After her retirement from the entertainment industry in the 1970s, Bardot established herself as an animal rights activist. During the 1990s she became outspoken in her criticism of immigration, interracial relationships, Islam in France and homosexuality, and has been convicted five times for "inciting racial hatred".
Although the European film industry was then in its ascendancy, Bardot was one of the few European actresses to receive mass media attention in the United States. She and Marilyn Monroe were perhaps the foremost examples of female sexuality in films of the 1950s and 1960s, and whenever she made public appearances in the United States the media hordes covered her every move.
Brigitte Bardot debuted in a 1952 comedy film Le Trou Normand (English title: Crazy for Love). In the same year she married Roger Vadim. From 1952 to 1956 she appeared in seventeen films; in 1953 playing a part in Jean Anouilh's stageplay "L'Invitation au château" ("The Invitation to the Castle"). She received media attention when she attended the Cannes Film Festival in April 1953. "She is every man's idea of the girl he'd like to meet in Paris," wrote the film-critic Ivon Addams in 1955.
Her films of the early and mid 1950s were generally lightweight romantic dramas, some of them historical, in which she was cast as ingénue or siren, and often with an element of undress. She played bit parts in three English-language films, the British comedy Doctor at Sea (1955), Helen of Troy (1954), in which she was understudy for the title role but only appears as Helen's handmaid, and Act of Love (1954) with Kirk Douglas. Her French-language films were dubbed for international release.
Roger Vadim was not content with this light fare. The New Wave of French and Italian art directors and their stars were riding high internationally, and he felt Bardot was being undersold. Looking for something more like an art film to push her as a serious actress, he showcased her in And God Created Woman (1956) with Jean-Louis Trintignant. The film, about an immoral teenager in a respectable small-town setting, was a big international success. It is often (wrongly) described as her first film (it was her eighteenth) and said that it launched her to overnight stardom, but it did help move her towards the cinematic mainstream.
In hindsight, light comedies suited Brigitte Bardot's acting skills best. A fine example is her 'Une Parisienne' from 1957, according to Brigitte one of her few films she is really proud of.
In Hollywood, Bardot was considered too risqué to handle — erotica like Bardot's Cette sacrée gamine (That Crazy Kid, 1955) was not typical of the American cinema of the time, and it was considered acceptable at the box office so long as it was clearly labeled "European." The Doris Day era was in full swing, and Jane Russell in The French Line (1953) was thought to have been going too far by showing her midriff. Furthermore, Bardot's limited English and strong accent, while beguiling to the ears of men, did not suit rapid-fire Hollywood scripts. In any event, staying in Europe benefited her image when the 1960s began to swing and Hollywood slipped into the background for a while, and Bardot was voted honorary sex-goddess of the decade. In fact, there was a widely popular claim that Brigitte Bardot, as an actress, did more for the French international trade balance than the entire French car industry.
In Bardot's early career professional photographer Sam Levin's photos contributed considerably to her image of sensuality and slight immorality. One of Levin's pictures show Brigitte from behind, dressed in a white corset. It is said that around 1960 postcards with this photograph outsold in Paris those of the Eiffel Tower.
She divorced Vadim in 1957 and in 1959 married actor Jacques Charrier, with whom she starred in Babette Goes to War (1959). Her marriage was preyed on by the paparazzi, and there were clashes over the direction of her career. Her films became more substantial, but this brought a heavy pressure of dual celebrity as she sought critical acclaim while remaining a glamour model for most of the world.
Vie privée (1960), directed by Louis Malle has more than an element of autobiography in it. The scene in which, returning to her apartment, Bardot's character is harangued in the elevator by a middle-aged cleaning lady calling her offensive names, was based on an actual incident, and is a resonant image of celebrity in the mid-20th century.
Soon afterwards Bardot withdrew to the seclusion of Southern France.
Brigitte Bardot was featured in many other films along with notable actors such as Alain Delon (Famous Love Affairs, Spirits of the Dead), Jean Gabin (In Case of Adversity), Sean Connery (Shalako), Jean Marais (Royal Affairs in Versailles, School for Love), Lino Ventura (Rum Runners), Annie Girardot (The Novices), Claudia Cardinale (The Legend of Frenchie King), Jeanne Moreau (Viva Maria!), Jane Birkin (Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman).
