Sarah Bernhardt

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Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt by Paul Nadar (crop).jpg
Sarah Bernhardt; circa 1878
Born Rosine Bernardt
c. (1844-10-23)23 October 1844
Paris, France
Died 26 March 1923(1923-03-26) (aged 78)
Paris, France
Occupation Actress
Years active 1862–1922
Spouse(s) Ambroise Aristide Damala (m. 1882–89)
Sarah Bernhardt signature.svg

Sarah Bernhardt (French: [sa.ʁa bɛʁ.nɑʁt];[1] 22 October 1844 – 26 March 1923) was a French stage actress who played leading roles in some of the most successful French plays of the late 19th century, including La Dame Aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo, and Fédora and La Tosca by Victorien Sardou. She played the lead role in Shakespeare's Hamlet and often played other male roles. She was celebrated for what Victor Hugo called her "golden voice", and the emotional death scenes in the final acts of her main roles, which often moved the audiences to tears. She was one of the first international stars, making highly successful tours to the United States and around the world. She was among the first prominent actresses to make sound recordings and to perform in motion pictures.

Early life[edit]

Sarah Bernhardt with her mother

Sarah Bernhardt was born at 5 rue de L'École-de-Médicine in the Latin Quarter of Paris on October 23, 1844. [2] She was the illegitimate daughter of a Dutch-Jewish courtesan, or upper-class prostitute, Judith Bernard (also known as Julie and in France as Youle) and an unknown father, probably the son of a wealthy merchant from Le Havre. [3].Her father paid for her education, insisted she be baptized as Catholic, and left a sum of one hundred thousand francs when she came of age. [3]. Judith had little time to spare for the child; she lived in a stylish apartment on the rue de la Michodière, and sent Sarah off to live with a nurse in Brittany, then in a cottage the Paris suburb of Neuilly, [4] Her mother supplied her with money, toys, cakes and candies, but rarely visited. [5].

When Sarah was five, her nurse married the concierge of an apartment house and wanted to return the child to her mother, but the mother had departed for Baden-Baden with a rich client without leaving a forwarding address, and the nurse did not know how to write. Bernhard lived for two or three months with the nurse and her husband in a tiny room at 65 rue de Provence in the center of Paris, sleeping on an ironing board placed between two kitchen chairs. Finally Sarah was spotted on the street by her aunt Rosine, who took Sarah to her own home.When her mother returned to Paris, she took Sarah to live with her at 265 rue Saint-Honoré. There Sarah was attended by servants, but rarely ever saw her mother. [6]

At the age of seven, Sarah could neither read or write. [5] With money from Sarah's father, her mother sent Sarah to a boarding school for young ladies in Auteuil run by a Madame Fressard, where for the first time she was with other children her own age. The other children made fun of her eccentric appearance and curly hair. [5] During the two years she attended the school, her mother came to see her twice. At the school she took part in her first theatrical performance, in a play called Clothilde, where she had the role of the 'queen of the fairies,' and performed the first of the many dramatic death scenes of her long career. Sarah had been told her mother would not attend, and she performed admirably her first scenes, but her mother and aunt Rosine unexpectedly appeared in the audience, Sarah suffered the first of a lifetime of episodes of stage fright. She completely forgot all of her lines and fled the stage in tears. [7]

While Sarah was in the boarding school, her mother was rising to the top ranks of Paris courtesans, consorting with bankers, generals, and politicians. Her patrons and friends included Charles de Morny, Duke of Morny, half-brother of Emperor Napoleon III and President of the French legislature. [8] At the age of ten, with the sponsorship of de Morny, Sarah was admitted to Grandchamp, an exclusive Augustine convent school near Versailles.[9] At the convent, she was soon on the stage again, performing the part of the Archangel Raphael in the story of Tobias and the Angel.[10] However, at the age of fifteen, she was expelled from the school for sacrilege; she had arranged a mock Christian burial, with full ceremony. for her pet lizard. [11] Her mother summoned a family council, including Morny, to decide what to do with her. Morny proposed that Sarah should become an actress, an idea which horrified the young girl; she had never even been in a theater. Morny arranged for her to attend her first theater performance at the Comedie Française in a party which included her mother, Morny, and his friend Alexandre Dumas. The play they attended was Brittanicus, by Racine. Sarah was so moved by the emotion of the play that she began to sob loudly, disturbing the rest of the audience. Morny and others in their party were angry at her sobbing and left their seats, but Dumas comforted her, and later told Morny that he was right, she was destined for the stage. After the performance, Dumas comforted her and called her "my little star."[12]

The Duc de Morny used his influence with the composer Daniel Auber, the head of the Paris Conservatory, to arrange an audition for her. She began preparing for the audition, as she described it in her memoires, "with that vivid exaggeration with which I embrace any new enterprise."[13] She was coached for the audition by Dumas himself. The jury of the audition was composed of Auber and five leading actors and actresses from the Comédie Française. For the audition, she was supposed to recite verses from Racine, but no one had told her that she needed someone to give her cues as she recited. Instead of backing out, she told the jury she would recite instead the fable of the Two Pigeons by La Fontaine. The jurors were skeptical, but the fervor and pathos of her recitation won them over, and she was invited to become a student.[14]

Debut with the Comédie-Française (1862-64)[edit]

Sarah Bernhardt in 1864; age twenty, by Félix Nadar

Bernhardt studied acting at the Conservatory from January, 1860 to the spring of 1862 under two of the most accomplished actors of the Comédie Française, Joseph-Isidore Samson and Jean-Baptiste Provost. As she wrote in her memoires, Provost taught her diction and grand gestures, while Samson taught her the power of simplicity.[15] For the stage she changed her name from "Bernhard" to "Bernhardt". While studying, she also received her first proposal of marriage, from a wealthy businessman who offered her five hundred thousand francs. He wept when she refused. Bernhardt wrote that she was "confused, sorry, and delighted- because he loved me the way people love in plays at the theater."[16]

Before the first examination for her tragedy class, she tried to straighten her abundance of frizzy hair, which made it even more uncontrollable, and came down with a bad cold, which made her voice so nasal that she hardly recognized it. Furthermore, the parts assigned for her perform were classical and required carefully stylized emotions, while she preferred romanticism and fully and naturally expressing her emotions. The teachers ranked her fourteenth in tragedy and second in comedy. [17]. Once again Morny came to her rescue. He put in a good word for her with the National Minister of the Arts, Camille Doucet. Doucet recommended her to Edouard Thierry, the chief administrator of the Théâtre Français. [18] Thierry offered Bernhardt a place as a pensionnaire at the theater, at a minimum salary, the first step to becoming a member of the company. [19]

Bernhardt made her debut with the company on August 31, 1862 in the title role of Racine's Iphigénie.[20] [21]Her premiere was not a success. She suffered an attack of stage fright just before the performance, and rushed through her lines. Some in the audience made fun of her thin figure. When the performance ended, her teacher, Provost, was waiting in the wings, and she asked his forgiveness. He told her, "I can forgive you, and you'll eventually forgive yourself, but Racine in his grave never will." [22] Francisque Sarcey, the influential theater critic of L'Opinion Nationale and Le Temps, wrote: "she carries herself well and pronounces with perfect precision. That is all that can be said about her at the moment."[22]

Bernhardt photographed by Félix Nadar 1865

Bernhardt did not remain long with the Comédie-Française. She played Henrietta in Molière's Les Femmes Savantes and Hippolyte in his L'Étourdi, and the title role in Scribe's Valérie, but did not impress the critics, or the other members of the company, who resented her rapid rise. The weeks passed, but she was given no further roles. [23] Her hot temper also got her into trouble; when a theater doorkeeper addressed her as "Little Bernhardt", she broke her umbrella over his head. Afterwards she apologized profusely, and twenty years later, when the doorkeeper retired, she bought a cottage for him in Normandy. [24] At a ceremony honoring the birthday of Molière on January 15, 1862, Bernhardt invited her younger sister, Regina, to accompany her. By accident, Regina stood on the train of the gown of a leading actress of the company, Madame Nathalie. Madame Nathalie pushed Regina off the gown, causing her to strike a stone column and gash her forehead. Regina and Madame Nathalie began shouting at one another, and Berhardt stepped forward and slapped Madame Nathalie on the cheek. The older actress fell onto another actor. The following day the French press was full of accounts of the incident. The next day Thierry asked that Bernhardt apologize to Madame Nathalie. Bernhardt refused to do so until Madame Nathalie apologized to Regina. Bernhardt had already been scheduled for a new role with the theater, and had begun rehearsals. Madame Nathalie demanded that Bernhardt be dropped from the role unless she apologized. Since no one would yield, and Madame Nathalie was a senior member of the company, Thierry was forced to ask Bernhardt to leave.[25]

The Gymnase and the Odéon (1864-70)[edit]

Bernhardt as the boy troubadour, Zanetto, in Le Passant (1869)

Her family could not understand her departure from the theater; it was inconceivable to them that anyone would walk away from the most prestigious theater in Paris at the age of eighteen.[26] Instead, she went to a popular theater, the Gymnase, where she became an understudy to two of the leading actresses. She almost immediately caused another offstage scandal. Along with other actresses of the Gymnase, she was invited to recite poetry at a reception at the Tuileries Palace hosted by Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie. She chose to recite two romantic poems by Victor Hugo, apparently unaware that Hugo was a bitter critic of the emperor. Following the first poem, the Emperor and Empress rose and walked out, followed by the court and the other guests.[27] Her next role at the Gymnase, as a foolish Russian princess, was entirely unsuited for her; her mother told her that her performance was "ridiculous." [26] She decided abruptly to quit the theater, to travel, and, like her mother, to take on lovers. She went briefly to Spain, then, at the suggestion of Alexandre Dumas, to Belgium. [28]

She carried to Brussels letters of introduction from Alexandre Dumas, and was admitted to the highest levels of society. According to some accounts, At a masked ball in Brussels she met the young Prince de Ligne, a young Belgian aristocrat, and had an affair with him.[29] Other accounts say that they met in Paris, where the Prince came to attend the theater. [30] The affair was cut short when she learned that her mother had had a heart attack. She returned to Paris, where she found that her mother was better, but that she herself was pregnant from her affair with the Prince. She did not notify the Prince. Her mother did not want the fatherless child born under her roof, so he moved to a small apartment on Rue Duphot, and on December 22, 1864, the twenty-year-old actress gave birth to her only child, Maurice Bernhardt.[31]

