Catherine Deneuve & Roger Vadim – the Story of the Would-be Nuptials

Catherine Deneuve and Roger Vadim

When they met, Catherine Deneuve was only 17 years old and did not yet know if she would be an actress. Roger Vadim, on the other hand, was already a respected director and a mature man with a past. This meeting decided the fate of the young girl: it opened the way to great fame, but also brought great suffering.

That night a storm rages in Thaiti. Catherine and Roger are just on an old cutter, in the middle of the sea. They didn’t expect such a storm, they carelessly boarded the boat, and now they lie in the rocking bed and listen to the raging waves hitting against the tiny window of the cabin. They are anxious. A storm under these circumstances is no joke. Fortunately, the warmth and closeness of their naked bodies gradually soothe their fears. They surrender to passion. Everything in the background disappears for a while. There are only them and their love. At the epicenter of the storm, in the middle of the sea, at night. Vadim is happy. Then Catherine takes a long look at him, and then takes his face in her hands. Words come out of her mouth. However, Roger can’t hear them. It is too loud. Catherine has to shout so that he can understand. The message is short: “I’m pregnant.”

Deneuve – Vadim’s mistress

Roger Vadim first saw Catherine Deneuve in one of the fashionable French discotheques in Montparnasse, Paris. The future star was seventeen years old at the time and completely unlike her later years. She was rather unassuming, had brown hair and was overshadowed by her older sister, Francoise Dorleac, a well-known French actress by then. It was Catherine, however, who fascinated Vadim, who immediately wanted to get to know her better.

So he asked her to meet, and she said she was working with her sister the next day, and he could visit her. He showed up on time, took Catherine out for a drink, and then they simply got into a cab. When they arrived at Vadim’s friend’s apartment, to which he had the keys, it turned out that the famous director… didn’t have a franc on him. He had left his briefcase along with his wallet at the café. Catherine, however, without showing a shadow of embarrassment, paid for the trip. Then they fell into each other’s arms – already on the first date passion erupted like a volcano, and Vadim went crazy about the beautiful young girl.

He called her the next day asking when he could see her. She answered simply: “right away,” and so one romantic night turned into a relationship. Catherine, despite her parents’ objections, threw herself into a relationship with an older director with her eyes closed. Very soon she moved into the apartment of Vadim, who was formally still married to Anette Stroyberg, but had long lived alone with his daughter Nathalie. After all, Anette had left her famous husband and tied herself to more men in search of a great love. Seventeen-year-old Catherine thus instantly became mistress of the house and stepmother.

Catherine Deneuve and Roger Vadim love story

Although Deneuve didn’t know at the time whether she would get seriously involved with film, her sister’s career made her, as it were, a natural entry into cinema circles, and by the age of 15 she was already in front of the camera, trying out small roles. It is also hard not to get the impression that for a young girl shy of a career as an actress, the figure of a famous director must have been impressive. Vadim himself ruled out years later that Deneuve’s motivation in this affair may have been her desire to strike out. Even if that was the case, Catherine really fell in love with Vadim and did everything to keep his love.

Catherine Deneuve – Vadim’s would-be wife

Catherine certainly wanted to create a real home. She quickly set about organizing daily life – she had the help of servants, of course – but she also did her own cooking, kept things tidy and substituted for little Nathalie’s mother. She effortlessly organized spontaneous parties for Vadim’s many friends. She even kept her cool when one day she found her beloved’s wife, Anette, in the bedroom, having decided to return home after splitting with her lover. She calmly waited out the whole incident, and then with stoic patience endured the vicinity of Vadim’s wife, located vis-avis their apartment.

The couple’s life was flowing peacefully and prosperously. And Vadim decided to make his young partner a star, just as he had done with his first spouse (See Brigitte Bardot and Roger Vadim – Love of the Twenties), Brigitte Bardot. Deneuve dyed her hair blonde and completely changed her outward image. She started wearing very simple, classic things, and paid special attention to footwear. Her closets were filled with shoes.

Thanks to Vadim, she got a role in “Et satan conduit le bal”, which, while it didn’t attract critical attention, gave her a solid acting lesson. Then the director engaged Catherine for his own controversial film, “Le vice et la vertu”. Then he gave her a role in Marc Allegret’s “Les Parisiennes”, a film about the lives of Parisian women. In it, Deneuve played alongside a well-known musician, Johnny Hallyday, whom Vadim was hellbent on making jealous and suspected that his beloved was having a clandestine affair with him.

Thanks to her good performance in “Les Parisiennes”, Catherine began to receive interesting film offers. Paul Gegauff intended to make a film with her in Tahiti. So Catherine and Roger eagerly set off for the exotic island, but the secret reason for their joy was not the film, but what was to happen in the beautiful sea setting. Vadim and Deneuve planned a quiet wedding, without cameras or press.

Catherine Deneuve and Roger Vadim son

And everything was moving toward the desired goal until one evening, when Roger received a phone call from his ex-wife. Anette guessed everything and threatened her ex-spouse that if he married Catherine, she would take his daughter Nathalie away from him. After all, the girl had lived with her father until then. Vadim capitulated and called off the wedding.

