Sarah Bernhardt

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Sarah Bernhardt
Sarah Bernhardt by Sarony cph.3a38656.jpg
Sarah Bernhardt; 1880
Born Henriette Rosine Bernard [1]
October 22/23, 1844 [2]
Paris, France
Died 26 March 1923(1923-03-26) (aged 78)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Occupation Actress
Years active 1862–1922
Spouse(s) Ambroise Aristide Damala (m. 1882–89)
Signature
Sarah Bernhardt signature.svg

Sarah Bernhardt (French: [sa.ʁa bɛʁ.nɑʁt];[3] 22 or 23 October 1844 – 26 March 1923) was a French stage actress who starred in some of the most popular French plays of the late 19th and early 20th century, including La Dame Aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, Ruy Blas by Victor Hugo, Fédora and La Tosca by Victorien Sardou, and L'Aiglon by Edmond Rostand. She also played male roles, including Shakespeare's Hamlet. Edmond Rostand called her "the queen of the pose and the princess of the gesture" while Victor Hugo praised her "golden voice". Her death scenes in the final acts of her main roles often moved the audiences to tears. She made successful theatrical tours around the world, and was one of the first prominent actresses to make sound recordings and to act in motion pictures.

Early life[edit]

Sarah Bernhardt with her mother

Sarah Bernhardt was born as Henriette-Rosine Bernard at 5 rue de L'École-de-Médicine in the Latin Quarter of Paris on October 22 or 23, 1844.[4] She was the illegitimate daughter of Judith Bernard (also known as Julie and in France as Youle), a Dutch-Jewish courtesan, a prostitute with a wealthy or upper class clientele.[5] The name of her father is not recorded. According to some sources, he was probably the son of a wealthy merchant from Le Havre.[6] Bernhardt wrote later that her father's family paid for her education, insisted she be baptized as a Catholic, and left a large sum to be paid when she came of age.[6] Her mother traveled frequently, and saw little of her daughter. She placed the child with a nurse in Brittany, then in a cottage in the Paris suburb of Neuilly,[7]

When Sarah was seven, her mother sent her to a boarding school for young ladies in the Paris suburb of Auteuil, paid with funds from her father's family. There, she acted in her first theatrical performance, a play called Clothilde, where she had the role of the 'queen of the fairies,' and performed her first of many dramatic death scenes.[7]

While Sarah was in the boarding school, her mother rose to the top ranks of Paris courtesans, consorting with politicians, bankers, generals, and writers. 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 Morny, Sarah was admitted to Grandchamp, an exclusive Augustine convent school near Versailles.[9] At the convent, she performed the part of the Archangel Raphael in the story of Tobias and the Angel.[10] She declared her intention to become a nun, but did not always follow convent rules; she was accused of sacrilege when she arranged a Christian burial, with a procession and ceremony, for her pet lizard.[11]

In 1859 Sarah learned that her father had died overseas.[12] 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 that horrified Sarah, as 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, followed by the classical tragedy Amphytrion by Plautus. Sarah was so moved by the emotion of the play that she began to cry, disturbing the rest of the audience.[13] Morny and others in their party were angry at her sobbing and left, but Dumas comforted her, and later told Morny that he was right, she was destined for the stage. After the performance, Dumas called her "my little star".[14]

The Duc de Morny used his influence with the composer Daniel Auber, the head of the Paris Conservatory, to arrange for her to audition. She began preparing, as she described it in her memoirs, "with that vivid exaggeration with which I embrace any new enterprise."[15] Dumas coached her. The jury was composed of Auber and five leading actors and actresses from the Comédie Française. 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 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.[16]

Debut and departure from the Comédie-Française (1862-64)[edit]

Bernhardt studied acting at the Conservatory from January, 1860 until the spring of 1862 under two prominent actors of the Comédie Française, Joseph-Isidore Samson and Jean-Baptiste Provost. As she wrote in her memoirs, Provost taught her diction and grand gestures, while Samson taught her the power of simplicity.[17] For the stage she changed her name from "Bernhard" to "Bernhardt". While studying, she also received her first marriage proposal, 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."[18]

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.[19] 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.[19] 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.[20]

Bernhardt made her debut with the company on August 31, 1862 in the title role of Racine's Iphigénie.[21] [22] Her premiere was not a success. She experienced stage fright 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."[23] 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."[23]

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.[24] 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.[25] At a ceremony honoring the birthday of Molière on January 15, 1863, 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, Zaire-Nathalie Martel (1816-1885), known as Madame Nathalie. E [26] 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 Bernhardt 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. 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.[27]

The wilderness (1864-1866)[edit]

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.[28] 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.[29] 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." [28] 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.[30]

She carried to Brussels letters of introduction from Alexandre Dumas, and was admitted to the highest levels of society. According to some later accounts, she attended a masked ball in Brussels where she met the young Prince de Ligne, a young Belgian aristocrat, and had an affair with him.[31] Other accounts say that they met in Paris, where the Prince came often to attend the theater. [32] 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 she 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.[33]

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.[34] According to other accounts, the Prince denied any responsibility for the child.[32] 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." [35] Many years later, in January, 1885, when Bernhardt was famous, the Prince came to Paris and offered to formally recognize Maurice as his son, but Maurice politely declined, explaining he was entirely satisfied to be the son of Sarah Bernhardt.[36]

The Odéon (1866-1872)[edit]