Some accounts say that Prince Henri had not forgotten her. He learned her address from the theater, arrived in Paris, moved into the apartment with them. After a month he returned to Brussels and told his family that he wanted to marry the actress. The family of the Prince sent his uncle, General de Ligne, to break up the romance, threatening to disinherit him if he married Bernhardt. [32] According to other accounts, the Prince denied any responsibility for the child.[30] She later called the affair "her abiding wound", but she never discussed Maurice's parentage with anyone. When asked who his father was, she sometimes answered, "I could never make up my mind whether his father was Gambetta, Victor Hugo or General Boulanger." [33] Many years later, when Bernhardt was famous, the Prince offered to formally recognize Maurice as his son, but Maurice politely declined, explaining he was entirely satisfied to be the son of Sarah Bernhardt.[34]

To support herself after the birth of Maurice, she began playing minor roles and understudies at the Port-Saint-Martin, a popular melodrama theatre. Her growing confidence and experience in a variety of roles led to a new opportunity. She went to her friend Camille Doucet, who had a position at the Ministry of Fine Arts, and asked for help getting into the company of the Théâtre de L’Odéon on the Left Bank. This theater was second in prestige only to the Comédie Française, and, unlike that very traditional theater, specialized in more modern and innovative productions. Doucet wrote to the heads of the Odéon, Felix Duquesnel and Charles-Marie de Chilly, and persuaded them to give her a reading. She was hired, and received 150 francs a month. Her first performances with the theater were not successful. She was cast in highly stylized and frivolous eighteenth-century comedies, whereas her strong point on stage was her complete sincerity. With her thin figure, she also looked ridiculous in the ornate costumes. Dumas, her strongest supporter, commented after one performance that "she has the head of a virgin and the body of a broomstick."[35] Soon, with different plays, her performances improved; she was praised for her performance of Cordelia in King Lear. She then played the part of a young boy, Zacharie, the first of many male parts she played in her career, in Racine's Athalie. The audience warmed to her; and the influential critic Sarcey wrote "...she charmed her audience like a little Orpheus". [35]

Her breakthrough performance was in the 1868 revival of Kean by Alexandre Dumas, in which she played the female lead part of Anna Danby. The play was interrupted in the beginning by disturbances in the audience by young spectators who called out, "Down with Dumas! Give us Hugo!" Bernhardt addressed the audience directly: "Friends, you wish to defend the cause of justice. Are you doing it by making Monsieur Dumas responsible for the banishment of Monsieur Hugo?" With this the audience laughed and applauded and fell silent. At the final curtain, she received an enormous ovation, and Dumas hurried backstage to congratulate her. When she exited the theater, a crowd had gathered at the stage door and tossed flowers at her. Her salary was immediately raised to 250 francs a month.[36]

Her next success was her performance in François Coppé's Le Passant, which premiered at the Odeon on 14 January 1868, [37][38] Critic Theophile Gautier described the "delicate and tender charm" of her performance. It played for one hundred and fifty performances, plus a command performance at the Tuileries Palace for Napoleon III and the court. Afterwards the Emperor sent her a brooch with his initials in diamonds.[39]

In her memoires, she wrote of her time at the Odéon: "It was the theater that I loved the most, and that I only left with regret. We all loved each other. Everyone was gay. The theater was a like a continuation of school. All the young came there... I remember my few months at the Comédie Française. That little world was stiff, gossipy, jealous. I remember my few months at the Gymnase. There they talked only about dresses and hats, and chattered about a hundred things that had nothing to do with art. At the Odéon, I was happy. We thought only of putting on plays. We rehearsed mornings, afternoons, all the time. I adored that." Bernhardt lived with her friend (and assistant), Madame Guerard, and her son in a small cottage in the suburb of Auteuil, and drove herself to the theater in a small carriage. She developed a close friendship with the writer George Sand, and performed in two plays that she authored.[40] In her dressing room, she received other celebrities, from Gustave Flaubert to Leon Gambetta. As she became more prosperous, she moved to an apartment on rue Auber in Paris. Her mother began to visit her for the first time in years, and her grandmother, a strict Orthodox Jew, moved into the apartment and took care of Maurice. Berhardt added a maid and cook to her household, as well as the beginning of a collection of animals; she had one or two dogs with her at all times, and two turtles moved freely around the apartment.[41]

Wartime nurse: the Odéon (1870-71)[edit]

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War interrupted her theatrical career. The stunning news of the defeat of the French Army, the surrender of the Emperor at Sedan, and the proclamation of a republic on September 4, 1870 was followed by a long siege of the city by the Prussian Army. Paris was cut off from news and from its food supply, and the theaters were closed. Berhardt took charge of converting the Odéon into a hospital for soldiers wounded in the battles outside the city.[42] It had thirty-two beds placed in the lobby and the foyers. Bernhardt called upon her friends and admirers to donate supplies for the hospital. The Baron de Rothschild provided brandy, the chocolate manufacturer Meunier supplied his best chocolates, and the grocery magnate, Potin, donated one hundred boxes of sardines. A stove was placed and her personal cook made soup for the patients. She worked long hours as a nurse, assisting the chief surgeon, Doctor Duchesne, with amputations and operations.[20] When the coal supply of the city ran out, Berhnardt ransacked the theater and used old scenery, benches and stage props for fuel to heat the theater. As the city food supply dwindled, even the elephants of the zoo were slaughtered.[43] In early January, after sixteen weeks of the siege, the Germans began to bombard the city with long-ranged artillery. The patients had to be moved to the cellar, and the hospital was forced to close. Serious cases were taken to another military hospital and she rented an apartment on rue de Provence to house the remaining twenty patients. By the end of the siege, Berhardt's hospital had cared for more than one hundred and fifty wounded soldiers, including a young undergraduate from the Polytechnique, Ferdinand Foch, who decades later commanded the Allied armies in the First World War. [44]

The new French government was forced to surrender on January 19, 1871, and the first news from outside came into the city. She learned that her son and family had gone to Hamburg. She went to the new president of the republic, Adolphe Thiers, and asked for a pass to travel to Germany to bring them back. Thiers gave her the pass. When she returned to Paris several weeks later, shefound that power in the city had been seized by the Paris Commune, and the city was once again under siege, however, this time by the French Army. She left again, to Saint-Germain-en-Laye, returning to her apartment on the Rue de Rome only after the Commune had been crushed in May. Not long after her return, Chilly, the director of the Odeon, came to her apartment, where he found Bernhardt reclining on her sofa. He announced that the theater would reopen in October 1871, and he wished her to play the lead in a new play, Jean-Marie by André Theuriet. She replied that she was finished with the theater and was going to move to Brittany and start a farm. Chilly, who understod her moods well, stood and said he understood and accepted her decision, and would give the role to one of her rivals, Jane Essler. Bernhardt immediately jumped up from the sofa and asked when the rehearsals would begin.[44]

Ruy Blas and return to the Comédie Française (1872-78)[edit]

The play Jean-Marie was a critical and popular success. The directors of the Odéon decided next to stage Ruy Blas, by Victor Hugo, with Bernhardt in the role of the Queen of Spain. Hugo himself attended all the rehearsals. At first Bernhardt pretended to be indifferent to him, but gradually he won her over and she became a fervent admirer. The play premiered on 16 January 1872, and became an immense success. The first night was attended by the Prince of Wales and by Hugo himself; after the performance, Hugo approached Bernhardt, dropped to one knee, and kissed her hand.[45]

The play was performed before packed houses. A few months after it opened, Bernhardt received an invitation from Emile Perrin, Director of the Comédie Française, asking if she would return, and offering her 12,000 francs a year, compared with less than ten thousand at the Odéon. She agreed to the offer, once she finished the run of Ruy Blas. The Odéon management threatened her with a lawsuit, and she was forced to pay six thousand francs of damages. After the 100th performance of Ruy Blas, Hugo gave a dinner for Bernhardt and her friends, toasting "His adorable Queen and her Golden Voice."[45]

She returned to the Comédie Francaise and quickly took on some of the most difficult roles in French theater. In July 1874, despite the summer heat and her own illness, Perrin insisted she perform the lead in Voltaire's archaic drama Zaïre. She created one of her most famous death scenes, writhing on the stage. In the same year, with just seventy-four hours to learn the lines and practice the part, she played the lead in Racine's Phedre, playing opposite the celebrated tragedian, Jean Mounet-Sully, who also became her lover. The leading French critic Sarcey wrote, "This is nature itself served by marvelous intelligence, by a soul of fire, by the most melodious voice that ever enchanted human ears. This woman plays with her heart, with her entrails."[46] This became her most famous classical role, performed over the years for audiences around the world. In 1877 she had another success as Dona Sol in Hernani, a tragedy written forty-seven years earlier by Hugo. Her lover in the play was her lover off-stage as well, Mounet-Sully. Hugo himself was in the audience. The next day he sent her a note: "Madame, you were great and charming; you moved me, me the old warrior, and, at a certain moment when the public, touched and enchanted by you, applauded, I wept. The tear which you caused me to shed is yours. I place it at your feet." The note was accompanied by a tear-shaped pearl on a gold bracelet.[47]

Bernhardt in her famous coffin, in which she sometimes slept or studied her roles. (circa 1873)

She maintained a highly theatrical lifestyle in her house on the Rue de Rome. She kept a satin-lined coffin in her bedroom, and occasionally slept in it or lay in it to study her roles, though, contrary to the popular stories, she never took it with her on her travels. She cared for her her younger sister who was ill with tuberculosis, and allowed her to sleep in her own bed, while she slept in the coffin. She posed in it for photographs, adding to to the legends she created about herself. [48]

