In December I had the rare opportunity to interview the French sex goddess, Brigitte Bardot. Excitement had been mounting in New York for some time following the announcement that, for the first time, the beautiful French film star would visit the city.
Bardot was already a huge star around the world by then, thanks to her first husband, Roger Vadim, who instantly recognized the appealing childlike qualities in her and knew that here was a star in the making.
Bardot’s main handicap to US stardom was that she had a real fear of flying. Some said that Bardot didn’t need to appear in person to make an impact on people. Her photographs and her movies were enough to catapult her to the top. But, while most stars travelled the world to make films and to publicize them prior to distribution, Bardot stayed mainly in France, content to make European movies. Occasionally she would come to England but always travelled there by sea. I had already met her there once when she was evicted from the Dorchester Hotel for wearing a particularly modest outfit for her, a trouser suit. I remembered then he newspapers had had a field day.
“What’s the matter?” she had growled in her strong French accent, “I’m not even showing my, how do you say, nude skin. And the Eenglish make a big fuss. What ees this place? Who are zese people?”
But now, in December 1966, she had made a brave decision – to fly to New York for the promotion of her first American movie, a western entitled, “Viva Maria” co-starring Jeanne Moreau.
My godmother, Olga Horstig, had been Brigitte’s agent since her discovery, at the age of 16, by Vadim. Brigitte would call Olga “Mama” and trusted her with her most intimate secrets. She was proved right in doing this as Olga, over the years, had been besieged by publishers offering her vast sums of money to spill the beans on her top star clients, in particular Brigitte Bardot, but these requests had always met with silence. Olga kept her lips tightly sealed.
It was Olga who invited me to the Plaza suite to interview Brigitte. This was a unique opportunity not offered to any other New York journalist. Brigitte was not giving any interviews, except one formal press conference followed by a television appearance. Olga told me I would be the only newspaper journalist allowed backstage with her. When word of this privilege got out I was inundated by offers to publish my article but I had promised it to NANA and they agreed to syndicate it all over North America.
This is the article as it was published then:
“And what can I do for you, little girl?” asked the towering Pinkerton officer guarding the door to New York’s Hotel Plaza suite, 903-5.
“I’ve come to see Miss Bardot.” I replied timidly.
“So has half New York!” he bellowed. “And who shall I say is calling this time?” He turned and smirked to his companion.
“Caroline Kennedy.” I answered, bracing myself.
“Yeah, yeah!” He nudged the other giant beside him. “And John-John will be along too in a minute, I suppose?”
They both laughed heartily. I handed him the slip of paper from Bardot’s agent, Olga Horstig. He examined it skeptically, like an immigration officer but then disappeared inside the room. A moment later the great door swung open and I was ushered in to the inner sanctum of the most famous sex goddess of the Western world by my godmother, Mme. Olga Horstig.
Olga had been Brigitte’s agent since she had started her movie career 13 years ago at the age of 16. Behind the door the atmosphere seemed strangely normal. Inside people were milling around. All the customary people who insulate big movie stars from the rest of the world were there. Press agents, producers, directors, stylists and make-up artists – Mme. Horstig introduced me to all of them.
First there was her daughter, Vera, an old friend of mine, who was working as publicity officer. Then there was Jerome Briere, New York representative of Unifrance Films, and his wife, Christine, the press agent for Brigitte’s new movie, “Viva Maria”.
Mme. Helene Vager smiled me from across the room. Olga informed me that Mme Vager was the stylist responsible for everything in Brigitte’s wardrobe, from the thigh-length skirts down to the infamous pink bath towel featured so effectively in “And God Created Woman”.
I shook hands with Louis Malle, Director of “Viva Maria”, Mike Hutner of United Artists and last, but by no means least important in Brigitte’s life, Jean-Pierre Barroyer, her hairdresser. In France Jean-Pierre was almost as famous as his star client as there is no doubt he had done much to influence the hairstyles of half the girls in the western hemisphere.
The golden suite of the Plaza, which includes three large double bedrooms, a living room, a dining room and kitchenette, overlooks Central Park.
“This is all I have seen of America.” Brigitte lamented to me later. But if it had to be one’s only glimpse of the Big Apple, I reassured her, it certainly wasn’t a bad one.
I was led into the Royal Chamber and there, curled up on the end of the bed, clad in a clinging wool dress of pink, yellow and lavender candy stripes, was the movie queen herself, pouting at a soundless television set.