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

To support herself after the birth of Maurice, she played minor roles and understudies at the Port-Saint-Martin, a popular melodrama theatre. In the spring of 1866 she obtained a reading with Felix Duquesnel, director of the Théâtre de L’Odéon on the Left Bank. Duquesnel years later described the reading: "I had before me a creature who was marvelous gifted, intelligent to the point of genius, enormous energy under an appearance frail and delicate, and a savage will." The co-director of the theater for finance, Charles de Chilly, wanted to reject her as unreliable and too thin, but Duquesnel was enchanted; he hired her for the theater at a modest salary of 150 francs a month, which he paid out of his pocket.[37] The Odéon was second in prestige only to the Comédie Française, and, unlike that very traditional theater, specialized in more modern and innovative productions. It was highly popular with the students of the Left Bank. Her first performances with the Odéon 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.[38] 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."[39] But soon, with different plays and more experience, her performances improved; she was praised for her performance of Cordelia in King Lear. In June 1867 she played two roles in Athalie by Jean Racine; a young woman and the part of a young boy, Zacharie, the first of many male parts she played in her career. The audience warmed to her; and the influential critic Sarcey wrote "...she charmed her audience like a little Orpheus."[39]

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?"[40] 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.[41]

Her next success was her performance in François Coppé's Le Passant, which premiered at the Odeon on 14 January 1868,[42][43] 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.[44]

In her memoirs, 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 her longtime 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.[45] In her dressing room, she received other celebrities, from Gustave Flaubert to Leon Gambetta. In 1869, As she became more prosperous, she moved to a vast seven-room apartment at 16 rue Auber in the center of 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. Bernhardt 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.[46]

The same year a fire completely destroyed her apartment, with all of her belongings. She had neglected to purchase any fire insurance. The brooch presented to her by the Emperor and her pearls melted, as did the tiara presented by one of her lovers, Khalid Bey. She sifted through the ashes and found the diamonds, Fortunately for Bernhardt, the managers of the Odeon organized a benefit performance; the most famous soprano of the time, Adelina Patti, performed for free. In addition, the grandmother of her mysterious father donated 120,000 francs. Bernhardt was able to buy an even more elegant residence, with two salons and a large dining too, at 4 Rue de la Rome.[47]

Wartime service at the Odéon (1870-71)[edit]

The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War abruptly interrupted her theatrical career. The stunning news of the defeat of the French Army, the surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan, and the proclamation of the Third French Republic on September 4, 1870 was followed by a siege of the city by the Prussian Army. Paris was cut off from news and from its food supply, and the theaters were closed. Bernhardt took charge of converting the Odéon into a hospital for soldiers wounded in the battles outside the city.[48] She organized the placement of thirty-two beds in the lobby and the foyers, brought in her personal chef to prepare soup for the patients, and persuaded her wealthy friends and admirers to donate supplies for the hospital. Besides organizing the hospital she She worked as a nurse, assisting the chief surgeon with amputations and operations.[49] When the coal supply of the city ran out, Bernhardt burned old scenery, benches and stage props for fuel to heat the theater. [50] In early January 1871, after sixteen weeks of the siege, the Germans began to bombard the city with long-range cannons. The patients had to be moved to the cellar, and before long the hospital was forced to close. Bernhardt arranged for serious cases to be transferred 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, Bernhardt's hospital had cared for more than one hundred and fifty wounded soldiers, including a young undergraduate from the Polytechnique, Ferdinand Foch, who later commanded the Allied armies in the [[First World War.[51]

The French government signed an armistice on January 19, 1871, and she learned that her son and family had gone to Hamburg. She went to the new chief executive of the French republic, Adolphe Thiers, and obtained a pass to go to Germany to bring them back. When she returned to Paris several weeks later, the city was under the rule of the Paris Commune. She moved again for She remained in city had been seized by the Paris Commune. She took her family to Saint-Germain-en-Laye until May, when the Commune was crushed by the French Army, and then returned to her apartment on the Rue de Rome.

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

The Tuileries Palace, city hall of Paris and many other public buildings had been burned by the Commune or damaged in the fighting, but the Odéon was still intact. Charles-Marie Chilly, the co-director of the Odéon, came to her apartment, where Bernhardt received him reclining on a sofa. He announced that the theater would reopen in October 1871, and he asked her to play the lead in a new play, Jean-Marie by André Theuriet. Bernhardt replied that she was finished with the theater and was going to move to Brittany and start a farm. Chilly, who knew Bernhardt's moods well, told her that he understood and accepted her decision, and would give the role to Jane Essler, a rival actress. According to Chilly, Bernhardt immediately jumped up from the sofa and asked when the rehearsals would begin.[51]

Jean-Marie, about a young Breton woman forced by her father to marry an old man she did not love, was another critical and popular success for Bernhardt. The critic Sarcey wrote, "She has the sovereign grace, the penetrating charm, the I don't know what. she is a natural artist, an incomparable artist." [52] The directors of the Odéon next decided to stage Ruy Blas, a play written by Victor Hugo in 1838, with Bernhardt playing the role of the Queen of Spain. Hugo himself attended all the rehearsals. At first Bernhardt pretended to be indifferent to him, but he gradually he won her over and she became a fervent admirer. The play premiered on January 16, 1872. The opening 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.[53]

Ruy Blas played to 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. [54] Bernhardt, asked Chilly if he would match the offer, but he refused. Always pressed by her growing expenses and growing household to earn more money, she announced her departure from the Odéon when she finished the run of Ruy Blas. Chilly responded 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."[53]