Bernhardt repaired her old relationships with the other members of the Comédie Française; she signed up to sponsor a benefit for Madame Nathalie, the actress whom she had once slapped, costing her her position in the theater. However, she was frequently in conflict with Perrin, the director of the theater. In 1878, during the Paris International Exposition, she took a balloon flight over Paris with balloonist Pierre Giffard and painter George Clairin, in a balloon named Dona Sol for her. An unexpected storm carried the balloon far outside of Paris to a small town. When she returned by train to the city, Perrin accused Berhardt of breaking a theater rule which required actors to request permission before they left Paris, and fined her a thousand francs. Bernhardt was furious, refused to pay, and threatened to quit the theater. The theater could not afford to let her go; she was the biggest box-office attraction. When her resignation arrived at the theater, Perrin and the Minister of Fine Arts arranged a compromise with her; she withdrew her resignation, and in return was raised to the highest rank of the theater, a societaire.[49]

Phédre, La Dame Aux Camelias, London tour and departure from the Comédie Française (1879-80)[edit]

'´La Dame aux Camelias'´ (1881)

Bernhardt was earning a substantial amount at the theater, but her expenses were even greater. By this time she had eight servants, and she built her first house, a substantial mansion on rue Fortuny not far from Parc Monceau. She looked for additional ways to earn money. In June 1879, the Comédie Française went on tour to England. Shortly before the tour began, a British theater manager, Edward Jarrett, traveled to Paris and offered her the opportunity to give private performances in the homes of wealthy Londoners. Furthermore, London theaters demanded that Berhardt be the top-featured actress of the London tour, contrary to the traditional hierarchy determined by seniority in the Comédie Française, where the idea of stardom was scorned. The French Theater had no choice but to accept. When she arrived in England, Oscar Wilde scattered lilies in her path; she carefully avoided stepping on them, since she loved flowers. [50] She opened at the Gaiety Theater in Phedre on 4 June; she gave a highly emotional performance, and actually fainted at the final curtain, and had to helped back to the stage for her curtain call, where she received a thunderous ovation. In addition to her performances of Zaire, Phadre, Hernani and other plays with her troupe, she gave the private recitals in the homes of British aristocrats arranged by Jarrett. Jarrett also arranged an exhibition of her sculptures and paintings in Picadilly, which was attended by both the prince of Wales and Prime Minister Gladstone. While in London, she added to her personal menagerie of animals. In London she purchased three dogs, a parrot, and a monkey, and made a side trip to Liverpool where she purchased a cheetah, a parrot and a wolfhound and received a gift of six chameleons, which she kept in her rented house on Chester Square, and then took back to Paris.[51]

Back in Paris, she was increasingly discontented with Perrin and the management of the Comédie Française. He insisted that she perform the lead in a new play, '´L'Aventurièré´by Emile Augier, a play which she thought was just mediocre. When she rehearsed the play without enthusiasm, and frequently forgot her lines, she was criticized by the playwright. She responded, "I know I'm bad, but not as bad as your lines." The play went ahead but was a failure. She wrote immediately to Perrin, "You forced me to play when I was not ready... what I foresaw came to pass... this is my first failure at the Comédie and my last." She resigned effective immediately and departed. She was sued by the theater for 100,000 francs for breach of contract. She did not settle the debt until 1900. Later, when the Comedie Francaise theater was nearly destroyed by fire, she allowed her old troupe to use her own theater.[52]

In 1880, Bernhardt played La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas for the first time, at the théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique. She did not create the role; the play had first been performed by Eugénie Dochein in 1852, but it quickly became her most performed and most famous role, with its famous death scene at the end. She played the role more than a thousand times, and acted regularly and successfully in it until the end of her life. Audiences were almost invariably in tears at the end.[49] In the early 20th century, part of her performance was made into one of the first sound motion pictures.

She was immediately invited to return to the Gaiety Theater in London, and offered the chance to select her own repertoire and to direct as actor-manager. The first plays she chose were Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe and drawing-room comedy Frou-frou by Meilhac-Halévy, both of which were highly successful on the London stage. She could not perform her more recent Paris success, La Dame aux Camelias, because of British censorship laws. When she returned to Paris, the Comédie Française administration asked her to return, but she refused their offer, explaining that she was making far more money on her own. She took her new plays on tour to Brussels and to Copenhagen, where they played to full houses. Returning to France, her former manager at the Odéon suggested that she take her two new plays, which had never been performed in France, on a tour of French cities outside of Paris, which she did with success.[53]

First American Tour (1880-81)[edit]

As soon as the British impresario Edward Jarrett learned that Bernhardt had broken with the Comédie Française, he hurried to Paris and proposed that the actress make a grand tour of the United States, with a repertoire of eight plays that she would select, cast, and direct. He offered her a guaranteed one hundred performances over four months at $1000 per performance, plus fifty percent of the gross if the receipts were over $4000. Bernhardt quickly accepted. For her repertoire, she selected two classics; Phedre, and Hugo's Hernani; the other six were melodramas designed to showcase her acting: in six of the eight, she died dramatically in the final act.

She and her troupe departed from Le Havre for America on October 15, 1880, arriving in New York on October 27. On November 8 she performed Scribe's Adrienne Lecouvreur at Booth's Theater before an audience which had paid a top price of $40 for a ticket, an enormous sum at the time. Few in the audience understood French, but it was not necessary; her gestures and voice captivated the audience, and she received a thunderous ovation. She thanked the audience with her distinctive curtain call, in which she did not bow, but stood perfectly still, with her hands clasped under her chin, or with her palms on her cheeks, and then stretched them out to the audience. After her first performance in New York, she made twenty-seven curtain calls.

Although she was welcomed by theater-goers, she was entirely ignored by New York high society, which considered her personal life scandalous.[54]

The US tour carried her to 157 performances in 51 cities.[55] She traveled on a special train with her own car, which carried two maids, two cooks, a waiter, her maitre d'hotel and her personal assistant, Madame Guérard. It also carried an actor named Angelo whom she had selected to serve as her leading man, and, according to most accounts, her lover during the tour. From York she made a side trip to Menlo Park, where she met Thomas Edison, and was given a demonstration of electric lighting and of a phonograph recording, before continuing on to Boston and the rest of her tour. From New England she went to Montreal, then to Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Toledo, and many other towns and cities. She performed Phedre six times and La Dame Aux Camilias sixty-five times. On May 3, 1881 she gave her final performance of Camelias in New York.

Throughout her life, she always insisted in being paid in cash. When Bernhardt returned to France, she brought with her a chest filled with 194,000 dollars in gold coins.[56]

Return to Paris - Fédora to Theodora (1882-1886)[edit]

As Fédora by Victorien Sardou (1882)

No crowd greeted Bernhardt when she returned to Paris, and theater managers offered no new roles; the Paris press ignored her tour, and much of the Paris theater world resented her leaving the most prestigious national theater to earn a fortune abroad. When no new plays or offers appeared, she went to London for a successful three week run at the Gaiety Theater. When she returned to Paris, she contrived to make an uninvited surprise performance at the Opera at the annual July 14 patriotic spectacle at the Paris Opera, which was attended by the president of France, and houseful of dignitaries and celebrities. She recited the Marseillaise, dressed in a white robe with a tricolor banner, and at the end dramatically waved the French flag. The audience gave her an enormous ovation, showered her with flowers, and demanded that she recite the song two more times, [57]

This triumph was followed by a series of highly successful plays over the years written especially for her by Victorien Sardou, a gifted creator of well-crafted melodramas, almost all ending with a tear-jerking death scene for Bernhardt. They included Fedora, Divorcons, and the most famous, La Tosca, which Puccini later turned into an opera. Bernhardt demanded and received a contract to perform at the Vaudeville Theater in Paris for 1500 francs per performance, and 25 percent of the net profits, an extraordinary sum. She also announced that she would not be available to begin until 1882. Until then she was fully booked. She traveled to London, where she performed La Dame aux Camelias for the first time in Britain; it had previously been banned. Many years later she gave a private performance of the play for Queen Victoria while the Queen was staying in Nice. From Britain she continued her tour to theaters in the French provinces, and then to Italy, Greece, Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland, Spain, Austria and Russia. She performed before Czar Alexander III of Russia (who broke court protocol and bowed to her), King Alfonso XII of Spain, and the Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. The only European country where she refused to play was Germany, due to the German annexation of French territory after the 1870 Franco-Prussian War.[58] During the tour she met Jacques Damala, who briefly became her first and only husband. (See "Personal Life" below)

'´Theodora'ˋ by Nadar (1884)

Fédora which opened on December 12, 1882, was an enormous artistic success. The critic Maurice Baring wrote, "a secret atmosphere emanated from her, an aroma, an attraction, which was at once exotic and cerebral... she literally hypnotized her audience." [59] But the abrupt end of her marriage with Damala shortly after the premiere put her back into financial distress; she had leased a theater, the Ambigu, specifically to give her husband leading roles, and placed her eighteen-year-old son Maurice, who had no business experience, as a manager. She paid 100,000 francs to lease the shabby theater and another 100,000 to redecorate it. Fedora was an artistic but not financial success; it ran for just fifty performances and lost 400,000 francs. She was forced to give up the Ambigu, and then to sell her jewelry, her carriages and horses at an auction at the Hotel Drouot. When Damala left, she took a new lover, the poet and playwright Jean Richepin. He accompanied her as her leading man on a quick tour of European cities to help pay off her debts.[60] When they returned to Paris, Richepin co-starred with Bernhardt in his new play, Nana-Sahib. Despite her efforts, both the play and Richepin's acting were weak, and it quickly closed. She and Richepin then went to London to present MacBeth in French, with Bernhardt as Lady MacBeth. This was also a failure, in part due to a poor translation.[61] The play received terrible reviews and lost money.[62]

Bernhardt's career was rescued by a new play by Sardou, Theodora (1884), a melodrama set in 6th century Byzantium. Sardou wrote an non-historic but dramatic new death scene for Bernhardt, having the empress publicly strangled (she actually died of cancer), but its costumes and sets were spectacular. Bernhardt travelled to Ravenna, Italy to study and sketch the costumes seen in Byzantine mosaic murals, and had them reproduced for her own costumes. The play opened on December 26, 1884 and ran for three hundred performances in Paris, and one hundred in London. She was able to pay off most of her debts, and brought a lion cub, which she named Justinian, for her home menagerie.[63] She also renewed her love affair with her former lead actor, Philippe Garnier.[64]

World Tours (1886-1892)[edit]

Theodora was followed by two failures. In 1885, after the death of Victor Hugo, she performed in one his older plays, Marion Delorme (from 1831), but the play was old fashioned and her role did not give her a chance to show her talents. She next put on "Hamlet", with her lover of the time, Philippe Garnier, in the leading role and Bernhardt in the much less visible role Ophelia. The critics and audiences were not impressed, and the play failed. At the time, Bernhardt had large expenses, which included a ten thousand francs a month allowance paid to her son Maurice, a passionate but rarely successful gambler. Bernhardt was forced to sell her chalet in Saint-Adresse and her mansion on Rue Fortuny, and part of her collection of animals. The impresario, Jarrett, immediately proposed she make another world tour, this time to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chili, Peru, Panama, Cuba and Mexico; then on to Texas, New York, England, Ireland and Scotland. She was on tour for fifteen months, from spring 1886 until summer 1887. On the eve of departure, she told a French reporter: "I passionately love this life of adventures. I detest knowing in advance what they are going to serve at my dinner, and I detest a hundred thousand times more knowing what will happen to me, for better or worse. I adore the unexpected."[63]

In every city she visited, she was feted and welcomed by audiences. The actors Edouard Angelo and Philippe Garnier were her leading men. Emperor Pedro II of Brazil attended all of her performances in Rio de Janeiro, and presented her a gold bracelet with diamonds, which was almost immediately stolen from her hotel. The tour suffered other misfortunes. The two leading actors both fell ill with yellow fever, and her long-time impresario died of a heart attack.

