BRIGITTE A POLITICAL ANIMAL ; A Life in Two Acts Brigitte Bardot Was Famous as the Original Sex Kitten, but since Then She Has Devoted Herself to Animal Rights. Now She Is Back in Canada, Where She Began the Fight against Seal Culls. David Usborne Reports
Usborne, David, The Independent (London, England)
Famous people usually worry about their legacies. But not Brigitte Bardot, the erstwhile sex kitten of France. "It is not important how people remember me in the future. The most important thing is what happens today. When I am dead and gone I do not care what people think of me."
Bardot, who turns 72 this year, may or may not have been sincere. But what she could never deny is that in this life she has been talked about almost all the time. Hers has been a journey from sex icon to an animal rights champion and occasional sociopolitical provocateur who has attracted as many foes as friends.
Hers, in fact, has been a life in two acts. During the second, she has not only courted controversy with support for animals rights - not least this week, when she returned to Canada to batter its government for allowing its annual cull of harp seals - but also veered close to political pariahdom, falling foul of the French courts two years ago for inciting racial hatred with a book that lamented the "Muslim overrunning" of France and aired other explosive views, including about homosexuals.
Act One - "Lust" - is more affectionately remembered by most of us. The world first began to hear about blond Bardot in the mid- 1950s, when she began a modelling and acting career that saw her make 48 films, most of them fluffy enterprises that became vehicles for the camera to adore her curvaceous physical gifts.
Her heyday as a sex symbol came in the swinging 1960s, when she established St Tropez as the chosen resort of European sun- worshippers and hedonists. The South of France was about flesh and fun and Bardot epitomised the times.
Her career was peaking at roughly the same time. Propelled to the top rung of European starlets with her 1956 film And God Created Women, made by her then husband, Roger Vadim, Bardot went on to ride the new wave cinema movement in France.
After a period of reclusion, she starred in a series of glossy 1960s crowd-pleasers while continuing to model and dab in pop music, most notably saucy boy of French pop music, Serge Gainsbourg.
Bardot was, in those days, Europe's answer to Marilyn Monroe. Both became portraits painted by Andy Warhol. And both had tumultuous private lives. After divorcing Vadim, Bardot went on to three other marriage not to mention all the rumours of torrid affairs with the likes of Gainsbourg and another pop star, Sacha Distel.
With husband number two, the actor Jacques Charrier (1959-62), she had her only child, Nocolas-Jacques Charrier, from whom she is estranged. (She once referred to him as a "tumour".) Her subsequent husband the German millionaire playboy Gunther Sachs (1966-1969) and a French right-wing politician, Bernard D'Ormale, with whom she remains after their marriage in 1992.
Mention Bardot today, and for some, the image of those pouting come-hither years remains untarnished. The kitten of St Tropez may have become an ageing cat - one, by the way, that has publicly eschewed the lure of plastic surgery - but still we associate her with those burnished beach photographs in the now antique pages of Paris Match.
Bardot turned her back on cinema and everything else that created her bosom-heaving persona over 30 years ago. Her last film was in 1974. "I've made 48 films of which only five were good. The rest are not worth anything. I will not make another," she told one interviewer at the time.
With Act Two, Bardot has successfully parlayed her celebrity to become Europe's most indefatigable - and controversial - saviour the animal kingdom, lentlessly campaigning for the end of mistreatment of animals. While the US-based PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is an organisation that repeatedly recruits filmstars and models as ambassadors to the cause around the globe, she has been a one-woman band.
And it has hardly been a flash-in-the-pan crusade. …