She formally returned to the Comédie Francaise on October 1, 1872, and quickly took on some of the most famous and demanding roles in French theater. She played Junie in Britannicus by Jean Racine, the male role of Cherubin in The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre Beaumarchais, and the lead in Voltaire's five-act tragedy Zaïre. [55] In 1873, with just seventy-four hours to learn the lines and practice the part, she played the lead in Racine's Phédre, playing opposite the celebrated tragedian, Jean Mounet-Sully, who soon 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."[56] Phédre became her most famous classical role, performed over the years around the world, often for audiences who knew little or no French; she made them understand by her voice and gestures. [57]

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.[58]

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 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 the legends she created about herself.[59]

Bernhardt repaired her old relationships with the other members of the Comédie Française; she participated in a benefit for Madame Nathalie, the actress she had once slapped. However, she was frequently in conflict with Perrin, the director of the theater. In 1878, during the Paris Universal Exposition, she took a flight over Paris with balloonist Pierre Giffard and painter George Clairin, in a balloon decorated with the name of her current hit, Dona Sol. An unexpected storm carried the balloon far outside of Paris to a small town. When she returned by train to the city, Perrin was furious; he fined Bernhardt a thousand francs, citing a theater rule which required actors to request permission before they left Paris. Bernhardt refused to pay, and threatened to resign from the Comédie. Perrin could not afford to let her go; she was the biggest box office attraction in Paris. Perrin and the Minister of Fine Arts arranged a compromise; she withdrew her resignation, and in return was raised to a societaire, the highest rank of the theater. [60]

Triumph in London and departure from the Comédie Française (1879-1880)[edit]

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, an imposing mansion on rue Fortuny, not far from Parc Monceau. She looked for additional ways to earn money. In June 1879, while the theater of the Comédie Française in Paris was being remodeled, Perrin took the company on tour to London. Shortly before the tour began, a British theater impresario named Edward Jarrett traveled to Paris and proposed that she give private performances in the homes of wealthy Londoners; the fee she would receive for each performance was greater than her monthly salary with the Comédie. .[61] When Perrin read in the press about the private performances, he was furious. Furthermore, the Gaiety Theater in London demanded that Bernhardt star in the opening performance, contrary to the traditions of Comédie Française, where roles were assigned by seniority, and the idea of stardom was scorned. When Perrin protested, saying that that Bernhardt was only tenth or eleventh in seniority, the Gaiety manager threatened to cancel the performance. Perrin had to give in. He scheduled Bernhardt to perform one act of Phédre on he opening night, between two traditional French comedies, Le Misantrhope and Les Précieuses.[62]

On June 4, 1879, just before the opening curtain of her premiere in Phédre, she suffered an attack of stage fright. She wrote later that she also pitched her voice too high, and was unable to lower it. [63] Nonetheless, the performance was a triumph. Though a majority of the audience could not understand Racine's classical French, she captivated them with her voice and gestures; one member of the audience, Sir George Arthur, wrote that "she set every nerve and fiber in their bodies throbbing and held them spellbound."[64] In addition to her performances of Zaire, Phédre, 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.[65]

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'Aventurière by Emile Augier, a play which she thought was 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 sent a resignation letter to Perrin, made copies and sent them to the major newspapers. Perrin sued her for breach of contract; the court ordered her to pay 100,000 francs, plus interest, and she lost her accrued pension of 43,000 francs. [66] She did not settle the debt until 1900. Later, however, when the Comédie Française theater was nearly destroyed by fire, she allowed her old troupe to use her own theater.[67]

La Dame aux Camélias and first American tour (1880-81)[edit]

'´La Dame aux Camelias'´ (1881)

In April 1880, As soon as he learned of Bernhardt's resigned from the Comédie Française, the impresario Edward Jarrett hurried to Paris and proposed that she make a theatrical tour of England and then the United States. She could select her repertoire and the cast. She would receive five thousand francs per performance, plus fifteen percent of box office earnings over fifteen thousand francs; plus all of her expenses, plus an account in her name for 100,000 francs, the amount she owed to the Comédie Française. She accepted immediately. [68]

Now on her own, Bernhardt first assembled and tried out her new troupe at the théâtre de la Gaîté-Lyrique in Paris. She performed for the first time La Dame aux Camélias, by Alexandre Dumas fils. 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. 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 during her famous death scene at the end.[60]

She could not perform La Dame aux Camélias on a London stage because of British censorship laws; instead she put on four of her proven successes, including Hernani and Phédre, plus four new roles, including Adrienne Lecouvreur by Eugène Scribe and the drawing-room comedy Frou-frou by Meilhac-Halévy, both of which were highly successful on the London stage.[69] In six of the eight plays in her repertoire, she died dramatically in the final act. When she returned to Paris from London, the Comédie Française asked her to come back, but she refused their offer, explaining that she was making far more money on her own. Instead she took her new company and new plays on tour to Brussels and Copenhagen, and then on a tour of French provincial cities.[70]

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; she did not bow, but stood perfectly still, with her hands clasped under her chin, or with her palms on her cheeks, and then suddenly 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.[71]

Bernhardt's first American tour carried her to 157 performances in 51 cities.[72] She traveled on a special train with her own luxurious palace car, which carried her two maids, two cooks, a waiter, her maitre d'hotel and her personal assistant, Madame Guérard. It also carried an actor named Édouard Angelo whom she had selected to serve as her leading man, and, according to most accounts, her lover during the tour.[73][74] From New York she made a side trip to Menlo Park, where she met Thomas Edison, who made a brief recording of her reciting verse from Phèdre. [75] She crisscrossed the United States and Canada from Montreal and Toronto to Saint Louis and New Orleans, usually performing each evening, and departing immediately after the performance. She gave countless press interviews and in Boston posed for photos on the back of a dead whale. She was condemned as immoral by the Bishop of Montreal and by the Methodist press, which only increased ticket sales. [76] She performed Phedre six times and La Dame Aux Camilias (which Jarrett renamed "Camille" to make it easier for Americans to pronounce) 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. [77] She described the result of her trip to her friends: "I crossed the oceans, carrying my dream of art in myself, and the genius of my nation triumphed. I planted the French verb in the heart of a foreign literature, and it is that of which I am most proud." [78]