She was undaunted, however, and went crocodile hunting at Guayaquil, and also bought more animals for her menagerie. Her reputation had preceded her, and the theaters in every city were full. By the end of the tour, she had accumulated more than a million francs. [65]

Nearly to the end of her life, whenever she ran short of money (which happened every three or four years), she went on tour, performing both classics and new plays. In 1887 she toured South America and Cuba where she performed in the Sauto Theater, in Matanzas. In the autumn of 1888 she toured Italy, Egypt, Turkey, Sweden, Norway and Russia. She returned to Paris in the spring of 1889 with an enormous owl given to her by the Grand Duke Alexis Alexandrovich, the brother of the Czar.[66] Her 1891-92 tour was her most demanding, including much of Europe, Russia, North & South America, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Samoa. Her personal luggage consisted of forty-five costume crates for her fifteen different productions, and seventy-five crates for her off-stage clothing, including her two hundred and fifty pairs of shoes. There was a trunk for her perfumes, cosmetics and makeup, and another for her sheets and tablecloths and her five pillows. After this tour she brought back a trunkful of 3,500,000 francs; but she also suffered a painful injury to her knee, when she leaped off the parapet of the Castello Sant' Angelo in La Tosca. The mattress on which she was supposed to land was misplaced, and she landed on the boards. She remained in bed during the day for several days, but continued to act in the evenings. This injury never healed properly, and may have led to the eventual amputation of her leg years later.[67]

La Tosca, Cleopatra and the Théâtre de la Renaissance (1887-1898)[edit]

With the money Bernhardt earned on her 1886-87 tour, she was able to buy a new house, an imposing red brick mansion at 56 boulevard Pereire in the 17th arrondissement (demolished in the 1960s). Upon her return, she received an invitation to return to the Comédie Française. The theater management was willing to forget the conflict of her two previous periods there, and offered a guarantee of 150,000 francs a year. The guaranteed payment appealed to her, and she began negotiations. However, the senior members of the company protested the high salary offered, and conservative defenders of the more traditional theater also complained; one anti-Bernhardt critic, Albert Delpit of Le Gaulois, wrote, "Madame Sarah Bernhardt is forty-three; she can no longer be useful to the Comédie. Moreover, what roles could she have? I can only imagine that she could play mothers..." Bernhardt was deeply offended and immediately broke off negotiations.[68] She turned once again to Sardou, who had written a new play for her, "La Tosca", which featured, a magnificent death scene at the end. The play was staged at the Porte Saint-Martin Theater, opening on November 24, 1887. She played the role for one hundred twenty-nine consecutive performances, always to full houses. The play inspired Giacomo Puccini to write one of his most famous operas, Tosca (1900).

In the following years, acted in dozens of revivals, classics, and new plays written for her. In 1887 she acted in a stage version of the realistic drama Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola, which had inspired virulent attacks on its author. It was not a box-office success, and ran for just thirty-eight performances.[69] Asked why she chose this play, she declared to reporters, "My true country is is the free air, and my vocation is art with constraints." .[70] She performed the traditional melodrama Francillon by Alexandre Dumas Fils in 1888, A short drama she wrote herself, L'Aveu, disappointed both critics and the audience and lasted only twelve performances on stage. She had considerably more success playing Jeanne d'Arc, in a play written by Jules Barbier, believably playing the nineteen-year old martyr. Her next great success was another melodrama by Sardou, Cleopatra, which allowed to wear elaborate costumes and to finish the play with a magnificent death scene. For this scene she kept two live garter snakes, who played the role of the poisonous asp which bites her. For realism, she painted the palms of her hands a terra cotta red, though they could hardly be seen from the audience. "I shall see them," she explained. "If I catch sight of my hand, it will be the hand of Cleopatra." [71]

After a two-year world tour (1891–93), her finances were replenished and she decided to open her own theater. She paid 700,000 francs to take over the Théâtre de la Renaissance, and, as the sole producer-director, she ran it her own way between 1893 and 1899.[72] In addition to directing, managing, and overseeing the finances, she appeared in eight performance a week. She imposed a rule that women in the audience, no matter how wealthy or famous, had to take off their hats during performances, so the rest of the audience could see. She coached many young women in the art of acting, including actress and courtesan Liane de Pougy.[73] In five years, she produced nine productions, of which three were successes, including a revival of Phédre. The critic Sarcey wrote, "her Phédre is the epitome of art. Such an interpretation is almost a miracle." George Bernard Shaw attended Magda, one of Bernhardt's melodramas. Though he hated melodramas and Berhardt's style of acting, he wrote, "How capitally vulgarly Sarah did that!".[74]

In 1898 she had another success, Lorenzaccio, playing the male lead role in a Renaissance drama of revenge and intrigue written in 1834 by Alfred de Musset, but never before actually staged. As her biographer [[Cornelia Otis Skinner wrote, she did not try to be overly masculine when she performed male roles: "Her male impersonations had the sexless grace of the voices of choirboys, or the not quite real pathos of Pierrot.{{Sfn}Skinner|1967|page=252}} Anatole France wrote of her performance in Lorenzaccio: "She formed out of her own self a young man melancholic, full of poetry and of truth." [75] This was followed by another successful melodrama by Sardou, Gismonda, one of the very rare plays where she did not die dramatically in the final act and but lived happily ever after with her co-star, Lucien Guitry. He acted as her leading man for over thirty years. Besides Guitry, she shared the stage with Edouard de Max, her leading man in twenty productions, and Constant Coquelin, who frequently toured with her.[76]

Bernhardt was not afraid of controversy. In 1898 She performed the female lead in "La Ville Morte" by the Italian poet and playwright Gabriele D'Annunzio; the play was fiercely attacked by critics because its theme of incest between brother and sisters. Along with Emile Zola and Victorien Sardou, she took a vocal position in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer falsely accused of betraying France. The issue divided Parisian society; A conservative newspaper headlined, "Sarah Bernhardt has joined the Jews against the Army", and her own son Maurice condemned Dreyfus; he refused to speak to her for a year.[77]

The Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt (1899-1900)[edit]

In 1899, as her success and expenses grew, Bernhardt looked for a much larger theater. At the age of fifty-five, she took a twenty-five year lease on the Théâtre des Nations on the Place du Châtelet, renaming it the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt. She completely redecorated the interior, replacing the red plush and gilt interior with a decor of yellow velvet and brocade and ivory white woodwork. The lobby was decorated with life-size portraits of her in the leading roles, painted by Alphonse Mucha, Louise Abbéma, and Georges Clairin. Her dressing room was a five-room suite, which, after the success of her Napoleonic play L'Aiglon, was decorated in Empire Style, It featured a marble fireplace with a fire burning winter and summer, a huge bathtub that was filled with the flowers she received after each performance, and a dining room for twelve, where she entertained after the final curtain.

Poster for Hamlet by Alfons Mucha (1899)

Bernhardt opened the theater on January 21, 1899 in Sardou's La Tosca, which she had first performed in 1887. This was followed by revivals of Racine's Phèdre (24 February), Octave Feuillet's Dalila (8 March), Gaston de Wailly's Patron Bénic (14 March), Edmond Rostand's La Samaritaine (25 March), and Alexandre Dumas fils's La Dame aux Camélias on 9 April. On 20 May, she premiered her most controversial part, the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in a prose adaptation which she had commissioned from Eugène Morand and Marcel Schwob. The play was greeted with rave reviews despite its running time of four hours.[78][79] She played Hamlet in a manner which was direct, natural, and very feminine. Her performance received largely positive reviews both in Paris and London. The British critic Max Beerbohm wrote that she acted with "the pose and dignity of a person of consequence, and unmistakeable thoroughbred...the only complement one can consciously pay her is that her Hamlet was, from first to last, a truly grand dame." [80]

In 1900 Bernhardt had one of her greatest successes, also in a male role, in l'Aiglon, By Edmond Rostand. She played the Duc de Reichstadt, the son of Napoleon Bonaparte, imprisoned by his unloving mother and family until his melancholy death in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. She had already starred in one play by Rostand, Princess Lointaine, a romantic fantasy. Soon afterwards Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac, which made him the most popular playwright of his era. L'Aiglon was a verse drama, six acts long. The fifty-six-year-old actress studied the walk and posture of young cavalry officers and had her hair cut short to impersonate the young Duke. The Duke's stage mother, Marie-Louise of Austria, was played by Maria Legault, an actress fourteen years younger than Berhnardt. The play ended with a memorable death scene, according to one critic, she died "as dying angels would die if they were allowed to." [80] The play was a critical and box-office triumph; especially popular with visitors to the 1900 Paris International Exposition, and ran for nearly a year. Standing-room places sold for as much as 600 gold francs. The play inspired a flood of Bernhardt souvenirs, from statuettes, medallions, fans, perfumes, post-cards of her in the role, uniforms and cardboard swords for children, and pastries and cakes; the famed chef Escoffier added Peach Aiglon with Chantilly Cream to his repertoire of desserts. [81]

