‘Barbarella’ Director Dead of Cancer

Filmmaker Roger Vadim, best known for discovering Brigitte Bardot and keeping company with the likes of Jane Fonda and Catherine Deneuve, died today of cancer. He was 72.

The Paris-born Vadim was married to the then-teenage Bardot when he made his directorial debut in 1956 with “And God Created Woman.” The film launched Bardot‘s career as a sex symbol and stirred much talk for its outrageous (at the time) unveiling of her skin. In the short run, “And God …” was banned in several countries. In the long run, it helped launch France’s New Wave film movement of the 1950s.

In 1965, Vadim wed a 27-year-old, pre-controversial Jane Fonda (his third wife). Two years later, the couple teamed to reveal Fonda‘s own assets on screen with the Vadim-directed sci-fi cult hit “Barbarella“. The couple had one daughter, Vanessa, before splitting in 1973.

Vadim also fathered a son, Christian, with Deneuve and had one daughter each with wives No. 2 and No. 4, Annette Stroyberg and Catherine Schneider respectively.

In all, Vadim wed five times. In 1987, he authored the ladies’-man memoir, “Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World.”

Survivors include his four children and actress-wife No. 5, Marie-Christine Barrault.

BEST IN SHOW: Annette Bening, the “American Beauty” real-estate wife who goes to great lengths to sell a house, has been named ShoWest’s Female Star of the Year by the National Association of Theater Owners. Bening, 41, will receive her award at ShoWest’s convention March 6-9 in Las Vegas.

COURTED: Mark Ronald Bailey is scheduled to face trial April 7 on charges that he stalked “Suddenly Susan” star Brooke Shields while in the possession of a handgun, a Los Angeles court ruled Thursday. Bailey, 41, has two prior convictions relating to Shields — one for stealing a pickup truck and trespassing at her New Jersey home in 1985, and one for threatening her in 1993.

… In New York, a prosecutor on Thursday said rap mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs offered his driver $50,000 and a diamond ring he received from girlfriend Jennifer Lopez if the driver would say he owned a gun police found as the couple fled a nightclub shooting. …

… A California appeals court reinstated a $4.3 million jury verdict against Connie Stevens, saying she missed her opportunity to make the defense that her agreement with former manager Norman Styne was void under the Talent Agencies Act. Styne originally sued Stevens claiming she didn’t honor a verbal contract giving him 10 percent profits from her cosmetic line. A jury found in favor of Styne, but the verdict was thrown out two months later.

QUICK TAKES: Ensuring that the Academy Awards this year will have a small dose of excitement, double Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni will present at the ceremonies. The actor-director won Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actor kudos for “Life is Beautiful.” On Oscar night 1999, Benigni, whose two exuberant acceptance speeches “used up all [his] English,” announced that he wanted to be like Jupiter, “kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody.” No word on what Benigni‘s plans are this year …

Salma Hayek has been named a presenter for the techie Oscars, to be presented March 4. She’ll hand out a statue to Dr. Roderick T. Ryan, recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, honoring “an individual … whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.” …

Steven Spielberg, on the mend from kidney surgery, will be on hand to receive his Vanguard Award at the NAACP Image Awards on Saturday. He’ll also help present the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award to Harrison Ford on Thursday, along with George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Anne Archer, Daryl Hannah, Julia Ormond and Anne Heche

… Songstress Patti LaBelle, 55, and her husband-manager, L. Armstead Edwards, are separating after 30 years of marriage. They call it “an amicable decision.”

THIS WEEK’S RUMOR ROUNDUP: While Neve Campbell recently denied she’s headed to the altar with rumored-boyfriend John Cusack, Heather Graham and Edward Burns may be a different story, reports Fashion Wire Daily. Graham herself recently told Elle magazine: “I fell in love with this guy and it’s unlike any love I’ve ever known. Knock on wood, I don’t see an end in sight.” They live together in Hollywood and gargle mouthwash every morning so they’ll “taste fresh” when they kiss. Anyhow, sources say Graham “fits right in” with Burns‘ Long Island family, and she’s even considering motherhood. “It’s like a definite maybe.” Uh, Heather, isn’t that an oxymoron? …

… MTV gross-out host Tom Green apparently got wind of the rumors about him and Monica Lewinsky, and in order to save his own dating life, posted a message on his official Web site. For the record, Green notes that he was introduced to Lewinsky through one of his show’s writers (whom she dated), and Green later met up with Lewinsky and her date (not the writer) to attend a Kids in the Hall after-party. He thinks the Edmonton Sun reported their pairing because they were standing together. “Andy Dick was with us too … I am also not dating him,” he writes.

Why doesn’t Green just ignore the rumor? “Because I just met this girl a few weeks ago, and I really like her… and I don’t want her to get mad at me and think that I’m dating Monica … this girl is … really cool, and cute and stuff.” Awww, how sweet.