It’s hard to believe but Brigitte Bardot celebrated her 74th birthday last week. Bri-Bri, as her friends call her, didn’t exactly invent the bikini (it first showed up at a Paris fashion show in 1946) but she certainly popularized it. But I guess her biggest claim to fame (let’s just ignore all the racist stories for the moment, shall we?) is that, along with director Roger Vadim—her first husband—she turned sleepy St.-Tropez into the glam capital of the Riviera. This was back in 1955 when Roger, who’d married the then-18 year old Bardot a few years earlier, came up with some lame-o plot where Bardot is an orphan named Juliette living with a strict foster family (uhmmm, right) as an excuse to film the woman Time magazine called “the princess of pout” in her booby-popping gingham bikini.
I can’t say I was ever a Brigitte Bardot acolyte. She’d already retired from the film world by the time I started paying attention to women. But you have to admit that, like Marilyn, she had a little something that went beyond her sex kitten routine. As Jane Fonda (who was also married to Vadim) has said, in some ways Bardot was an early feminist. She lived like a man, taking lovers whenever she wanted, moving on whenever she felt like it. As one writer said, Bardot was James Dean in a bikini. I’m not sure I know exactly what he meant by that, but I kind of like it.
There are still a couple of Bardot landmarks in town worth a visit. The first is Le Café on Place des Lices, the main square in the old town that is shaded by 100-year-old plane trees and crowded with open-air cafes facing the dusty square where the local ball-chuckers still play pétanque just as they did 50-some years ago when Bri-Bri was getting a bit tight on champagne and stuffing cake into Vadim’s face at the ancient café. The boys and I will go there this evening and we will stand at the bar next to the old men getting drunk on pastis and toast Miss Bardot. And then we will play a game or two of bocce in her honor.
And then tomorrow afternoon, we’ll take the tender to the beach at Pampelonne where Roger spent so much time filming BB in her gingham bikini and where, that same year, a little beach café was established—Club 55—to serve lunch and refreshments to Vadim’s cast and crew. And there we’ll have our own lunch. And watch the glamorous French women cavorting about (god spare us the Germans and their hairy bare asses).
We’ll keep an eye out for BB but I doubt she’ll show up. I think she finds St.-Tropez passé these days. (Did you ever hear the story about John Lennon and Brigitte Bardot? Supposedly he had quite a crush on her and urged a pr flak to arrange a meeting in 1968. But he was so nervous about it that he took LSD beforehand. And the meeting did not go well. As he wrote in his memoir, “I was on acid, and she was on her way out.”)
Roger Vadim went on to bed or wed dozens of gorgeous women after Bardot (although I dare say he found it hard to top the 18-year-old Brigitte), but in a way, he never left St.-Tropez. He died here in 2000 and is buried in the old cemetery.