Bernhardt was a master at obtaining publicity for herself and her theater. Her theater was one of the first buildings in Paris to illuminate its facade with electric lights. She commissioned a little-known young Czech artist , Alfons Mucha, to create posters for her plays. The two-meter high, brightly-colored posters he created of her in exotic costumes, printed in gold, orange, saffron and red, became icons of Belle-Epoque and Art Nouveau. .Mucha's work for Bernhardt expanded to include theatrical decor, theater programs,s. costumes, jewelry, and advertising. Always looking for novel ways to earn money Bernhardt set aside a certain number of printed posters of each play to sell to collectors. [82]

Later years - Farewell Tours and film performances (1901-1913)[edit]

After her season in Paris, Paris Bernhardt performed L'Aiglon in London and then made her sixth of nine tours to the United States. On this tour she traveled with Constant Coquelin, then the most-popular male French actor; she took the secondary role of Roxanne to his Cyrano de Bergerac', a role he created, and he co-starred with her as Flambeau in l'Aiglon and as the first grave-digger in Hamlet.[83]

She also changed, for the first time, her resolution not to perform in Germany or the "occupied territories" of Alsace and Lorraine. In 1902, at the invitation of the French ministry of culture, she took part in the first cultural exchange between Germany and France since the 1870 war. She performed L'Aiglon fourteen times in Germany; Kaiser William II of Germany attended two performances and hosted a dinner in her honor in Potsdam. [84]

During her German tour, she began to suffer agonizing pain in her right knee, probably connected with a fall she had suffered on stage during her tour in South America. She was forced to reduce her movements in L'Aiglon, but she continued to act. A German doctor recommended that she halt the tour immediately and have surgery, followed by six months of complete immobilization of her leg. Bernhardt promised to see a doctor as soon as she returned to Paris, but continued to act, as much as the pain allowed, on stage, and continued the tour. [85]

In 1903, she had one box-office disaster in another masculine role, playing the part of Werther in a gloomy adaptation of the story by Goethe. However, she quickly bounced back with a new box office success, La Sorcière by Sardou, in the role of a Moorish sorceress in love with a Christian Spaniard, leading to her persecution by the church. This story of tolerance, coming soon after the Dreyfus affair, had a great success at the box office; some days she gave both matinee and evening performances. [85]

Between 1904 and 1906, she performed a remarkable range of parts in plays now mostly forgotten; including Francesca di Rimini by Francis Marion Crawford, the role of Fanny in Sappho by Alphonse Daudet; the magician Circe in a play by Charles Richet, the part of Marie Antoinette in the historic drama Varennes by Lavedan and Lenôtre, the part of the prince-poet Landry in a version of Sleeping Beauty by Richepin and Henri Cain, and a version of Pelléas and Mélisande by the symbolist poet Maurice Maeterlinck, in which she played the male role of Pelléas with the British actress Beatrice Campbell as Melisande. [86] She also wrote a play for herself, a new version of Adrienne Lecouvreur, different from story had been dramatized for her by Scribe, a six-act drama which pleased Bernhardt but bored the critics; and a drama, Un Coeur d'Homme, in which she had no part, which was performed at the Théâtre des Arts, but lasted only three performances.[87]

Bernhardt toured the ruins of San Francisco after the earthquake and fire, escorted by critic Ashton Stevens (April 1906)

Bernhardt made her first American Farewell Tour in 1905-1906, the first of four farewell tours she made to the U.S. She had new managers, the Shubert Brothers. The tour was complicated because the Shuberts were competing with a powerful syndicate of theater owners which controlled nearly all the major theaters and opera houses in the United States, and demanded that she appear only under their auspices. The Shuberts refused, and therefore Bernhardt was obliged to hire an enormous circus tent, seating four thousand five hundred spectators, which she used for her theater in Texas and Kansas City. She performed in skating rinks in Atlanta, Savannah, Tampa, and other cities. She could not play in San Francisco because of the recent earthquake and fire, but she performed across the Bay in the Greek Theater at the University of California at Berkeley, and gave a recital, titled, "A Christmas Night during the Terror", for prisoners at San Quentin penitentiary. [88] During her 1905 visit to Montreal, the Roman Catholic bishop encouraged his followers to throw eggs at Bernhardt, to punish her for playing prostitutes as sympathetic characters. Her tour continued to South America, where it was marred by a more serious event; On October 9, 1905, at the conclusion of la Tosca in Rio de Janeiro, she leaped, as always, from the wall of the fortress to plunge to her death in the Tiber. This time, however, the mattress on which she was supposed to land had been misplaced. She landed on her right knee, which had already been damaged in earlier tours. She fainted and was taken from the theater on a stretcher, but refused to be treated in a local hospital. She sailed the few hours later by ship from Rio to New York. When she arrived, her leg had swollen, and she was immobilized in her hotel for fifteen days, before returning to France. [89]

In 1906–1907, the French government finally offered the Legion of Honor to the nation's most famous actress, but only in her role as a theater director, not as an actress; the award at that time required a review of the recipients moral standards, and Bernhardt's behavior was still considered scandalous. Bernhardt ignored the snub and continued to play both saints and sinners. In November 1906 she presented La Vierge d'Avila, ou La Courtisan de Dieu, by Catulle Mendes, playing Saint Theresa, followed on January 27, 1907 by Les Bouffons, by Miguel Zamocois, in which she played a young and amorous medieval lord. [90] In 1909 she played the nineteen-year old Joan of Arc in Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc by Emile Moreau, moving the audience with the simplicity of her performance. It became part of her standard repertoire; newspapers urged schoolchildren to see her personification of French patriotism. [91]

Her second American farewell tour (and eighth American tour) began in the autumn of 1910. She took along a new leading man, the Dutch-born Lou Tellegen, a very handsome actor who had served as a model for sculpture Eternal Springtime by Auguste Rodin, and who became her co-star for the next two years, and her escort to all events, functions and parties. He was not a particularly good actor, and had a strong Dutch accent, but he was successful in roles, such as Hippolyte in Phedre, where he could take off his shirt and show off his physique. In New York she created yet another scandal. She appeared in the role of Judas Escariot in "Judas". by the American playwright John Wesley De Kay. It was performed in New York's Globe Theatre for only one night in December 1910 before It was banned by local authorities. It was also banned in Boston and Philadelphia.[92]

Her last U.S. tour took place in 1913–1914. On the evening of March 12, 1913, in Los Angeles, she was involved in a motorcar accident while she was being driven in a taxi to the downtown Orpheum Theatre to appear in "La Tosca". The tour also marked the end of her relationship with Lou Tellegen. When the tour ended, he remained in the United States and she returned alone to France.

Wartime performances (1914-1918)[edit]

In December 1913, Bernhardt scored another success with a poignant drama, Jeanne Doré, playing the mother of a young man condemned to death for murdering the man who seduced the women he loved. On March 16, she was finally made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. Despite her successes, she was perpetually short of money, She had made her son Maurice the director of her theater, and he regularly used the receipts of the theater to pay his gambling debts. She regularly pawned her jewels to raise money for her expenses. [93]

In the early summer of 1914 she went as usual to Belle-Isle with her family and close friends, There she received the news of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the series of events leading to the First World War. She hurried back to Paris, which was threatened by an approaching German army. In September the Minister of War asked her to move to safer place. She reluctantly departed for a villa on the Bay of Arcachon. There her physician discovered that gangrene had developed on her injured leg. She was transported to Bordeaux where, on 22 February, a surgeon amputated her leg almost to the hip. She refused the idea of crutches or a wheelchair, and instead was transported in a specially-designed litter chair supported by two long shafts. She designed the chair herself, in the Lous XV style, with white sides and gilded trim, like the chair of an empress.[94]

She returned to Paris on October 15, and, despite the loss of her leg, she continued to go on stage at her theater; scenes were arranged so she could be seated, or supported by a prop, with her legs hidden. She took part in a patriotic "scenic poem" by Eugène Morand, Les Cathédrals, playing the part of Strasbourg Cathedral; first, while seated, reciting a long poem, and then hoisting herself up on her one leg, leaning against the arm of the chair, and declaring in her strongest voice; "Weep, weep, Germany! The German eagle has fallen into the Rhine!" [95]

She was not satisfied with remaining in Paris when the front lines were so close. She joined a troupe of French actors and traveled closer to the front, a half mile from the front lines in the Argonne and Verdun, where they performed for the soldiers either just back or about to go into the trenches. Propped on pillows on an armchair, she recited her patriotic speech as Strasbourg Cathedral. Another actress present at the event, Beatrix Dussanne, described her performance: "The miracle again took place; Sarah, old, mutilated, once more illuminated a crowd by the rays of her genius. This fragile creature, ill, wounded and a immobile, could still, through the magic of the spoken word, re-instill heroism in those soldiers weary from battle." The soldiers gave her a standing and cheering ovation."[96]

By 1916 the direct threat to Paris was over, and Bernhardt was again short of funds. To earn money, she made two short films, one based on the story of Joan of Arc, the other called "Mothers of France." She then embarked on what was really to be her "Farewell American Tour." Despite the threat of German submarines, she crossed at the Atlantic and crisscrossed the United States, performing in New York, San Francisco, and most of the major cities between. She was stricken with uremia in New York and had an emergency kidney operation. She recuperated in Long Beach for several months, writing short stories and novellas for publication in French magazines, and then continued the tour. She returned to France by ship in the autumn of 1918, landing in Bordeaux on November 11, 1918, the day that the armistice was signed ending the First World War.[97]

Final years (1919-1923)[edit]

Bernhardt in 1922

She quickly resumed acting in her Paris theater, in scenes adapted to her immobility. In 1920, she gave a series of performances of a single act of Racine's Athelee. For her curtain calls she managed to rise, balancing on one leg and gesturing with one arm. She also acted in a new play, Daniel, by her grandson-in-law, the playwright Louis Verneuil. She played the male lead role, and appeared in just two acts. She took the play and others in her repertory for a European tour, and for her final tour of England, where she gave a special command performance for Queen Mary, followed by a tour of the British provinces, The amputation was not apparent during her performances, which were done with the use of the artificial limb.[98]

