The whole kitten caboodle
Today is Brigitte Bardot‘s birthday. Joyeux anniversaire, BB! The former French film actress caused a sensation in 1956 when she appeared in And God Created Woman, the film that established her reputation as an international sex symbol. Her first scene finds her sunbathing in the nude – in her birthday suit, as it were. In her heyday as a film actress in the 1960s, Bardot was regarded as the archetypal sex kitten, and she is still mentioned from time to time in relation to her early provocatively sexy image or her appearance, particularly her full-lipped pout or tousled blonde hair:
The beauty of Elisha’s current shaggy bob is that it follows the current hair trends for that soft, sultry Bardot blonde bombshell.
From sex kitten to cat-lover
Going back to kittens, here is a rather different use of her name:
France and style go hand in hand, like Brigitte Bardot and cats.
After retiring from acting in 1973, Bardot became an active and high-profile supporter of animal rights and of the cause of endangered animal species. So nowadays it is more likely that she will be name-checked to represent the idea of someone who cares deeply about animals and their welfare. Here’s another example:
Sir Sean Connery. . . is to Scottish nationalism what Brigitte Bardot is to animal rights, which ensures his cause gets talked about internationally.
The last time Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot shared top billing like this was in a curious 1968 British western called Shalako, about a group of European aristocrats hunting big game in the wild west. But I digress.
One of the fascinating aspects of the way in which we use the names of people as shorthand for a characteristic, quality, or idea is that some individuals can be associated with more than one thing. Like Brigitte Bardot, there are other famous names that do double duty on the allusion front. Take Bill Gates, for instance. The co-founder of Microsoft is routinely used as a prime example of someone who is enormously wealthy:
Okay, so you’re not a Bill Gates. You can’t afford to hang huge digital screens on the walls of your mansion in order to display a slew of ever-changing masterpieces. But an increasing number of people can afford a smaller version of these digital frames.
But his name could equally well be dropped into a sentence to stand for computer-geekdom:
He was the least computer-literate person I had ever met and compared to him I was Bill Gates in person.
The Saint, the Sir, and the Doctor
Just as one name can represent more than one idea, so a particular idea can be represented by more than one name. In serving as a byword for immense wealth, Bill Gates joins a long list that includes not only Croesus and Dives, but also the likes of J. D. Rockefeller, J. Paul Getty, Howard Hughes, and Aristotle Onassis. Similarly, Brigitte Bardot isn’t the only famous person whose name is associated with an empathy with animals. St Francis of Assisi, the Italian monk who founded the Franciscan order of friars, is often depicted in art preaching to birds and holding wild animals, and allusions to the saint often mention this:
You can always tell that the crash is coming when I start getting tender about Our Dumb Animals. Three highballs, and I think I’m St. Francis of Assisi.
At moments like these, I feel myself blessing every creature in the cosmos. I feel like Saint Francis of Assisi, preaching to birds.
The ability to communicate with animals is also linked with Dr Dolittle, the animal-loving doctor in Hugh Lofting’s books, whose house resembles a menagerie and who can converse with animals in their own languages:
For some reason, syntax has remained beyond the reach of nonhuman animals, even beyond those clever dogs and apes that, of late, have become icons for those who want to believe, as Anderson puts it, that Doctor Dolittle was right.
The bridge … would include a five-foot animal lane, but critics are saying, how, really, would animals know to use it? Environmentalists do support the plan, but one critic says, what are they going to do, have Dr. Dolittle standing there directing the animals?
Then there is celebrated naturalist and documentary-maker Sir David Attenborough, whose name is synonymous with the wonders of the natural world:
I wanted to have a garage sale but Ted said that nobody in their right mind would want to buy my garage. For a start, it is infested with strange hybrid creatures that not even David Attenborough would go near.
A focused hush has already enrobed the gallery and a sense of anticipation abounds. Entering the space you cannot help but feel somewhat like David Attenborough observing rare creatures in their natural habitat.
On her birthday, though, let’s give the final (and feline) word to BB herself: ‘I really am a cat transformed into a woman. . . I purr. I scratch. And sometimes I bite.’