Return to Paris - European Tour - Fédora to Theodora (1881-1886)[edit]

As Fédora by Victorien Sardou (1882)

No crowd greeted Bernhardt when she returned to Paris on May 5, 1881, 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. [79] When no new plays or offers appeared, she went to London for a successful three-week run at the Gaiety Theater. This London tour included the first British performance of La Dame aux Camelias at the Shaftesbury Theater; her friend the Prince of Wales persuaded Queen Victoria to authorize the performance. .[80] Many years later she gave a private performance of the play for Queen Victoria while the Queen was on holiday in Nice.[81] When she returned to Paris, Bernhardt then found a way to win back the French press and theater world. She contrived to make an surprise performance 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 a standing ovation, showered her with flowers, and demanded that she recite the song two more times.[82]

With her place in the French theater world restored, Bernhardt negotiated 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. She departed on a tour to theaters in the French provinces, and then to Italy, Greece, Hungary, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland, Spain, Austria and Russia. In Kiev and Odessa, she encountered anti-Semitic crowds who showered her with stones; pogroms were forcing the Jewish population to leave. [83] However, in Moscow and St. Petersrburg, she performed before Czar Alexander III, who broke court protocol and bowed to her. During her tour, she also gave command performances for 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.[84] Just before the tour began she met Jacques Damala, who went with her as leading man and then, for eight months, became her first and only husband. (See "Personal Life" below)

'´Theodora'ˋ , photo by Nadar (1884)

When she returned to Paris, she was offered a new role, Fedora, a melodrama written for her by Victorien Sardou. It opened on December 12, 1882, with her husband Damala as the male lead, and received good reviews; 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." [85] "She is incomparable," wrote another journalist. "The extreme love, the extreme agony, the extreme suffering." [86] However, the abrupt end of her marriage shortly after the premiere put her back into financial distress. She had leased and refurbished 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 the manager. Fedora ran for just fifty performances and lost 400,000 francs. She was forced to give up the Ambigu, and then, in February 1883, to sell her jewelry, her carriages and horses at an auction. [87]

When Damala left, she took a new leading man and lover, the poet and playwright Jean Richepin. He accompanied her on a quick tour of European cities to help pay off her debts.[88] She renewed her relationship with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII. .[89] When they returned to Paris, Bernhardt leased the theater of Porte Saint-Martin and starred in a new play by Richepin, Nana-Sahib, a costume drama about love in British India in 1857. The play and Richepin's acting were poor, and it quickly closed. [90] Richepin then wrote an adaptation of MacBeth in French, with Bernhardt as Lady MacBeth, but it also was a failure. The only person who praised the play was Oscar Wilde, who was then living in Paris. He began writing a play, Salomé, in French, especially for Bernhardt, though it was quickly banned by British censors and she never performed it.[91]

Bernhardt's fortunes were 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; in his version the empress was publicly strangled, while the actual empress died of cancer. The 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.[92] She also renewed her love affair with her former lead actor, Philippe Garnier.[93]

World Tours (1886-1892)[edit]

Theodora was followed by two failures. In 1885, in homage to Victoria Hugo, who had died a few months earlier, she staged one of his older plays, Marion Delorme, written in 1831, but the play was outdated and her role did not give her a chance to show her talents.[94] She next put on "Hamlet", with her lover of the time, Philippe Garnier, in the leading role and Bernhardt in the relatively minor role of Ophelia. The critics and audiences were not impressed, and the play failed. [94] 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-Addresse and her mansion on Rue Fortuny, and part of her collection of animals. Her impresario, Edouard 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."[92]

In every city she visited, she was feted and cheered 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, Edward Jarrett, died of a heart attack. She was undaunted, however, and went crocodile hunting at Guayaquil, and also bought more animals for her menagerie. Her performances in every city were sold out. By the end of the tour, she had earned more than a million francs The tour allowed her to buy her final home, a mansion at 56 boulevard Perieire, which she crammed with her paintings, plants, souvenirs, and animals. [95]

Thereafter, nearly to the end of her life, whenever she ran short of money (which generally happened every three or four years), she went on tour, performing both her classics and new plays. 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.[96] 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 trunk filled with 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.[97]

La Tosca, to Cleopatra (1887-1893)[edit]

Wihen she returned from her 1886-87 tour, she received a new 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.[98] She turned once again to Sardou, who had written a new play for her, "La Tosca", which featured a prolonged and extremely dramatic death scene at the end. The play was staged at the Porte Saint-Martin Theater, opening on November 24, 1887. It was a critical and popular triumph for Bernhardt; she played the role for twenty-nine consecutive sold-out performances, The success of the play allowed Bernhardt to buy a new pet lion for her household menagerie. She named him Scarpia, after the villain of La Tosca. [98] The play inspired Giacomo Puccini to write one of his most famous operas, Tosca (1900).[99]