In 1921 she made a final lecture tour around the country, speaking about the plays and a poetry of Edmond Rostand. In 1921 she produced a new play by Rostand, La Gloire, and in 1922, another play by Verneuil, Régine Arnaud. She also continued to entertain a stream of guests at home. The French author Colette described visiting Bernhardt her in her home, and being served coffee by Bernhardt. "The delicate and withered hand offering the brimming cup, the flowery azure of the eyes, so young still in their network of fine lines, the questioning and mocking coquetry of the tilted head, and that indescribable desire to charm, to charm still, to charm right up the gates of death itself." [99]

In he autumn of 1922, she began rehearsing a new play by Sacha Guitry, called Un Sujet de Roman. On the night of the dress rehearsal, she collapsed and went into a coma for an hour, then awakened with the words, "when do I go on?" She recuperated for several months, and appeared to getting better; she began preparing for a new role as Cleopatra in Rodogune by Corneille, and agreed to make a new film by Sasha Guitry called La Voyante, for a payment of ten thousand dollars a day. She was too weak to travel, so a room in her house on Boulevard Pereire was set up as a film studio, with scenery, lights and cameras. However, on March 21, 1923, she collapsed again, and never recovered. She died from uremia on the evening of March 26, 1923. Newspaper reports stated she died "peacefully, without suffering, in the arms of her son".[100] The following day thirty thousand persons passed by to pay their respects, and an enormous crowd followed her casket from the Church of Saint-Francoise-de-Sales, paused for a minute of silence outside her theater, and then continued to Pere Lachaise Cemetery.[101] Her tomb has the single name "Bernhardt." [102]

Motion pictures[edit]

Bernhardt was one of the pioneer silent movie actresses. The first projected film was shown by the Lumiere Brothers at the Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895. In 1900, the cameraman who had shot the first films for the Lumiere brothers, Clément Maurice, approached Bernhardt and asked her to make a film of one scene of her stage production of Hamlet; her duel, in the role of Hamlet, with Laertes. Maurice introduced a new element to the project which appealed to Bernhardt; he made a phonograph recording at the same time, so the scene could be accompanied by sound. During the filming, the sound of the clashing wooden prop swords was not loud and realistic enough, so Maurice had a stage hand bang pieces of metal together in sync with the sword fight. Maurice's finished two-minute film, Le Duel d'Hamlet, was presented to the public as the debut of Le Phono-Cinéma-Théâtre at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition between 14 April and 12 November 1900. The short film became one of the hits of the Exposition. .[103] The sound quality on the disks and the synchronization were poor, so the system never became a commercial success; good-quality sound films did not arrive until the ate 1920s. Nonetheless, her film is cited as one of the first examples of a sound film.[104]

Later, Berhnhardt went on to star in eight silent motion pictures. She played the role of Queen Elizabeth with her co-star and lover of the time, Lou Tellegen in the role of Lord Essex, in a production Adolph Zukor [105] She was also the subject and star of two documentaries, including Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle (1912), a film about her daily life at home. In the weeks before her death, she was preparing to make a motion picture, La Voyante, directed by Sacha Guitry. Since she was too ill to go to the studio, the set, camera, and lights were brought to her home. She told journalists, "They're paying me ten thousand francs a day, and plan to film for seven days. Make the calculation. These are American rates, and I don't have to cross the Atlantic! At those rates, I'm ready to appear in any films they make." [106] However, she died just before the filming began.[107]

Painting and sculpture[edit]

Bernhardt in her sculpture studio in Montmartre (about 1878)

After her return to the Comedie-Francaise, Bernhardt rarely performed more than twice a week, and needed a new activity to fill her time. At the suggestion of her friends Alfred Stevens, Louise Abbéma, Georges Clairin and Gustave Doré,she took up painting, mostly traditional landscapes; and then, more seriously, sculpture. Her sculpture teacher was Mathieu-Meusnier, an academic sculptor who specialized in public monuments and sentimental storytelling pieces,[108]. She quickly picked up the techniques; she exhibited and sold a high-relief plaque of the death of Ophelia and an allegorical Figure of Music, which was placed in the Casino in Monte Carlo. She exhibited a group of figures, called Après la Tempête (After the Storm)", at the 1876 Paris Salon and received an honorable mention. It is now in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.. Fifty works have been documented, of which 25 are known to still exist,[109] Her sculptures were also exhibited at the Salon 1874 – 1886, with several items shown in the Columbia Exposition in Chicago and at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. While on tour in New York, hosted a private viewing of her paintings and sculpture for 500 guests.[110] In 1880 she made an Art Nouveau decorative bronze inkwell, a self-portrait with bat wings and a fish tail (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).[111] This may have been inspired by her 1874 performance in Le Sphinx.[112] She set up a studio at 11 boulevard de Clichy in Montmartre, where she frequently entertained her guests, dressed in her sculptor's outfit, including white satin blouse and white silk trousers. an early version of the paints suit. Auguste Rodin dismissed her sculpture as "old-fashioned tripe", and she was attacked in the press for an activity inappropriate for an actress. She was defended by Emile Zola, who wrote, "How droll! Not content with finding her thin, or declaring her mad, they want to regulate her daily activities, ...Let a law be passed immediately to prevent the cumulation of talent!"[113]

"The Art of the Theater"[edit]

In her final years, Bernhardt found time to write a textbook on the art of acting, She wrote whenever she had time, between productions, and when she was on vacation at Belle-Isle. After her death, the writer Marcel Berger, a close friend of Bernhardt, found the unfinished manuscript among her belongings in her house on Boulevard Pereire. He edited the book, and it was published as L'Art du Théâtre in 1923, then in an English translation in 1925.[114]

She paid particular attention to the use of the voice, "the instrument the most necessary to the dramatic artist." It was the element, she wrote, which connected the artist with the audience. "The voice must have all the harmonies," she wrote, "serious, plaintive, vibrant and metallic." For a voice to be fully complete, she wrote, "It is necessary that it it be very slightly nasal. An artist who has a dry voice can never touch the public." She also stressed the importance for artists to train their breathing so that they could speak four lines of verse, or at least twenty-six words, in a single breath. [115]

She wrote, "the art of our art is not to have it noticed by the public...we must create an atmosphere by our sincerity, so that public, gasping, distracted, should not regain its equilibrium and free will until the fall of the curtain. That which is called the work, in our art, should only be the search for the truth." [116]

She also insisted that artists should express their emotions clearly without words by "their eye, their hand, the position of the chest, the tilting of the head....The exterior form of the art is often the entire art; at least, it is that which strikes the audience the most effectively." She encouraged actors to "Work, overexcite your emotional expression, become accustomed to varying your psychological states and translating them... The diction, the way of standing, the look, the gesture are predominant in the development of the career of an artist." [117]

She explained why she liked to perform male roles. "The roles of men are in general more intellectual than the roles of women...Only the role of Phédre gives me the charm of digging into a heart that is truly anguished... Always, in the theater, the the parts played by the men are the best parts. And yet theater is the sole art where women can sometimes be superior to men." [118]

Memory and improvisation[edit]

Bernhardt had a remarkable ability to memorize a role quickly. She recounted in L'Art du Théâtre that "I only have to read a role two or three times and I know it completely; but the day that I stop playing the piece the role escapes me entirely...My memory can't contain several parts at the same time, and it's impossible for me to recite off-hand a tirade from Phèdre or Hamlet. And yet I can remember the smallest events from my childhood." {{Sfn|Bernhardt|2017|page=31. She also suffered, particularly in her early career, bouts of memory loss and stage fright, but she learned to counter them. Once, she was seriously ill before a performance of L'Etrangére at the Gaiety Theater in London, and the doctor gave her a dose of opium or morphine. During the performance, she went on stage but could not remember what she was supposed to say. She turned to another actress, and announced, "If I made you come here, Madame, it is because I wanted to instruct you in what I want done....I have thought about it, and i do not want to tell you today." The other She then walked offstage. The other actors, astonished, quickly improvised an ending to the scene. After a brief rest, her memory came back, and Bernhardt went back on stage, and completed the play. .[119]

She also had a remarkable ability to improvise. During a performance on her world tour, a backstage door was opened during a performance of Phėdre and a cold wind blew across the stage as Bernhardt was reciting. Without interrupting her speech, she added, in perfect rhythm with the classical text, "If someone doesn't close that door I will catch pneumonia." The door was closed, and no one in the audience seemed to notice the addition. .[119]

Critical Appraisals[edit]

French drama critics praised Bernhardt's performances in poetic terms; Francisque Sarcey, the most influential of Paris theaer critics, wrote of her 1871 performance in Marie, "She has a sovereign grace, a penetrating charm, an I don't know what. She is a natural and an incomparable artist." [120]. Reviewing her performance of Ruy Blas in 1872, the critic Théodore de Banville wrote that Bernhardt "declaimed like a bluebird sings, like the wind sighs, like the water murmurs." [121]. Of the same performance, Sarcey wrote: "She added the music of her voice to the music of the verse. She sang, yes, sang with her melodious voice..." [122]

Victor Hugo was a fervent admirer (and, according to some accounts, also a lover) of Bernhardt. He praised her "golden voice." Describing her performance in his play, Ruy Blas in 1872, he wrote in his Carnets, "It is the first time this play has really been played! She is better than an actress, she is a woman. She is adorable; she is better than beautiful, she has the harmonious movements and looks of irresistible seduction." [122]

Her 1882 performance in Fedora was described by the French critic Maurice Baring; "A secret atmosphere emanated from her, an aroma, an attraction which was at once exotic and cerebral...she literally hypnotized the audience.." and played "with such tigerish passion and feline seduction which, whether it be good or bad art, nobody has been able to match since."[123]

In 1884, Sigmund Freud saw Bernhardt perform in Theodora. "I cannot say much for the play," he wrote, "but this Sarah, how she played! From the moment I heard her first lines, pronounced in her vibrant and adorable voice, I had the feeling I had known her for years. None of the lines that she spoke could surprise me; I believed immediately everything that she said. The smallest centimeter of this character was alive and enchanted you. And then, there was the manner she had to flatter, to implore, to embrace. Her incredible positions, the manner in which she keeps silent, but each of her limbs and each of her movements play the role for her! .Strange creature! It is easy for me to imagine that she has no need to be any different on the street than she is on the stage!" [124]

In later years, she also had her critics, particularly among the new generation of playwrights, who advocated a more naturalistic style, George Bernard Shaw described her as "a warn-out hack tragedienne." Ivan Turgenev wrote that her acting was "false, cold, and affected.[125]. He further denounced "this insolent and affected mountebank, totally devoid of talent, whose only asset is a delightful voice." [126]. Anton Chekhov wrote that in her roles "enchantment is smothered in artifice." [125].

