entire room would stop. I saw it happen all the time, especially in restaurants, where people who were just about to put a fork into their mouth would, literally, freeze right where they were, as if she sent out signals, and they instinctively knew she was there.”
Over seventy years since Bardot first hit the world stage, we’re still fascinated. It’s often been said, at times even by Brigitte herself, that the public and private Bardot are one and the same.
But that’s an over-simplification, an injustice to this complex woman who still keeps us guessing. The public and private Bardot are not the same. At least not completely.
So here are a few things about the private Brigitte Bardot you didn’t know:
Brigitte was raised in a very traditional, upper middle class home in Paris. Of course, she has her free spirited side, but countless friends and family agree that at her core, Brigitte is very conventional. According to her first husband Roger Vadim:
“Brigitte was a very conventional bourgeois girl. Catholic, Sixteenth Arrondissement. You couldn’t have found a more established upbringing…mother and father raised their children following every rule set down by that society.”
Bardot’s former boyfriend Mike Sarne echoes Vadim’s words:
“Deep down inside, she’s a sensible, bourgeois, middle class girl, very practical and with terrific common sense. But she was never allowed to be herself. There’s someone else inside the movie star.”
Conventional, traditional, bourgeois. Who would have thought?
She Was a Ballerina
As a girl, Brigitte’s greatest passion was ballet. She trained with the renowned Boris Kniaseff, and in 1947, at age thirteen, Brigitte was accepted to the prestigious Conservatoire Nationale de Danse. The young Brigitte was one of eight dancers chosen out of hundreds.
One of Brigitte’s classmates was another soon to be super star, Leslie Caron. Caron, a few years older than Brigitte, said that at that time
“Brigitte was long and thin and elegant with her gestures. We called her Bichette (French for ‘Doe’).”
Brigitte’s first husband, filmmaker Roger Vadim, insisted that if he wouldn’t have come along, married Brigitte, and sent her down the path of film stardom, Brigitte would have become a great French ballerina. And if you’ve seen a Bardot film, you have doubtless observed how elegant her every move is. There’s no doubt that had she not become an international film star, Brigitte would have done great things in the ballet world.
Watch Brigitte Dance!
Take a moment and watch Brigitte dance the pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. This is Bardot dancing after she had achieved international film stardom, seven years after she had quit the ballet for films. And she’s still amazing.
She Turned Down Hollywood
Brigitte had countless opportunities to become a Hollywood star after her break through film, …And God Created Woman (1956). Bardot became such a phenomenon after the film’s US premiere in November 1957 that Hollywood studios began offering her $250,000 per picture deals. The film offers from Hollywood would continue throughout her career—Brigitte was even offered $500,000 for the female lead in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Ed Sullivan all wanted her to appear on their television shows or specials. Sullivan even offered Brigitte $50,000 for a mere three minute segment on his show.
But each time Bardot received an extravagant Hollywood offer, she said no.
It was not even until December 1965 that Brigitte made her first trip to the United States to promote her latest French film, Viva Maria! (1965). Why was she so reluctant to go to Hollywood?
"Stay Away From There"
Brigitte has always hated flying, but it’s more than that: the deeper Brigitte got into the film business, the more convinced she became that Hollywood would cause great unhappiness for her. Bardot often said:
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“Stay away from there [Hollywood]. Don’t work there. Those people out there eat people like you and me alive.”
When you think about all the tragic stories of stars and would be stars who were, in Brigitte’s words, “eaten alive” by Hollywood, it’s clear she makes a solid point. Brigitte may have lost out on some major money (never a big deal to her) and movies, but perhaps Bardot’s life was ultimately happier for her decision to stay out of Hollywood.
Bardot’s blonde bombshell image and often light, bubbly film roles hide an important component of the real Brigitte: she’s smart. As Bardot’s third husband, Gunter Sachs, related:
“She happens to be extremely intelligent. That’s probably her most unknown asset.”
In addition to French, Bardot also learned to speak Italian and English fluently as a child. And she is known among friends and family for her perfect spelling and grammar. According to Gunter Sachs,
“She expresses herself well and writes wonderful letters. She is also well known, among her friends, for correcting their spelling and their grammar. People never realize just how smart she is.”
Bardot’s intelligence makes her an effective spokesperson for her life’s passion, animal rights. As fellow animal rights activist Allain Bougrain-Dubourg shared
“People are sometimes quite amazed that when she says something…she makes sense. She’s a very logical woman and that sometimes startles people.”