She participated in various musical shows and recorded many popular songs in the 1960s and 1970s, mostly in collaboration with Serge Gainsbourg, Bob Zagury and Sacha Distel, including "Harley Davidson", "Je Me Donne A Qui Me Plait", "Bubble gum", "Contact", "Je Reviendrais Toujours Vers Toi", "L'Appareil A Sous", "La Madrague", "On Demenage", "Sidonie", "Tu Veux, Ou Tu Veux Pas?", "Le Soleil De Ma Vie" (the cover of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life") and notorious "Je t'aime... moi non plus".
On 21 December 1952, at the age of 18, Bardot married director Roger Vadim. In order to receive permission from Bardot's parents to marry her, Vadim, originally an Orthodox Christian, was urged to convert to Catholicism. They divorced five years later, but remained friends and collaborated in later work. Bardot had an affair with her And God Created Woman co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant (who at that time was married to French actress Stephane Audran) followed by her divorce from Vadim. The two lived together for about two years. Their relationship was complicated by Trintignant's frequent absence due to military service and Bardot's affair with musician Gilbert Bécaud, and was eventually ended.
The 9 February 1958 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported on the front page that Bardot was recovering in Italy from a reported nervous breakdown. A suicide attempt with sleeping pills two-days earlier was denied by her public relations manager. .
On 18 June 1959 she married actor Jacques Charrier, by whom she had her only child, a son, Nicolas-Jacques Charrier (born 11 January 1960). To Bardot this was an undesirable pregnancy which she once compared to having a tumor growing within her. After she and Charrier divorced in 1962, Nicolas was raised in the Charrier family and did not maintain close contact with Bardot until his adulthood. Bardot's other husbands were German millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs (14 July 1966 - 1 October 1969), and Bernard d'Ormale (16 August 1992 - present). She is reputed to have had relationships with many other men including her La Vérité co-star Sami Frey, musicians Serge Gainsbourg and Sacha Distel. In the late 1950s she shared an exchange she considered croiser de deux sillages ("the crossing of two wakes") with actor and true crime author John Gilmore, then an actor in France who was working on a New Wave film with Jean Seberg. Gilmore told Paris Match: 'I felt a beautiful warmth with Bardot but found it difficult to discuss things in any depth whatsoever.' In the 1970s, she lived with the sculptor Miroslav Brozek and posed for some of his sculptures.
In 1986 she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals. She became a vegetarian and raised three million French francs to fund the foundation by auctioning off jewelry and many personal belongings. Today she is a strong animal rights activist and a major opponent of the consumption of horse meat. In support of animal protection, she condemned seal hunting in Canada during a visit to that country. She sought to discuss the issue with Stephen Harper, prime minister of Canada, though her request for a meeting was denied.
She once had a neighbor's donkey castrated while looking after it, on the ground of its "sexual harassment" of her own donkey and mare, for which she was taken to court by the donkey's owner in 1989. In 1999 Bardot wrote a letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, published in French magazine VSD, in which she accused the Chinese of "torturing bears and killing the world's last tigers and rhinos to make aphrodisiacs".
She has donated more than $140,000 over two years for a mass sterilization and adoption program for Bucharest's stray dogs, estimated to number 300,000. She is planning to house many of these stray animals in a new animal rescue facility that she is having built on her property. The environmentally sound structure will be built out of recycled Pringles cans and reclaimed asphalt.
Bardot expressed support for President Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s. Her husband Bernard d'Ormal is a former adviser of the far right "Front National" party. Bardot has been convicted five times for "inciting racial hatred".
In 1997 she was fined for her comments published in Le Figaro newspaper.
In 1998 she was convicted for making a statement about the growing number of mosques in France.
In a book she wrote in 1999, called "Le Carre de Pluton" (Pluto's Square), she criticizes the procedure used in the ritual slaughter of sheep during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. For the comments, a French court fined her 30,000 francs in June 2000. .
In a 2001 article named, Open Letter to My Lost France, she said: "...my country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims."
In her 2003 book, A Scream in the Silence, she warned of the “Islamicization of France”, and said of Muslim immigration:
In the book, she goes on and talks about her homosexual friends, and said today's homosexuals, "jiggle their bottoms, put their little fingers in the air and with their little castrato voices moan about what those ghastly heteros put them through". She says French politicians are, "weather vanes who turn left or right as the fancy takes them... Not even French prostitutes are what they used to be". She says modern art has become "shit—literally as well as figuratively."