Sarah Bernhardt's performances were seen and appraised by many of the leading literary and cultural figures of the late 19th century. Mark Twain wrote that "There are five kinds of actresses. bad actresses, fair actresses, good actresses, great actresses, and then there is Sarah Bernhardt." Oscar Wilde called her "the Incomparable One", scattered lilies in her path, and wrote a play in French, Salomé, especially for her; it was banned by British censors before it could be performed.[50]. Shortly before he died, Wilde wrote: "The three women I have most admired in my life are Sarah Bernhardt, Lily Langtry and Queen Victoria. I would have married any one of them with pleasure." [127]

After seeing a performance of Bernhardt in 1903, the British actress Ellen Terry wrote, "How marvelous Sarah Bernhardt was! She had the transparence of an azalea with even more delicacy, the lightness of a cloud with less thickness. Smoke from a burning paper describes her more nearly." [128].

The British author D.H. Lawrence went to see Bernhardt perform in La Dame aux Camelias in 1908. Afterwards, he wrote to a friend, "Sarah was wonderful and terrible. Oh, to see her, and to hear her, a wild creature, a gazelle with a beautiful panther's fascination and fury, laughing in musical French, screaming with true panther cry, sobbing and sighing like a deer sobs, wounded to the death...She is not pretty, her voice is not sweet, but there is the incarnation of wild emotion that we share will all living things..." [129]

Personal life[edit]

Marriage with Jacques Damala[edit]

Jacques Damala and Jane Hading in Le Maître des Forges at the Théâtre du Gymnase, in Marseille, about 1883

In 1882, in Paris, she met a Greek diplomat, Aristide Damala (known in France by the stage name Jacques Damala), who was eleven younger and notorious for his romantic affairs. Bernhardt's biographer, Cornelia Otis Skinner, described him as "handsome as Adonis, insolent, vain and altogether despicable."[130] His affairs with married women and already led to one suicide and two divorces, and the French government had asked him to leave Paris, and he was being transferred to the Greek Embassy in St. Petersburg. She already had a lover at the time, Philippe Garnier, her leading man, but when she met Damala she fell madly in love with him, and insisted that her tour be modified to include a stop in St. Petersburg. Garnier politely stepped aside and let her go to St. Petersburg without him. Arriving in St. Petersburg, Bernhardt invited Damala to give up his diplomatic post to become an actor in her company, as well as her lover, and before long they decided to marry. During a break in the tour, they were married on April 4, 1882 in London. She told her friends that she married because marriage was the only thing she had never experienced. [131] Upon returning to Paris, she found a minor role for Damala in La Dame aux Camelias and a leading role in another play without her, Les Meres Ennemies by Catulle Mendés. The critics dismissed him as handsome but without noticeable talent. Damala began taking large quantities of morphine, and following Bernhardt's great success in Fedora, Damala took every opportunity to criticize and humiliate her. She discovered that he was using the money she gave him to buy presents for other women. In early December 1882, when she confronted him, he declared that he was going to North Africa to join the Foreign Legion, and disappeared.[132]

Funerary bust made of Damala by Sarah Bernhnardt (1889)

In the spring of 1889 Damala reappeared at Bernhardt's door, haggard, ill, and penniless. Bernhardt instantly forgave him, and offered him the role of Armand Duval in a new production of Dame aux Camélias at the Variétés. They performed together from May 18 until June 30, 1889. He looked exhausted and old, confused his diction and forgot his lines. The critic of the Rappel wrote: "Where is, alas, the handsome Armand Duval who was presented to us for the first time a few years ago at the Gaiéte?" The critic Francisque Sarcey wrote simply, "he makes us feel sick." When his contract ended, he was able to get a contract as an actor at another theater, and continued to harass Bernhardt; he attended one of her performances sat in the first rows, and made faces at her. Her current lover, Philippe Garnier, saw him and beat him. Later, he entered her house and ravaged the furniture. Bernhardt was Roman Catholic, and did not want to divorce him. [133] He continued to act, sometimes with success, particularly in a play by Georges Ohnet, Le Maître des Forges, in 1883. However, his morphine addiction worsened. In August 1889 Bernhardt learned that he taken an overdose of morphine in Marseille. She hurried to his bedside and nursed him until he died on August 18, 1889, at age 34. He was buried in Athens. Bernhardt sent a bust she had made of him to be placed on his tomb, and, when she toured in the Balkans, always made a detour to visit his grave. To the end of her life she continued to sign official documents as "Sarah Bernhardt, widow of Damala". [134]

Lovers and friends[edit]

In her early career she had an affair with a Belgian nobleman, Charles-Joseph Eugène Henri Georges Lamoral de Ligne (1837–1914), son of Eugène, 8th Prince of Ligne, with whom she bore her only child, Maurice Bernhardt (1864–1928). Maurice did not become an actor but worked for most of his life as a manager and agent for various theaters and performers, frequently managing his mother's career in her later years, but rarely with great success. Maurice and his family were usually financially dependent, in full or in part, on his mother until her death. Maurice married a Polish princess, Maria Jablonowska (see Jablonowski), with whom he had two daughters: Simone, who married Edgar Gross, son of a wealthy Philadelphia soap manufacturer; and Lysiana who married the playwright Louis Verneuil.

During the difficult years from 1864 and 1866, after she left the Comédie-Française, and after Maurice was born, she had trouble finding roles, she often was a courtesan, taking wealthy and influential lovers. The French police of the Second Empire kept files on high level courtesans, including Bernhardt; her file recorded the wide variety of names and titles of her patrons; they included the son of the Spanish banker and marquis Alexandro-Maria de las Marismas del Guadalquivir, the industrialist Robert de Brimont, the banker Jacques Stern, the wealthy Louis-Roger de Cahuzac. [135]. The list also included Khalil Bey, the wealthy Ambassador of the Ottoman Empire to the Second Empire, best known today as the man who commissioned Gustave Courbet to paint L'Origine du monde, a highly realistic painting of a woman's anatomy that was and banned until 1995, but now on display at the Musee d'Orsay. Bernhardt received from him a diadem of pearls and diamonds. She also had affairs with other men more directly useful to her career, including Arsène Houssaye, director of the Théâtre-Lyrique, and the editors of several major newspapers. Many of her early lovers continued to be her friends after the affairs ended. [136].

Later, after she was successful, Bernhardt took as lovers many of the male leads of her plays, including Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen. She probably had an affair with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, who frequently attended her London and Paris performances and once, as a prank, played the part of cadaver in one of her plays.[137] When he was King, he travelled on the royal yacht to visit her at her summer home on Belle-Isle.[138]

Her last serious love affair was with the Dutch-born actor Lou Tellegen (1881-1934), thirty-seven years younger, who became her co-star during her second American farewell tour (and eighth American tour) in the autumn of 1910. he was a very handsome actor who had served as a model for sculpture Eternal Springtime by Auguste Rodin. He had little acting experience, but Bernhardt signed him as a leading man just before she departed on the tour, assigned him a compartment in her private railway car, and took him as her escort to all events,functions and parties. He was not a particularly good actor, and had a strong Dutch accent, but he was successful in roles, such as Hippolyte in Phedre, where he could take off his shirt. At the end of the American tour, they had a dispute, and he remained in the United States, while she returned to France. He had a successful career at first in the United States, and married film actress Geraldine Farrar, but they split up, his career plummeted, and he committed suicide in 1934.[139]

Bernhardt's broad circle of friends included the writers Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Alexandre Dumas Fils Emile Zola, and the artist Gustave Doré Her close friends included the painters Georges Clairin and Louise Abbéma (1853–1927), a French impressionist painter, some nine years her junior. This relationship was so close that the two women were rumored to be lovers. In 1990, a painting by Abbéma, depicting the two on a boat ride on the lake in the bois de Boulogne, was donated to the Comédie-Française. The accompanying letter stated that the painting was "Peint par Louise Abbéma, le jour anniversaire de leur liaison amoureuse"[140] (loosely translated: "Painted by Louise Abbéma on the anniversary of their love affair"). Clairin and Abbéma spent their holidays with Bernhardt and her family at her summer residence at Belle-Isle, and remained close with Bernhardt until her death; [141]


Bernhardt's converted fort on Belle-Isle

After her exhausting 1886-87 tour, Bernhardt recuperated on Belle-Isle, a picturesque island off the coast of Brittany, ten miles south of the Quiberon peninsula. She bought a small ruined 17th century fortress, located at the end of the island and approached by a drawbridge, and turned it into her summer home. The turned the Salle du Corps des Gardes into a comfortable salon, dining room, studio and bedrooms, adjoining a protected courtyard shaded with tamarisk trees. She spent nearly every summer between 1886 and 1922 on Belle-Isle. She built special bungalows for her son Maurice and grandchildren, and bungalows with studios for closest friends, the painters Georges Clairin and Louise Abbéma, The five bungalows were named for the continents; the Villas Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Oceania; and after the success of the play L'Aiglon, she added a Villa l'Aiglon. She also had a large menagerie of animals, including several dogs, two horses, a donkey, a hawk given to her by the Russian Grand Duke Alexis, an Andean wildcat, and a boa constrictor she had brought back from her tour of South America. She had many guests at Belle Isle, including King Edward VII, who stopped by the island on a cruise aboard the royal yacht. Always wrapped in white scarves, She played tennis (under house rules that required the she be the winner), played cards, read plays, and modeled sculptures and ornaments in her studio. When the fishermen of the island suffered a bad season, she organized a benefit performance with leading actors to raise funds for them. She gradually built up the estate, purchasing a neighboring hotel and all the land with a view of the property; but in 1922, as her health declined, she abruptly sold it and never returned. .[142] During the Second World War the Germans occupied the island, and in October 1944, after the Allies had landed in France, they dynamited the residential buildings. All that remains is the shell of the old fort, and a seat cut into the rock where Bernhardt awaited the boat that took her to the mainland.[143]


Bernhardt went to a convent school, where she received her first communion as a Roman Catholic in 1856, and thereafter was fervently religious. However, she never forgot her Jewish heritage. When asked years later by a reporter if she were a Christian, she replied: "No, I'm a Roman Catholic, and a member of the great Jewish race. I'm waiting until Christians become better." [144] She accepted the last rites, shortly before her death.[145] At her request, her funeral Mass was celebrated at the church of Saint-François-de-Sales, which she attended when she was in Paris.