Animals Are Her Passion
A few months before her 40th birthday, Bardot announced her retirement from the cinema. She has dedicated her life to animal rights ever since. As Brigitte herself once said,
“I gave my beauty and my youth to men. I am now giving my wisdom and my experience, the best of me, to animals.”
Thanks to Brigitte’s endless work and passion, the animal rights movement has made amazing strides. To name just a few of Brigitte’s accomplishments:
A Few of Brigitte's Accomplishments:
- Since Bardot’s involvement, there’s been a 30-50% decrease in horsemeat consumption in countries where horsemeat is still legal. Bardot’s campaign slogan, “Horses are not cattle,” inspired extreme reactions from horse butchers, and Brigitte still gets death threats over this one.
- Fur is now taboo. Brigitte spearheaded the anti-fur movement by insisting that
“Anyone who wears fur is wearing a cemetery on their backs.”
- Since 1962, Brigitte has called for more humane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses. “The BB Law” in France, which requires kinder slaughter methods, such as the use of electric shock pistols, is named after Bardot because of her efforts.
- In the 1970s, Brigitte was the first to bring attention to the horrors of the seal cull, the clubbing of baby seals for their fur coats. Thanks to Brigitte, the seal fur trade is now outlawed in several nations, including the European Union.
She Started an Animal Foundation
In 1986, Brigitte started the Fondation Brigitte Bardot, a non-profit charitable foundation for the protection of animals. To earn the funds necessary for the foundation to achieve non-profit status, Brigitte auctioned off her personal belongings. Bardot put just about everything she owned up for auction, from her clothes to her jewels.
Brigitte’s third husband, Gunter Sachs, bid at the auction on the jewels he gave Brigitte during their marriage, and successfully bought them back. Gunter’s intent was to then give the jewels back to Brigitte, so she could enjoy both the jewels, and the money they earned for her foundation.
But Brigitte’s great dedication to animal welfare ultimately made Gunter decide to hang onto the jewels. As Gunter put it:
“She’s only interested in animals. Which is why I had to twice buy my jewels. You know, it’s very rare when a man has to do that. And at one point, after I bought them I considered giving them back to her. I thought about it, but then I convinced myself it would be endless. She’d sell them, I’d buy them, she’d sell them, I’d buy them, it would be perpetual motion.”
Knowing Brigitte’s passion and commitment to animal rights, Gunter’s logic was probably accurate.
She Is Generous
Brigitte’s great generosity is often hidden by her public persona. Brigitte herself once said that she is:
“horrified by that extraordinary image which has been created around me. I am neither superficial, or an ingrate, I know very well what’s going on. I want to keep my balance and not let my life become twisted. It’s not easy. Because the life of Brigitte Bardot, movie star, and the life of Brigitte Bardot, a Parisian like millions of others, is incompatible.”
To keep balance in her life, Brigitte has always been extremely generous with her time and money.
Brigitte Wrote Me Back!
I am a first hand recipient of this generosity. I recently wrote to Brigitte at her home in Saint Tropez, hoping she would sign the photos I enclosed and return them to me.
Well, not only did Brigitte sign and mail back to me the three pictures I sent her, she inscribed each one with a personal message that related to my letter. It was obvious that Brigitte read my words.
Brigitte went a step further by including an additional photo from her own collection, and inscribed it to my daughter:
“To Mary Jeanne, My Future Animal Rights Activist.”
I did not ask Brigitte to do this, it was done completely out of her own thoughtfulness and generosity.
How many people would do that, let alone an international icon? Brigitte gives this personal attention to all fans who write to her.
Beautiful On the Inside and Out
Throughout her career, Brigitte has sent funds, flowers, and candy to homes for the elderly, and visited these homes on holidays, even at the height of her career.
One woman in particular, suffering from throat cancer, came to view Bardot as a granddaughter: Brigitte was the woman’s only constant visitor over the years. Brigitte visited her just about every Christmas from the mid 1960s until the woman’s death in 1981. Brigitte still wears the ring the woman gifted her to this day.
Brigitte never publicized these selfless acts, and even today, very few are aware of the consistent generosity she’s quietly dispayed over the years.
Brigitte Bardot: Expect the Unexpected
Whether you agree with her immeasurable commitment to the causes she’s passionate about–namely animal rights–Brigitte Bardot is a smart, generous, free-spirited, yet also conventional, woman of great depth.
With this revolutionary French icon, we can still expect the unexpected.