Sarah Bernhardt (portrait by Nadar
Sarah Bernhardt (October 22, 1844 - March 26, 1923) was a French stage actress.
She was born in Paris as Henriette Rosine Bernard, the eldest surviving illegitimate daughter of Judith van Hard, a Dutch Jewish courtesan known as "Youle." Her father was reportedly Edouard Bernard, a French lawyer, and she was educated in French Catholic convents. To support herself, she combined the career of an actress with that of a courtesan - at the time, the two were considered scandalous to a roughly equal degree. She was sponsored into the Conservatoire de Musique et Déclamation by the Duc de Morny in 1859 for theatrical training.
Her stage career started in 1862, largely in comic theatre and burlesque. She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s, and was soon in demand all over Europe and in the United States. She soon developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title, "The Divine Sarah"; arguably, she may have been the most famous actress of the 19th century.
Although primarily a stage actress, Bernhardt made several cylinders and discs of famous dialogue from various productions. One of the earliest was a reading from Phèdre by Jean Racine, at Thomas Edison's home on a visit to New York City in the 1880s. Multi-talented, she was involved with the visual arts as well as acting, painting and sculpting herself, as well as modelling for Antonio de La Gandara. She was also to publish a series of books and plays throughout her life.
Her social life was as continuously active. She had an affair with a Belgian nobleman, Charles-Joseph-Eugene-Henri, Prince de Ligne, with whom she had her only child, the writer Maurice Bernhardt, in 1864 (he married a Polish princess, Maria Jablonowska, 1863-1914). Later lovers included several artists (Gustave Doré and Georges Clarin) and actors (Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen). She married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala (aka Jacques Damala) in London in 1882, but the marriage, which legally endured until Damala's death in 1889 at age 34, was quickly collapsed, largely due to the young actor's dependence on morphine.
Sketch of Sarah Bernhardt
Bernhardt was also one of the pioneer silent movie actresses, debuting as Hamlet in Le Duel d'Hamlet in 1900. (Technically, this was not a silent film, as it had accompanying cylinders with dubbed dialogue.) She went on to star in eight motion pictures and two biographical films in all. The latter included Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle (1912), a film about her daily life at home.
Sarah Bernhardt was made a member of France's Legion of Honor in 1914.
In 1915, ten years after a serious injury, her right leg was amputated, confining her to a wheelchair for several months. Nonetheless, she continued her career, in spite of the need to use a wooden prosthetic limb. She died in the arms of her son Maurice. She is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.
Sarah Bernhardt has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.
The actress La Berma, a fictional character in Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time was inspired by Bernhardt.
- Dans les Nuages, Impressions d'une Chaise Charpentier (1878)
- L'Aveu, drame en un acte en prose (1888)
- Adrienne Lecouvreur, drame en six actes (1907)
- Ma Double Vie (1907; as My Double Life, 1908)
- Un Coeur d'Homme, pièce en quatre actes (1911)
- Petite Idole (1920; as The Idol of Paris, 1921)
- L'Art du Théâtre: la voix, le geste, la prononciation, etc. (1923; as The art of the Theatre, 1924)
- 1862: Racine's "Iphigénie" in the title rôle, her debut.