“My favourite American westerns,” she announced, puffing heavily on a king-sized cigarette, as she watched John Wayne silently eliminate a row of tough-looking men who didn’t even have time to reach for their guns. Every now and again she would tug nervously at her blonde curls.
“It’s a habit with me,” she explained.
On the table beside her was an untouched cup of coffee. I noticed several other discarded cups around the room. She saw me looking at them. “French people do not like American coffee,” she puckered her pretty nose, “They find it too sweet.”
One of the courtiers passed her the newspapers. Unsurprisingly she had made headlines on almost every front page. Brigitte Bardot in America for the first time was big, big news. She giggled at a picture of columnist, Earl Wilson, an old friend of mine, who had tried to gain entrance to her forbidden chambers the night before in the guise of an electrician. “He was so funny!” she exclaimed, giggling at the memory.
“I’ll tease him about it next time I see him,” I laughed, “I can’t wait to see his face when he knows I’ve got the interview and not him!”
As if on cue she suddenly jumped up and bent over double. I thought she was picking up something off the floor. “How do I look?” she bubbled, wiggling her million dollar behind at me. It could have been a vignette from a Vadim movie. There were those famous long legs and the provocative bare skin between the top of her stocking and the hem of her micro dress. A quick tug at the hemline, however, and the can-can view was gone. It was explained to me that this little sequence was a rehearsal for the photographers. I suppose I should have guessed! Brigitte stood up and smoothed down the tight dress.
“Is it true in England they wear skirts 4 inches above the knee?” she asked me. Her own skirt was, maybe, a meager 3 inches above her knees but she glared down at it convinced that in New York it would be considered far too long.
Brigitte quickly bored of television and collapsed into an armchair in the living room. Everyone followed suit. Someone flicked on the record player and a press agent demonstrated the stylized gyrations of the current dance hit, the French ‘frug’.
“Do you enjoy dancing ?” I asked B.B.
She tossed back her golden mane.
“Oh! Dance, dance, I love to dance and I love nightclubs, I love it!” she declared passionately, clapping her hands in enthusiasm. “I used to be a ballet dancer for 10 years before the films but now I no longer do it. C’est domage, n’est ce pas ?” She looked wistful.
Mme. Horstig looked at her watch. “Everybody downstairs for the News Conference, hurry!” she announced. As we dutifully filed out of the room, Brigitte paused to tug at her tresses in front of a mirror. It seemed that at any significant moment such as this, a hand would stretch out from nowhere with a lighted cigarette for the love goddess.
Security guards now appeared in force. Some rode down in the elevator with us so that we felt more like a Brink’s shipment of gold. It certainly contained property almost as valuable.
Once behind the Conference Room doors it was each man for himself. The spectacle was frightening. Flash bulbs popping, shutters snapping, people tripping over microphones, reporters scribbling furiously, photographers jumping up and down, craning their necks, all jostling, pushing and shoving to get a better view of the French movie queen as she made her way to the platform. I felt that at any minute now, if someone gave a signal, there would be a stampede. The mob was suffocating, the shouts deafening and, despite the winter outside, the heat stifling.
“Hey! Brigittet, this way!”
“Hi ! Brigitte, put your right arm up, now your left!”
“Pout for us, Brigitte!”
“Smile, Brigitte, over here!”
“No, over here, Brigitte!”
She posed docilely for 10 minutes. Laughing, pouting, smiling, talking, wistful, eager, coquettish, devilish, surprised. The cameras lapped it up and begged for more. Finally, an agent for the film, forcing himself to be heard above the uproar, made what must have been the most anticlimactic introduction of the day.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Miss Brigitte Bardot! And here with her is the Director of “Viva Maria”, M. Louis Malle!”
Miraculously, as if this had been a pre-arranged signal to depart, the wave of photographers swept towards the door and disappeared. Without a second’s hesitation, the tide of reporters moved in like the rebels storming the Bastille. Brigitte’s English is surprisingly good but, to give her confidence, Louis Malle stood by as interpreter. The questions came thick, fast and indiscreet. But Brigitte fielded them like a veteran.
“Do you like being called a sex kitten?”
“I adore it!” she purred.
“Don’t you think it necessary for every woman to have a child in order to be fulfilled in life?”
“Il faut tout essayer dans la vie,” she responded. (One must try everything in life).
“Could you give a special Christmas message for all troops posted overseas?”
“A very merry Christmas to all of you. And especially to you,” she whispered huskily into the microphone.
“How do you feel about love and marriage?”
