I missed Brigitte Bardot mania; by the time she retired from film-making at the age of 40 to concentrate on animal rights activism, I was only 13. But awhile back I saw a film of BB’s — La Verite, made in 1960, a courtroom drama which was her biggest ever commercial success in France and nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar — and was amazed at how good she was.
I joined a few Facebook fan pages. Unsurprisingly she is stunningly beautiful in all of them. But something stands out which differentiates her greatly from the alleged film stars of today. She pouts petulantly in studio shots, as befitted her image as a malicious minx who would un-man a fellow as soon as fleece him. But paradoxically, in the vast majority of off-duty or paparazzi publicity shots she seems at least serene — at best positively gleeful.
There’s one photograph in particular — from 1959, credited to Keystone Pictures, in which a mob of press photographers hustle to get close to Bardot as she is pressed up against a mirror. In both her face and her looking glass image, she looks not merely comfortable with the situation — but actually full of glee; she seems to find the situation hilarious. Many other photographs show her swimming and sunbathing on packed beaches with no apparent bodyguards.
In fact, she was the exact opposite of the *stars* of today who grin like cretins for official shots yet scowl like they’ve got cystitis and have just stubbed their toe whenever a non-approved photographer pops into view hoping for a bit of pap action.
Bardot was extreme in her lack of loathing for being observed by the media, but she wasn’t the only one. No matter what misery she was going through in her private life, Marilyn Monroe always had a good relationship with the press, so much so that Arthur Miller was able to shake off Communist accusations by announcing his engagement to her. A girl from extreme poverty, she had no airs and graces; she could be found in the New York phone book under that very name, once introduced herself on the telephone to fellow Actor’s Studio colleagues as ‘Marilyn — the blond girl in the back row’ and often hung out with the Monroe Six, a group of teenage fans who waited around her apartment building.
Liz Taylor and Ava Gardner would frequently go on gossipy bar-crawls with favored hacks. Female films stars today are nowhere near as beautiful as these legendary women. But they act as if they are literally doing the public a favor by having their photograph taken. They have compared being papped to being raped (Kristen Stewart) or ‘how, like in war, you go through this bloody, dehumanizing thing’ (Gwyneth Paltrow).
Which brings us to Hugh Grant and the Hacked Off mob of professional moaners who seem to believe that the destruction of a free press is a small price to pay in order for them not to be snapped looking a bit jowly. Grant had a right hissy fit recently, tweeting:
‘I don’t want my private life stolen by your creepy cameramen. And I don’t want my wife subjected to the Pinot Grigio sodden abuse from your tragic and unhappy readers.’
It’s actually really hard to achieve fame — so much competition for cushy, cushioned showbiz jobs — that anyone who hates publicity should have a serious talk with themselves, or their shrink, if they find out they actually don’t like being looked at. If you don’t want attention, there are masses of useful jobs you could do, helping humanity instead of showing off to them. If you can’t stand the heat of the Klieg lights, get back to the soup kitchen.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.