- 1862: Eugène Scribe's "Valérie"
- 1862: Molière's "Les Femmes Savantes"
- 1864: Labiche & Deslandes, "Un Mari qui Lance sa Femme"
- 1866: T & H Cognard's "La Biche aux Bois"
- 1866: Racine's "Phèdre" (as Aricie)
- 1866: Pierre de Marivaux's "Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard" (as Silvia)
- 1867: Molière's "Les Femmes Savantes" (as Armande)
- 1867: George Sand's "Le Marquis de Villemer"
- 1867: Georges Sand's "François le Champi" (as Mariette)
- 1868: Dumas père "Kean" (as Anna Damby)
- 1869: Coppée's "La Passant," as a male troubador (Zanetto); her first major stage success
- 1870: George Sand's "L'Autre"
- 1871: Theuriet's "Jeanne-Marie"
- 1871: Coppée's "Fais ce que Dois"
- 1871: Foussier and Edmond "La Baronne"
- 1872: Bouilhet's "Mademoiselle Aïssé"
- 1872: Hugo's "Ruy Blas" (as Doña Maira de Neubourg, Queen of Spain)
- 1872: Dumas père "Mademoiselle de Belle-Isle" (as Gabrielle)
- 1872: Racine's Britannicus (as Junie)
- 1872: Beaumarchais's "Le Mariage de Figaro"
- 1872: Sandeau's "Mademoiselle de la Seiglière"
- 1873: Feuillet's "Dalila" (as Princess Falconieri)
- 1873: Ferrier's "Chez l'Avocat"
- 1873: Racine's "Andromaque"
- 1873: Racine's "Phèdre" (as Aricie)
- 1873: Feuillet's "Le Sphinx"
- 1874: Voltaire's "Zaire"
- 1874: Racine's "Phèdre" (as Phèdre)
- 1875: Bornier's "La Fille de Roland"
- Dumas fils' "L'Étrangère" (as Mrs. Clarkson)
- Parodi's "Rome Vaincue"
- 1877: Hugo's "Hernani" (as Doña Sol)
- 1879: Racine's "Phèdre" (as Phèdre)
- 1880: Émile Augier's "L'Aventurière"
- 1880: Legouvé & Scribe's "Adrienne Lecouvreur"
- 1880: Meilhac & Halévy's "Froufrou"
- 1880: Dumas fils' "La Dame aux Camélias" (as Maguerite)
- 1882: Sardou's "Fédora"
- Sardou's "Théodora" (as Theodora, Empress of Byzantium)
- Sardou's "La Tosca"
- Dumas fils' "La Princesse Georges"
- 1890: Sardou's Cléopâtre, as Cleopatra
- 1893: Lemaître's "Les Rois"
- 1894: Sardou's "Gismonda"
- 1895: Molière's "Amphytrion"
- 1895: "Magda" (translation of Sudermann's 'Heimat')
- 1896: La Dame aux Camélias
- 1896: Musset's "Lorenzaccio" (as Lorenzino de' Medici)
- 1897: Sardou's "Spiritisme"
- 1897: Rostand's "La Samaritaine"
- 1898: Catulle Mendès "Medée"
- 1898: "La Dame aux Camélias" (as Marguerite Gautier)
- Barbier's "Jeanne d'Arc" (as Joan of Arc)
- Morand & Sylvestre's "Izéïl" (as Izéïl)
- Shakespeare's "King Lear" (as Cordelia)
- 1899: Shakespeare's "Hamlet" (as Hamlet)
- Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" (as Cleopatra)
- Shakespeare's "Macbeth" (as Lady Macbeth) (in French)
- Richepin's "Pierrot Assassin" (as Pierrot)
- 1900: Rostand's "L'Aiglon" as "L'Aiglon"
- 1903: Sardou's "La Sorcière"
- 1904: Maeterlinck's "Pelléas et Mélisande" (as Pelléas)
- 1906: Ibsen's "The Lady From the Sea"
- 1906: Mendès' "La Vierge d'Avila" (as Saint Theresa)
- 1911: Moreau's "Queen Elizabeth" (as Queen Elizabeth)
- 1913: Bernard's "Jeanne Doré" (as Jeanne Doré)
- 1900: "Le Duel d'Hamlet" ("Hamlet", as Hamlet)
- 1908: "La Tosca" ("Tosca", as Tosca)
- 1911: "La Dame aux Camélias" ("Camille", as Camille)
- 1912: "Adrienne Lecouvreur" ("An Actress's Romance"; as Adrienne Lecouvreur)
- 1912: "Elisabeth Reine d'Angleterre" ("Queen Elizabeth"; a major success)
- 1912: "Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle" ("Sarah Bernhardt at Home", as herself)
- 1915: "Mères Françaises" ("Mothers of France", as a Red Cross nurse)
- 1915: "Ceux de Chez Nous" (biographical, home movies)
- 1916: "Jeanne Doré" (as Jeanne Doré)
- 1923: "La Voyante" ("The Fortuneteller", never completed)
- Comprehensive list of plays (http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~temple/plays.htm)
- Full text of My Double Life: The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt (http://www.gutenberg.net/etext/9100) from Project Gutenberg