Following this success, she acted in revivals and classics, and the best French writers offered her new plays. In 1887 she acted in a stage version of the brutally realistic drama Thérèse Raquin by Emile Zola. The book had inspired virulent attacks on its author. Asked why she chose this play, she declared to reporters, "My true country is the free air, and my vocation is art without constraints." .[96] The play was controversial and was not a box-office success; it ran for just thirty-eight performances.[100] She turned back to traditional melodrama with 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. She had considerably more success with Jeanne d'Arc, by the poet Jules Barbier, who wrote the librettos for some of the most famous French operas of the period, including Faust by Charles Gounod and The Tales of Hoffmann. by jacques Offenbach. The forty-five-year-old actress convincingly played the nineteen-year old martyr.[101] Her next success was another melodrama by Sardou, Cleopatra, which allowed her to wear elaborate costumes and to finish the play with a memorable 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."[102]

The Théâtre de la Renaissance (1893-1899)[edit]

She made a two-year world tour (1891–93) to replenish her finances, and then, on her return to Paris, decided to buy her own theater. She paid 700,000 francs for the Théâtre de la Renaissance, and from 1893 until 1899, was its artistic director and lead actress. She managed every aspect of the theater, from the finances to the lighting, sets and costumes, as well as appearing eight performance a week.[103] 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, and eliminated the prompter's box from the stage, declaring that that actors should know their lines. She abolished in her theater the common practice of hiring claqueurs in the audience to applaud stars.[104] She used the new technology of lithography to produce vivid color posters, in 1894 she hired a little-known Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha, to design the first of a series of posters for her play Gismonda. He continued to make posters of her for six years.[105]

In five years she produced nine plays, three of which were box office successes. The first was a revival of her classic performance as Phédre, which she took on tour around the world. 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.[106] 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." [107] 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. Her co-star was Lucien Guitry. Who acted as her leading man to the end of her career. Besides Guitry, she shared the stage with Edouard de Max, her leading man in twenty productions, and Constant Coquelin, who frequently toured with her.[108]

In April 1895 She played the lead in a romantic and poetic fantasy, Princess Lointaine, by a little-known 27-year-old poet Edmond Rostand. It was not a box office success and lost 200,000 francs, but it began a fruitful theatrical relationship between Bernhardt and Rostand. Rostand went on to write Cyrano de Bergerac and became became the most popular French playwright of the period.[109]

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 of its theme of incest between brother and sister.. Along with Emile Zola and Victorien Sardou, also became an outspoken defender 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.[110]

At the Théâtre de la Renaissance Bernhardt staged and performed in several modern plays, but she was not a follower of the more natural school of acting that was coming into fashion at the end of the century. She preferred a more dramatic expression of emotions. "In the theater," she declared, "the natural is good, but the sublime is even better."[111]

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

Despite her successes, her debts continued to mount, reaching two million gold francs by the end of 1898. Berhnardt was forced to give up the Renaissance, and was preparing to go on another world tour. Then she learned that a much larger Paris theater, the Théâtre des Nations on Place du Châtelet, was for lease. It had 1700 seats, twice the size of the Renaissance, enabling her to pay off the cost of performances more quickly; it had an enormous stage and backstage, allowing her to present several different plays a week; and since it was originally designed as a concert hall, it had excellent acoustics. On January 1, 1899, she signed a twenty-five year lease with the City of Paris, though she was already fifty-five years old.[112]

She renamed it the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt, and began to remake it for her needs. The facade was brilliantly lit by 5,700 electric bulbs, seventeen arc lights and eleven projectors. [113] She completely redecorated the interior, replacing the red plush and a gilt with yellow velvet and brocade and ivory white woodwork. The lobby was decorated with life-size portraits of her in her most famous 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 guests after the final curtain.[114]

She continued to employ Alphonse Mucha to colorful posters for her new theater, as well as programs, costumes, and set designs. His posters became icons of the Art Nouveau style. The enterprising Bernhardt, always looking for new ways to earn money, set aside a portion of Mucha's posters to sell to collectors.[115]

Bernhardt opened the theater on January 21, 1899 with a revival of Sardou's La Tosca, which she had first performed in 1887. This was followed by revivals of her other major successes, including Phédre, Theodora, Gismonda, La Dame aux Camélias, plus Octave Feuillet's Dalila Gaston de Wailly's Patron Bénic and Edmond Rostand's La Samaritaine a poetic retelling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. On May 20, she premiered one of her most famous roles, playing Hamlet in a prose adaptation which she had commissioned from Eugène Morand and Marcel Schwob.[116] She played Hamlet in a manner which was direct, natural, and very feminine. [117] Her performance received largely positive reviews in Paris but mixed reviews in London. The British critic Max Beerbohm wrote "the only compliment one can conscientiously pay her is that her Hamlet was, from first to last, a truly grand dame.[118]

In 1900 Bernhardt presented l'Aiglon, a new play 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. 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." [119] The play was a critical and box-office triumph; it was 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, including 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. [120]

Bernhardt was a master at obtaining publicity for herself and her theater. She continued to hire Alphonse Mucha to design her posters, and Mucha's work expanded to include theatrical sets, programs, costumes, and even jewelry. Always looking for novel ways to earn money Bernhardt set aside a certain number of printed posters of each play to sell to collectors.[105]

Farewell Tours (1901-1913)[edit]

After her season in Paris, Bernhardt performed L'Aiglon in London and then made her sixth tour to the United States. On this tour she traveled with Constant Coquelin, then the most popular leading man in France; she took the secondary role of Roxanne to his Cyrano de Bergerac, a role he had first created, and he co-starred with her as Flambeau in l'Aiglon and as the first grave-digger in Hamlet.[121]

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.[122]

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. 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 when she returned to paris but continued the tour.[123]

In 1903, she had a box-office flop playing another masculine role, Werther in a gloomy adaptation of the story by Goethe. However, she quickly bounced back with another hit, La Sorcière by Sardou. She played 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; on many days she gave both matinee and evening performances.[123]