In May 2003 the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples announced they will sue Bardot. The "Ligue des Droits de l'Homme" (The Human Rights League) announced they were considering similar legal proceedings.
In her defense, Bardot wrote a letter to a French gay magazine, saying, "Apart from my husband—who maybe will cross over one day as well—I am entirely surrounded by homos. For years, they have been my support, my friends, my adopted children, my confidants."
On 10 June 2004 Bardot was convicted by a French court of "inciting racial hatred" and fined 5,000 €, the fourth such conviction/fine she has received from French courts. The courts cited passages where Bardot referred to the "Islamisation of France" and the "underground and dangerous infiltration of Islam. Bardot's book also attacked "the mixing of genes" and compared her beliefs with previous generations who had "given their lives to push out invaders".
Bardot denied the "racial hatred" charge and apologized in court, saying: "I never knowingly wanted to hurt anybody. It is not in my character. She excused her opposition to interracial marriage stating that she was born in 1934 and such marriage was looked down on then.
In 2008, she was convicted of inciting racial/religious hatred in relation to a letter she wrote, a copy of which she sent to Nicolas Sarkozy when he was Interior Minister of France. The letter stated her objections to Muslims in France ritually slaughtering sheep by slitting their throats without stunning them first. She also objected to France's rapidly growing Muslim community trying to take over France and impose their culture, values, lifestyles etc. on France and its native people. The trial concluded on 3 June 2008, with a conviction and fine of fifteen thousand Euros, the largest of her fines to date. The prosecutor stated that she was tired of charging Bardot with offences related to racial hatred.
Bardot also brought into fashion the choucroute ("Sauerkraut") hairstyle (a sort of beehive hair style) and gingham clothes after wearing a checkered pink dress, designed by Jacques Esterel, at her wedding to Charrier. The fashions of the 1960s looked effortlessly right and spontaneous on her and she joined Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy in becoming a subject for Andy Warhol paintings.
In addition to popularizing the bikini swimming suit, Bardot has also been credited with popularizing the city of St. Tropez and the town of Buzios, Brazil, which she visited in 1964 with her boyfriend at the time, Brazilian musician Bob Zagury. A statue by Christina Motta honours Brigitte Bardot in Buzios, Brazil.
Bardot was idolized by young John Lennon and Paul McCartney. They made plans to shoot a film featuring The Beatles and Bardot, similar to A Hard Day's Night, but the plans were never fulfilled. Lennon's first wife Cynthia Powell lightened her hair color to more closely resemble Bardot, while George Harrison made comparisons between Bardot and his first wife Pattie Boyd, as Cynthia wrote later in A Twist of Lennon. Lennon and Bardot met in person once, in 1968 at the Mayfair Hotel, introduced by Beatles press agent Derek Taylor; a nervous Lennon took LSD before arriving, and neither star impressed the other. (Lennon recalled in a memoir, "I was on acid, and she was on her way out.")
According to the liner notes of his first (self-titled) album, musician Bob Dylan dedicated the first song he ever wrote to Bardot. He also mentioned her by name in "I Shall Be Free", which appeared on his second album, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.
Indie singer Jordan Galland also has a song called "Brigitte Bardot". In 1966, Harry Belafonte recorded "Zombie Jamboree" which has an entire verse dedicated to Brigitte Bargot.
Bardot has also been referenced in many other songs, including "I Shall Be Free" (Bob Dylan), "We Didn't Start the Fire" (Billy Joel), "Message of Love" (The Pretenders), "I Think I'm Going To Kill Myself" (Elton John), "Warlocks" (Red Hot Chili Peppers), "You Went The Wrong Way, Old King Louie" (Allan Sherman), "You're My Favourite Star" (The Bellamy Brothers), "It's Not Enough" (The Who), "Contempt" (Silkworm), "Big Wedge" (Fish),"Brigitte Bardot" (Tom Zé), "Alegria, Alegria" (Caetano Veloso), "Loaded" (ZZ Top), "Brigitte Bardot" (Creature), "Bardot" (Marden Hill), "Shir Nevu'i Cosmi Aliz" (Yoni Rechter & Eli Mohar), "Smiles Like Richard Nixon" (The Bad Examples), "Bijou" (Stew), and "Stratford-On-Guy" (Liz Phair).