“Why, did you try it?” Brigitte asked cheekily.
“Yes, but what do I do now?”
“Just keep trying!” she giggled wickedly.
Questions flew at her. Questions about love, politics, friends, entertainment, hobbies, men, American morals, movie stars, animals, children and every possible question about her personal life.
“Miss Bardot, what did you do with the one franc awarded to you in your privacy suit against those two newspapers?”
“I kept it as a souvenir!” she winked.
The press agent signaled, “Time is up, folks, Miss Bardot has to go!”
“Thank you very much, everybody,” she beamed, blowing kisses in every direction. “I kiss you and bye-bye!”
With one last wave to a beseeching photographer at the door she was swallowed up in a surge of human traffic towards the waiting elevator.
Safely inside and, once again, the hand out of nowhere presented a lighted cigarette. Stepping off the elevator she linked arms with Helene Vager and, swinging their hips in unison, the pair swivelled down the corridor to the television interview.
Brigitte scarcely had time to puff at her cigarette before she was plonked unceremoniously down into a green armchair, a microphone secured around her neck and a welcome glass of water thrust into her hand. The heat from the arch lamps was insufferable. Just then a cameraman told Brigitte that this TV interview would be in colour. Brigitte’s hand rushed to her cheek in horror.
”Oh, no! “ she exclaimed, “I hope I am not blushing!”
The interview began. Once again the same routine questions.
”Do you like being referred to as a sex kitten?’
“How do you feel about love without marriage?”
“What do you think of American men?”
Nevertheless, Brigitte conducted herself with the same eagerness. The camera’s eye got a full record of the celebrated Bardot mannerisms. When she was stuck for a word she would pout, put her finger to her mouth, give a sideways glance, play nervously with her hair and you would immediately feel sorry for her. Brigitte has all the charm and coquetry of a young girl. No wonder the papers kid her about being the world’s oldest teenager! Like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind”, Brigitte’s motto appears to be, “I’ll worry tomorrow!”
“Do you ever think what you will do when you are 40 or, even, 60? “ the interviewer asked her.
“I don’t think about it. No, no. Tomorrow is a surprise and I love surprises!”
“Will you send a Christmas message to De Gaulle?”
“I have already given him my Christmas message by voting for him!”
Olga Horstig explained to me that Brigitte had, indeed, cast her ballot for the Generale before leaving Paris.
The interview was over. We made our way down the corridor and, once more, the mysterious hand, like a Cocteau movie, appeared out of the dark with the lighted cigarette.
Like an actress back in her dressing room after an evening onstage, the teenager was no more. The coquetry was gone, the pout vanished, the sparkling eyes dimmed. Brigitte sank exhaustedly into a deep armchair. She was even too tired to tug her hair. I thought it was time for me to leave. I thanked Brigitte for letting me have a unique look-in on the most famous movie star of my generation. She opened one eye and looked at me. She took my hand and, with a puckish smile, said, “See you in the movies!”
Joe was so proud of me when he saw the article printed in several newspapers. To tell the truth I was pretty proud of myself too.
“See you did do by yourself, little one,” he said, “with no help from me. I knew you could.”
It was true I really had wanted to make it on my own. I valued his support but I didn’t want to succeed only through his contacts. But this was all Christina’s doing and I will always be grateful to her for, unwittingly, giving me my first break as a journalist. I was on top of the world. With the arrogance and optimism of youth, I knew nothing could stop me now. As a journalist I was on my way.
My second and third articles, interviews with Tom Courtenay and James Michener the previous year were then updated and published through NANA.
With these three articles under my belt and a series of Christina’s fashion columns in print, we were approached by the New York Post to write a daily column. The suggestion was we would each write three a week. I couldn’t quite believe my luck, that another top job was about to land in my lap, without making any effort. I wrote to my family at the end of December:
”….Something very thrilling has also cropped up and that is that Christina and I may have a daily column in the New York Post (an afternoon newspaper). Imagine that! We’ll each write three a week. I hope to know by the end of the week whether it’ll come off or not. I am so excited about it but it really seems too good to be true. Keep your fingers crossed. And, by the way, just in case you’re thinking that the job has anything to do with Joe, you’re wrong. Christina and I did this all by ourselves. Joe had no idea till three days ago that we were negotiating this. He is very excited about it too! Meanwhile I think we shall have an 80% Christmas as Joe and I are jetting off to Palm Beach for the weekend. He has to cover the opening of “The Nutcracker Suite”. Don’t you envy me?”