Between 1904 and 1906, she appeared in a remarkable range of parts: they included 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 new 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 Melissande. [124] She also starred in a new version of Adrienne Lecouvreur, which she wrote herself, different from the earlier version which had been written for her by Scribe. She also wrote 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.[125] She also taught acting briefly at the Conservatory, but found the system there too rigid and traditional. Instead she took aspiring actresses and actors into her company, trained them, and used them as unpaid extras and bit players. .[126]

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, Canada, and Latin America. She had new managers, the Shubert Brothers. As always, she attracted controversy and press attention. During her 1905 visit to Montreal, the Roman Catholic bishop encouraged his followers to throw eggs at Bernhardt, because she played prostitutes as sympathetic characters. The U.S. portion of the tour was complicated because the Shuberts were competitors to the powerful syndicate of theater owners which controlled nearly all the major theaters and opera houses in the United States; The syndicate did not allow outside producers to use their stages. As a result, in Texas and Kansas City, Bernhardt and company performed under an enormous circus tent, seating 4500 spectators, and in skating rinks rinks in Atlanta, Savannah, Tampa, and other cities. Her private train took her to Knoxville, Dallas, Denver, Tampa, Charttanooga, and Salt Lake City, then to the west coast. 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.[127] Her tour continued to South America, where it was marred by a more serious event; 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.[128]

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 starred in 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.[129] In 1909 she again played the nineteen-year old Joan of Arc in Le Procès de Jeanne d'Arc by Emile Moreau. French newspapers encouraged schoolchildren to see her personification of French patriotism.[130]

Despite the injury to her leg, she continued to tour every summer, when her own theater in Paris was closed. In June 1908, she made a twenty-day tour of Britain and Ireland, performing in sixteen different cities.[131] In the winter of 1908-1909, she toured Russia and Poland. 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.[132] He tour took her to from Boston to jacksonville, through Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, to Canada and Minnesota, usually one new city and one performance every day.[133]

In April, 2012, Bernhardt presented a new production in her theater, La Reine Elizabeth, a romantic costume drama by Émile Moreau about Queen Elizabeth I. It was lavish and expensive, but was a box office failure, lasting only twelve performances. Fortunately for Bernhardt, she was able to pay off her debt with the money she received from the American producer Adolph Zukor for a film version of the play.[134](See Motion Pictures section below).

She departed on her third and last farewell tour of the United States in 1913–1914, when she was sixty-nine. Her leg had not healed, and she was unable to perform an entire play, only selected acts. She also broke up with her co-star and lover of the time, Lou Tellegen. When the tour ended, he remained in the United States, where he briefly became a silent movie star, while she returned alone to France in May 1913.[135]

Amputation of leg and wartime performances (1914-1918)[edit]

In December 1913, Bernhardt scored another success with a poignant drama, Jeanne Doré. On March 16, she was finally made a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. Despite her successes, she was still perpetually short of money, She had made her son Maurice the director of her new theater, and she permitted him to use the receipts of the theater to pay his gambling debts. She sometimes had to pawn some of her jewels to pay her bills.[136]

In the early summer of 1914 she went as usual to Belle-Île 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 February 22, 1915, a surgeon amputated her leg almost to the hip. She refused the idea of an artificial leg, crutches or a wheelchair, and instead was usually carried in a litter chair she designed supported by two long shafts and carried by two men. She had the chair decorated in the Lous XV style, with white sides and gilded trim, like the chair of an empress.[137]

She returned to Paris on October 15, and, despite the loss of her leg, 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, she recited a patriotic poem; then she hoisting herself up on her one leg, leaned against the arm of the chair, and declared in her strongest voice; "Weep, weep, Germany! The German eagle has fallen into the Rhine!"[138]

She was not satisfied with remaining in Paris when the front lines were so close. She joined a troupe of famous French actors and travelled close to the front of the Battle of Verdun and the f Battle of the Argonne where she performed for soldiers who were just returned or about to go into battle. Propped on pillows in 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."[139]

She returned to Paris in 1916 and made two short films on patriotic themes, one based on the story of Joan of Arc, the other called "Mothers of France." Then she embarked on what actually was her final "Farewell American Tour." Despite the threat of German submarines, she crossed the Atlantic and toured the United States, performing in New York, San Francisco, and a series of major cities between. She was stricken with uremia and had an emergency kidney operation. She recuperated in Long Beach, California for several months, writing short stories and novellas for publication in French magazines. In the autumn of 1918 she returned to New York and boarded a ship To France. She landed in Bordeaux on November 11, 1918, the day that the armistice was signed ending the First World War.[140]

Final years (1919-1923)[edit]

Bernhardt in 1922

In 1920 she resumed acting in her Theater, usually performing single acts of classics such as Racine's Athelee, which did not require much movement. For her curtain calls she managed to stand, balancing on one leg and gesturing with one arm. She also starred in a new play, Daniel, by her grandson-in-law, the playwright Louis Verneuil. She played the male lead role but appeared in just two acts. She took the play and other famous scenes from her repertory on a European tour and then for her last tour of England, where she gave a special command performance for Queen Mary, followed by a tour of the British provinces.[141]

In 1921 she made her.last tour of the French provinces, lecturing about theater and reciting the poetry of Edmond Rostand. In 1921 she produced a new play by Rostand, La Gloire, and in 1922, another play by Verneuil, Régine Arnaud. Back in Paris, She continued to entertain a stream of guests at her home. One guest, the French author Colette, described 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."[142]

