Adding Colour to a Golden Age

The Journal (Newcastle, England), September 23, 2004 | Go to article overview

Adding Colour to a Golden Age


Byline: By Joanna Peart

As screen legends Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot prepare to celebrate their 70th birthdays this month, Joanna Peart takes a look back over their glittering film careers.

Born within a few days of each other in September 1934, it's hard to believe that Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot have now reached three score years and ten.

But the parallels that exist between them are even more extraordinary.

Both began their public careers at very young ages under the guidance of their mothers, with Loren appearing in a beauty pageant at 14 and Bardot modelling at 15.

They spent almost their entire careers making movies in Europe (Bardot is French and Loren is Italian), rather than falling under the spell of Hollywood.

Initially viewed primarily from a sexual point of view, both women were compared to Marilyn Monroe ( the reigning Hollywood sex goddess of the time.

Another striking similarity is that they each had scandalising relationships with directors ( Bardot with Roger Vadim and Loren with Carlo Ponti ( with whom they met and fell in love as teenagers.

The younger of the two, Bardot was born on September 28, 1934, to a wealthy Parisian family.

By 1950 her image had already graced the cover of Elle magazine, where she was spotted by director Marc Allegret, who had earlier discovered the young Simone Simon.

After marrying Allegret's assistant, Roger Vadim, Bardot made her film debut in Jean Boyer's comedy Le Trou Normand, in 1952.

A series of bit roles followed before she appeared in her first American film, Act of Love, in 1953.

Like Sophia Loren, Bardot primarily appeared in movies made in the country of her birth. Only three other English language films followed her role in Act of Love. These were Doctor at Sea (1955), Helen of Troy (1956), and Dear Brigitte (1955), in which she played a cameo role as herself.

By 1957, she had become France's top sex symbol, and an international star. Her 1956 And God Created Woman, even started a trend for skimpy bikinis. Sadly her marriage to Vadim did not last, but their respective careers remained inter-twined for years to come.

Bardot's popularity with American audiences was unprecedented for a non-English speaking actress. The archetypal sex kitten, she was the first foreign language star ever to attain a level of international success comparable to that of America's most popular home-grown talents.

Her motion pictures proved a major breakthrough in establishing a market for foreign films in English-speaking countries, with Bardot's sultry allure being a crucial factor behind her success.

After a brief second marriage to actor Jacques Charrier in 1960, she even released a pop music album, Inside Brigitte Bardot. Several other LPs, including 1963's Brigitte Bardot Sings and 1968's Special Bardot, followed, and she scored a number of hit singles with the infamous singer/songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.

Just before she turned 40, Bardot retired from movies. Previously, she had been coerced out of retirement to star in Jean-Luc Godard's Le Mepris.

While recognised today as a classic, the film at the time of its release was subject to mixed reviews, with considerable editing required for release outside France.

As a result, it was a commercial disaster, and Bardot's standing as Europe's most popular actress was usurped by Sophia Loren.

Loren, born just eight days before Bardot, rose from a sea of troubles to become one of cinema's great sex symbols.

Her mother, Romilda Villani, was a poverty-stricken woman whose lover refused to marry her, although he later allowed Sophia and her younger sister Maria to use his last name ( Scicolone. …

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