Years later, in his memoirs, he admitted that this was not the only reason he backed out of the marriage. He was also supposed to be deterred by the whole formal side of the planned ceremony – Deneuve’s parents insisted on writing a detailed prenup. And when the young couple sat for several hours in front of a notary, who enumerated the inventory of all the household inventory that is to fall to the other in the event of death or divorce, Roger became most discouraged.

Catherine herself reacted to the news of the wedding cancellation unusually calmly: “She didn’t make the slightest reproaches to me about it, and also during our stay in Polynesia she gave the impression of being extremely calm. But it seems to me that she never really forgave me for the wedding that didn’t happen.” – recalled the director.

Deneuve – mother of Vadim’s child

In the relationship between Catherine Deneuve and Roger Vadim, quarrels began to erupt more and more often. The director did not want to give up his love of bohemian life and often spent nights out. Catherine, in turn, began to show impatience with such a lifestyle. Vadim recalls that Deneuve was an apodictic woman and did not tolerate opposition. The director even called her a “domestic tyrant.” She liked to be the lady of the house who has everything under control. Her man, however, refused to be dominated. Soon, to her great joy, Catherine discovered that she was pregnant. Despite her young age, she really wanted to become a mother and feared that she might not fulfill her dream.

During her pregnancy, Deneuve had very changeable moods: one day she was scrubbing the apartment and organizing things, the next she slept until noon, the third she was partying, and at other times she forced Vadim to do endless shopping, the goal of which was always another pair of shoes. When Catherine was seven months pregnant, her partner left for Lapland to work on his next film. He returned after a few months. On June 18, 1963, at the film studio, he received the news that he was having a son. Drunk with happiness, he drove to the clinic to welcome his newborn child. They named him Christian.

Catherine Deneuve and Vadim relationship

The family rented a house in the paradisiacal setting of Saint-Tropez. Little Christian grew quickly and healthily, bringing his parents much joy. The second reason for happiness was Nathalie, who loved living by the sea. Despite this apparent bliss, the quarrels between the couple escalated a lot. However, it’s hard not to understand Catherine, who wanted a quiet family life after giving birth. Meanwhile, Vadim was forever partying and disappearing for entire nights.

In his memoirs, published years later, the director portrays himself as a man who greatly appreciated domestic warmth and was protective of his children. However, it is impossible not to see some contradictions and whitewashing of his image here. Round-the-clock care of a month-old child rather excludes late-night booze-fueled escapades. Not to mention support for a hormone-storm-torn, tired wife.

Vadim recalls that Catherine was the first to predict their definite separation. It was one night when they were caught in a terrible storm during a sea voyage. The boat broke down, and the entire crew miraculously avoided death. Catherine said at the time that she saw their future “like in a picture book” and that she was sad.

Deneuve – Vadim’s former partner

At the end of the summer of 1963, Catherine Deneuve got a role in Jacques Demy’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. Thanks to this creation, she gained international fame. In December, tired of the relationship crisis, she packed up her belongings and announced to Vadim that she was leaving. A few days later, however, she returned. Apparently, it was just a desperate attempt to get her beloved’s attention. The latter, however, was not too concerned. In late December, he met Jane Fonda and almost immediately fell into her arms (See Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim – an American woman and her French husband). He then moved out of the house and began a new life at the side of the beautiful American actress.

Deneuve suffered greatly and found it difficult to come to terms with such a big blow. At the age of 21, she had achieved a great deal: she managed to become a star, an almost-wife and a mother. The man who opened all the doors for her suddenly disappeared in a flash. However, neither then nor ever afterwards did she speak ill of the father of her child in public. On the contrary, she emphasized his enormous influence on her career and personal life. In one interview she said bluntly, “my past from the age of sixteen to twenty-one was Vadim.”

Catherine was very proud and endured the betrayal of her beloved for a long time. When the next vacation came, which Vadim spent with Jane Fonda in a picturesque French bay, and she had a shoot in Italy, she wrote a long love letter to the director, which she signed “Your Lover – C”. Stunned by the memories, Vadim immediately came to Catherine, and the meeting resulted in a night together: “neither of us expected such an explosion of eroticism, which took over us like a rapturous disease. For a moment at that time, I thought without the slightest doubt that everything would work out again between Catherine and me, that my relationship with Jane was just a dream and that Christian would grow with his mother and father loving each other.”

This, however, did not happen. Catherine drove Vadim back to the mountain cabin where Jane was waiting for him, and when the latter kissed the man, Deneuve drove away with a squeal of tires. The relationship between the “first lady of French cinema” (as she was called) and the famous director ended definitively. Vadim later claimed that Deneuve’s subsequent marriage to a well-known British photographer was revenge against him. The star, however, forever closed Roger’s chapter in her life and learned a hard lesson.


R. Vadim, My Three Wives. Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda, polish transl. E. Ptaszyńska-Sadowska, Warsaw 1990.