In the 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 be 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".[143] 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.[144] Her tomb has the single name "Bernhardt."[145]

Motion pictures[edit]

Bernhardt was one of the earliest film 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 from her stage production of Hamlet; her duel, in the role of Hamlet, with Laertes. Maurice made a phonograph recording at the same time, so the film could be accompanied by sound. 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 at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition between April 14 and November 12, 1900. The short film became one of the most popular attractions of the Exposition.[146] The sound quality on the disks and the synchronization were very poor, so the system never became a commercial success. Nonetheless, her film is cited as one of the first examples of a sound film.[147]

Eight years later, in 1908, Bernhardt made a second motion picture, L'Assassinat de Duc de Guise ("The assassination of the Duke de Guise"). This film was twenty minutes long, written by Henri Levedan of the Académie française, and with supporting roles by three prominent French stage actors, Henri Le Bargy, Albert Lambert and Gabrielle Robinne, all from the Comédie Française. The fault of the film was that it was silent, but had no action, and the actors looked absurd gesturing and pantomiming with words. After seeing it, Bernhardt herself asked that they destroy the film. She told journalists, "I find it awful that they record everything, except the most beautiful things, the words!" .[148] Her next venture, with her co-star and lover Lou Tellegen, was a scene from La Dame aux Camelias called "Camille". The film was a success in the United States and in France. The young French artist and later screenwriter Jean Cocteau wrote, "What actress can play a lover better than she does in this film? No one!"[148] Bernhardt received 30,000 dollars for her performance.

Shortly afterwards, she made another film of a scene from her play Adrienne Levouvreur with her lover, Tellegen, in the role of Maurice de Saxe. Then, in 1912, the pioneer American producer Adolph Zukor came to London and filmed her in scenes from her stage play, Queen Elizabeth, with her lover Tellegen, in the role of Lord Essex,.[149] It had no sound, but to make the film more appearing, Zukor had the film print hand-tinted, making it one of the first color films. The Loves of Queen Elizabeth premiered at the Lyceum Theater in New York City on July 12, 1912, and was a box office success; Zukor invested $18,000 dollars in the film and earned $80,000, enabling him to found the Famous Players Film Company and then Paramount Pictures. [150]

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." [151] However, she died just before the filming began.[152]

Painting and sculpture[edit]

Bernhardt with her bust of Medea in her sculpture studio in Montmartre (about 1878)

Bernhardt began painting when she was acting at the Comédie-Française; since she rarely performed more than twice a week, she wanted a new activity to fill her time. Her paintings were mostly landscapes and seascapes, with many painted at Belle-Île. Her painting teachers were her close and lifelong friends Georges Clairin and Louise Abbéma. She exhibited one large-scale, two-meter high canvas, The Young Woman and Death, at the 1878 Paris Salon. [153]

Her passion for sculpture was more serious. Her sculpture teacher was Mathieu-Meusnier, an academic sculptor who specialized in public monuments and sentimental storytelling pieces,.[154] She quickly picked up the techniques; she exhibited and sold a high-relief plaque of the death of Ophelia and, for the architect Charles Garnier, she created the allegorical figure of "Song" for the group "Music" on the facade of the Opera House of Monte Carlo.[155] She also exhibited a group of figures, called Après la Tempête (After the Storm)", at the 1876 Paris Salon and received an honorable mention. Always an entrepreneur, she sold the original work, the molds, and signed plaster miniatures, earning more than 10,000 francs. [155] The original is now in the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Fifty works by Bernhardt have been documented, of which 25 are known to still exist,[156] Several of her works were also shown in the Columbia Exposition in Chicago and at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. While on tour in New York, she hosted a private viewing of her paintings and sculpture for 500 guests.[157] 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).[158] This may have been inspired by her 1874 performance in Le Sphinx.[159] 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 pants 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 accumulation of talent!"[160]

"The Art of the Theater"[edit]

In her final years, Bernhardt wrote 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.[161]

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 for long passages. She wrote that an actress should be able to recite the following passage from Phédre in a single breath:

Hélas! ils se voyaient avec pleine licence,
Le ciel de leurs soupirs approuvait l'innocence;
Ils suivaient sans remords leur penchant amoureux;
Tous les jours se levaient clairs et sereins pour eux! [162]

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." [163]

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."[164]

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 parts played by the men are the best parts. And yet theater is the sole art where women can sometimes be superior to men."[165]

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."[166] 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." Then 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.[166]

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.[166]

Critical Appraisals[edit]

French drama critics praised Bernhardt's performances in poetic terms; Francisque Sarcey, the most influential of Paris 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." .[52] 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."[167] 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..."[167]

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."[167]

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."[168]

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!"[169]

In later years, she also had her critics, particularly among the new generation of playwrights, who advocated a more naturalistic style. George Bernard Shaw wrote of the "childishly egotistical character of her acting, which is not the art of making you think more highly or feel more deeply but the art of making you admire her, pity her, champion her, weep with her, laugh at her jokes, follow her fortunes breathlessly and applaud her widely when the curtain falls. . . . It is the art of fooling you." [170] Ivan Turgenev wrote: "All she has is a marvelous voice, The rest is cold, false, and affected; the worst kind of repulsive chic Parisienne!" .[171][172][173] Anton Chekhov, then a young medical student, was paying for his studies by writing reviews for a Moscow newspaper: he wrote: "We are far from admiring the talent of Sarah Bernhardt. She is a woman who is very intelligent and knows how to produce an effect, who has immense taste, who understands the human heart," but she wanted too much to astonish and overwhelm her audience.[171] He wrote that in her roles "enchantment is smothered in artifice."[172]

