He exudes the easy charm and Gallic graciousness of a born boulevardier. Even so Roger Vadim's allure for some of the world's most beautiful women has always been just a bit baffling. Physically nondescript, the 56-year-old filmmaker could easily lose himself in a crowd of maître d's from overpriced French restaurants. Likewise most of his elegantly erotic movies are barely memorable except for the women who came to prominence in them. Brigitte Bardot, Annette Stroyberg, Catherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda all vaulted from Vadim's bedchamber into starring roles for their lover-director.

Nearly three decades after he unveiled Bardot in And God Created Woman, Vadim has found a new calling—as an author. His first novel, The Hungry Angel (Atheneum, $14.95), is the semiautobiographical story of a boy's coming of age in Paris after the Nazi occupation. "There is a lot of myself in the character of Julien," admits Vadim. "When Paris was liberated [he was 16], it was like being released from jail. Like Julien, I was hungry for everything—experience, sex, art, friendship, freedom and craziness."

Most of the novel is make-believe, of course, including Julien's erotic adventures with Sophie, a fellow drama student, and Carmen, a naive but sensuous dancer with whom he plays at marriage. Still, as he has done repeatedly in his cinematic career, Vadim creates a fantasy world in which real-life lovers can take center stage. During a climactic scene Carmen suffers a small cut and is convinced she is going to die. "Bardot was like that," says Vadim. "She was so scared of blood that if she started bleeding, she wanted to write her will."

Unlike Bardot and most of her successors, Vadim's current live-in companion, Ann Biderman, is not a tragedienne but a Hollywood screenwriter. Now scripting for MGM a remake of George Cukor's 1939 classic The Women, Biderman, 32, admits it is sometimes painful living up to the legacy of Vadim's previous loves. "There are those who are taken aback when they see he is not with another great beauty," she says. "My feelings have been hurt." As for Vadim's reputation as a soft-porn Pygmalion, she confides, "People expect him to be a sex maniac with horns, but he is truly the most relaxed person I've ever known." After five years together, the couple plan to marry next May but will remain in Santa Monica not far from Jane Fonda and her current husband, Tom Hayden. Vadim moved there in 1977 to be close to his and Jane's daughter, Vanessa, now 15, who splits her time between the two households.

Neither the change in scenery nor his budding career as a novelist has caused Vadim to abandon filmmaking. He is now negotiating with Hollywood movie moguls to do his own remake of And God Created Woman, with the story set in present-day America rather than postwar France. The hunt for a new Bardot will begin this spring, and Vadim anticipates scrutinizing as many as 1,500 young women. One place he will not seek casting candidates is from modeling agencies. "Fashion models are doomed as far as being actresses," he says. "It is a completely different way to present yourself." Instead Vadim will spend much of his time observing small acting and dance classes. "What I want is the perfect woman," he says. "I'm dreaming of a real American heroine who will not only be an independent girl with a good body, but who will also show that intelligence can go with beauty and sex." Applicants should be articulate, physically strong and willing to undress on cue.