Paternity, Date of birth and ancestry[edit]

The identity of Bernhardt's father has never been clearly established. Bernhardt herself and he biographer Cornelia Otis Skinner said he was a law student named Edouard Bernard, who met Bernhardt's mother while he was studying in Paris. In her account, Sarah was born at 5 rue de l'Ecole-de-Medicin on the Left Bank in Paris, Edouard Bernard was then called back to Le Havre, where he later became a successful notary. and provided financial support to Sarah. [146] This cannot be proven, because her original birth certificate was destroyed when the Paris Commune burned the Hotel de Ville and city archives in 1871. As Bernhardt described in her autobiography, she saw her father on a number of occasions when she was young, but frequently he was overseas. she reported that, when she was still a child, he died in Pisa, Italy. "in unexplained circumstances which remain mysterious." In his will, he paid for much of her education, and left a sum of one hundred thousand francs as a future wedding dowry. Other historians have disputed this story, claiming Bernhardt invented the name of her father for official documents she needed to receive the Legion of Honor. A more recent biography by Helene Tierchant (2009) identifies her father as a young man named De Morel, whose family were notable shipowners and merchants in Brest. [147]

Bernhardt's mother Judith, or Julie, was one of six children of an itinerant Dutch-Jewish oculist, Moritz Baruch Bernardt, and Sara Hirsch (later known as Janetta Hartog or Jeanne Hard. She was born in the early 1820s. Bernardt's wife died in 1829, and five weeks later he remarried, [148] [148] His new wife and five daughters and son from the earlier marriage did not get along. Judith and two of her sisters, Henriette and Rosine, left home, moved to London briefly, and then settled in [[Le Havre], on the French coast. Henriette married a local notable, but Julie and Rosine became courtesans, and Julie took the new, more French name of Youle." In April 1843, she gave birth to twin girls to a "father unknown." Both girls died in the hospice in Le Havre a month later. The following year, Youle was was pregnant again, this time with Sarah. Before she gave birth, she moved to Paris, to 5 rue-de-L'École-de-Médicine, where Sarah was born. [149] Bernhardt regularly gave her birthdate date as 23 October 1844, and that is the date given in most biographies. [150]

Legacy: the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, residences, star on Hollywood Boulevard[edit]

After Berhnardt's death, her theater was managed by her son Maurice until his death in his death in 1928. It kept its name until the Occupation by the Germans in World War II,[151] when the name was changed to Théâtre de la Cité because of Bernhardt's Jewish ancestry.[152] The name was changed back to the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt in 1947, then became the Théâtre des Nations (1957) and then the Théâtre de la Ville, the name it has today, in 1968.

In 1876 Berhardt constructed a substantial town house at 35 Rue Fortuny in the 17th arrondissement, not far from Parc Monceau, which she filled with her large menagerie of animals and her sculpture and painting studio. When her debts mounted, she sold the house in 1885. When her fortune was replenished by more tours, she bought another large house at 56 avenue Pereire in the 17th arrondissement, This was the house where she died in 1923. The house was demolished in the 1960s and replaced by a modern apartment building, but a plaque on the facade commemorates Bernhardt's occupancy.[123]

Bernhardt has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.[153]

Notable roles on stage and in films[edit]

Books by Bernhardt[edit]

  • Dans les nuages, Impressions d'une chaise (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: Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt, (1907) William Heinemann
  • Un Cœur 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)


  1. ^ Her own pronunciation, listen e.g. to on YouTube
  2. ^ There is some uncertainty about the date. See Tierchant (2009), page 15 and Skinner (1967) page 1
  3. ^ a b Tierchant 2009, pp. 13-14.
  4. ^ Berhardt, Ma Double Vie, pages 13-14
  5. ^ a b c Bernhardt 2000, p. 13-14.
  6. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 6-10.
  7. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 10-12.
  8. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 29.
  9. ^ Gold, pp. 17–20
  10. ^ Tierchant, pp. 25-26.
  11. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 28.
  12. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 22-24.
  13. ^ Bernhardt 2000, pp. 78-85.
  14. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 25-30.
  15. ^ Bernhardt 2000, pp. 102-103.
  16. ^ Bernhardt 2000, p. 96.
  17. ^ Tierchant 2009, pp. 42-44.
  18. ^ Thierchant, pp. 42-44.
  19. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 34-35.
  20. ^ a b Tierchant 2009.
  21. ^ In her memoires Bernhardt gives the date of her debut as September 1
  22. ^ a b Skinner 1967, p. 37.
  23. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 47.
  24. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 38.
  25. ^ Gold, p. 52
  26. ^ a b Bernhardt 2000, p. 135.
  27. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 44.
  28. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 42-46.
  29. ^ Skinner, pp. 46-47.
  30. ^ a b Tierchant 2009, p. 55.
  31. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 48.
  32. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 47-52.
  33. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 52.
  34. ^ Skinner & 241, pp. 241-252.
  35. ^ a b Skinner 1967, p. 55.
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  37. ^ Skinner}1967, p. 63.
  38. ^ playing the part of the boy troubadour, Zanetto, in a romantic renaissance tale.Aston, Elaine (1989). Sarah Bernhardt: A French Actress on the English Stage. Oxford: Berg. p. 5. ISBN 0854960198. 
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  61. ^ Note:For instance, the famous line "All Hail Macbeth and Banquo" became "Macbet et Banko, bonjour!"
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  73. ^ Gundle, Stephen (2008). Glamour: A History. Oxford University Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0199210985. 
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  77. ^ skinner 1967, pp. 259-260.
  78. ^ Robert, Gottlieb (2010). Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt. Yale University Press. p. 142. ISBN 0300192592. 
  79. ^ Almanach des Spectacles, année 1899, p. 63; Octave Feuillet's Dalila OCLC 691937024; Gaston de Wailly's Patron Bénic OCLC 48750066, 458828120; Morand and Schwob's Hamlet OCLC 691937174.
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  101. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 3687). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
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  104. ^ "Filming Shakespeare With And Without Words In Settings Familiar And Unfamiliar". Archived from the original on 30 October 2007. Retrieved 18 October 2007. 
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  109. ^ 18th–19th Century | National Museum of Women in the Arts. Retrieved on 15 June 2014.
  110. ^ Bernhardt As Hostess; A Private View of Paintings and Sculpture; New York Times; 14 November 1880
  111. ^ Fantastic Inkwell (Self-Portrait as a Sphinx) – Sarah Bernhardt, French, 1844–1923; Museum of Fine Arts;, Boston;; retrieved 15 June 2014.
  112. ^ Marks, Patricia (2003). Sarah Bernhardt's First American Theatrical Tour 1880–1881. McFarland. ISBN 0786414952. p. 175
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  114. ^ Bernhardt 1923, pp. 7-11.
  115. ^ Bernhardt 1923, pp. 50-51.
  116. ^ Bernhardt 1923, p. 65.
  117. ^ Bernhardt 1923, pp. 66-67.
  118. ^ Bernhardt 1923, pp. 116}-119.
  119. ^ a b Bernhardt 2017, p. 31.
  120. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 91.
  121. ^ Thierchant 2009, p. 95.
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  126. ^ Shapiro, Leonard, Turgenev and his Times (1978), Harvard University Press
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  129. ^ Letters of D.H. Lawrence, Volume 1, edited by James Boulton, Cambridge University Press (2002)).
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  152. ^ Based on the article Théâtre de la Ville in the French Wikipédia (version 12 juin 2012 à 11:13).
  153. ^ Ullman, Dana (2007). The Homeopathic Revolution: Why Famous People and Cultural Heroes Choose Homeopathy. North Atlantic Books. p. 138. ISBN 978-1556436710. 

Books cited in text[edit]

  • Bernhardt, Sarah (2000). Ma double vie (in French). Paris: LIbretto. ISBN 978-2-7529-0750-9. 
  • Bernhardt, Sarah (2017). L'art du théâtre (in French). Paris. ISBN 979-10-95066-08-8. 
  • Gold, Arthur & Fizdale, Robert (1991). The Divine Sarah: A Life of Sarah Bernhardt. New York: Knopf. pp. 17–20. ISBN 0394528794. 
  • Gottlieb, Robert (2010). Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-03-0019-2599. 
  • Skinner, Cornelia Otis (1967). Madame Sarah. New York: Houghton-Mifflin. 
  • Tierchant, Hélène (2009). Sarah Bernhardt- Madame Quand même. Paris: SW Télémaque. ISBN 978-2-7533-0092-7. 
  • Snel, Harmen (2007). The ancestry of Sarah Bernhardt; a myth unravelled. Amsterdam: Joods Historisch Museum. ISBN 978-90-802029-3-1. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brandon, Ruth. Being Divine: A Biography of Sarah Bernhardt. London: Mandarin, 1992.
  • Duckett, Victoria. "Seeing Sarah Bernhardt: Performance and Silent Film." University of Illinois Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-252-08116-3.
  • Garans, Louis, Sarah Bernhardt: itinéraire d'une divine, Éditions Palatines, 2005, ISBN 978-2911434433
  • Léturgie, Jean and Xavier Fauche: Sarah Bernhardt, Lucky Luke (49). Dupuis, 1982.
  • Lorcey, Jacques. Sarah Bernhardt, l'art et la vie, Paris : Éditions Séguier, 2005. 160 pages. Avec une préface d'Alain Feydeau. ISBN 2-84049-417-5.
  • Menefee, David W. The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era. Connecticut: Praeger, 2004.
  • Ockmann, Carol and Kenneth E. Silver. Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama New York: Yale University Press, 2005

External Links to recordings of performances by Bernhardt[edit]

Other External links[edit]