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.[174] 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."[175]

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."[176]

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..."[177]

Personal life[edit]

Paternity, date of birth, ancestry, name[edit]

The identity of Bernhardt's father is not known for certain. Her original birth certificate was destroyed when the Paris Commune burned the Hotel de Ville and city archives in May 1871. In her autobiography, Ma Double Vie, she describes meeting her father several times, and writes that his family provided funding for her education, and left a sum of one hundred thousand francs when she came of age. [178] She said he frequently travelled overseas, and that, when she was still a child, he died in Pisa, Italy. "in unexplained circumstances which remain mysterious." [179] In February 1914 she presented a reconstituted birth certificate, which said that her legitimate father was one Édouard Bernhardt.,[180] and this name also appeared on her baptism certificate in 1956. A more recent biography by Helene Tierchant (2009) suggests her father may have been a young man named De Morel, whose family were notable shipowners and merchants in Le Havre. According to Bernhardt, her grandmother and uncle in Le Havre provided financial support for her education when she was young, took part in family councils about her future, and later gave her money when her apartment in Paris was destroyed by fire. [178]

Her date of birth is also uncertain, since her birth certificate was burned with the city archives. She usually gave her birthday as October 23, 1844, and celebrated it on that day. However, the reconstituted birth certificate she presented in 1914 gave the date as October 25. [181][182] Other sources give the date October 22 [183] or say it was either October 22 or 23.[184]

Bernhardt's mother Judith, or Julie, was born in the early 1820s. She was one of six children of an Dutch-Jewish itinerant eyeglass merchant, Moritz Baruch Bernardt, and a German laundress, [185] Sara Hirsch (later known as Janetta Hartog or Jeanne Hard). Judith's mother died in 1829, and five weeks later her father remarried,[186][186] His new wife did not get along with the five daughters and son from his earlier marriage. 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.[187] Henriette married a local notable in Le Havre, but Julie and Rosine became courtesans, and Julie took the new, more French name of Youle and the more aristocratic-sounding last name of Van Hard. 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 pregnant again, this time with Sarah. She moved to Paris, to 5 rue-de-L'École-de-Médicine, where on October 22 or 23, 1844, Sarah was born.[188]

Sarah's given name at birth was Rosine Henriette Bernhard, named for her two aunts. On May 21, 1856, when she was baptized, she was registered as the daughter of "Edouard Bernhardt residing in Le Havre and Judith Van Hard, residing in Paris." [189]

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.[190] 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 many of her leading men, and 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.[191]

During her time at the Odeon, she continued to see her old lovers, and added several illustrious new ones, including French marshals François-Certain Canrobert and Achille Bazaine, a commander of the French army in the Crimean War and in Mexico; and Prince Napoleon, son of Joseph Bonaparte and cousin of Emperor Louis-Napoleon. She also had a two-year long affair with Charles Haas, son of a banker and one of the most celebrated Paris dandies of the Empire, the model for the character of Swann in the novels by Marcel Proust.[192]

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.[193] When he was King, he travelled on the royal yacht to visit her at her summer home on Belle-Isle.[194]

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.[195]

Bernhardt's broad circle of friends included the writers Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, his son 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"[196] (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.[197]

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 years younger and notorious for his romantic affairs. Bernhardt's biographer, Cornelia Otis Skinner, described him as "handsome as Adonis, insolent, vain and altogether despicable."[198] His affairs with married women had 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. [199] 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.[200]

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. [201] 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". [90]

Belle-Île[edit]

Bernhardt's converted fort on Belle Île

After her exhausting 1886-87 tour, Bernhardt recuperated on Belle Île, 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 vacation retreat. Between 1886 and 1922, she spent nearly every summer, the season when her theater was closed, on Belle-Île. She built bungalows for her son Maurice and her grandchildren, and bungalows with studios for closest friends, the painters Georges Clairin and Louise Abbéma, She also took with her 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 visitors at Belle Île, 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 that 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 enlarged 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.[202] During the Second World War the Germans occupied the island, and in October 1944, before leaving the island, they dynamited most of the compound. All that remains is the original old fort, and a seat cut into the rock where Bernhardt awaited the boat that took her to the mainland.[203]

Religion[edit]

Bernhardt attended a convent school, where she received her first communion as a Roman Catholic in 1856, and thereafter she 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." [204] She accepted the last rites shortly before her death.[205] At her request, her funeral Mass was celebrated at the church of Saint-François-de-Sales, which she attended when she was in Paris.

Legacy: the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, residences, star on Hollywood Walk of Fame[edit]

After Bernhardt's death, her theater was managed by her son Maurice until his death in 1928. It kept its name until the Occupation by the Germans in World War II,[206] when, beecause of Bernhardt's Jewish ancestry, the name was changed to Théâtre de la Cité.[207] The name was changed back to the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt in 1947, then, in 1957, became the Théâtre des Nations. In 1968 it was renamed the Théâtre de la Ville, the name it has today.

In 1876 Bernhardt constructed a large town house at 35 Rue Fortuny in the 17th arrondissement, not far from Parc Monceau, for her family, servants and menagerie of animals. In 1885, When her debts mounted, she sold the house. It is still there today. Once her fortune was replenished by her tours abroad, she bought an even larger 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. A plaque on the facade commemorates Bernhardt's earlier residence.[208]

In 1960, based on her pioneer flm roles, Bernhardt was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.[209]

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)

References[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]

  1. ^ [1] Larousse Encyclopedie online
  2. ^ [2] Encyclopedia Brittanica online
  3. ^ Her own pronunciation, listen e.g. to on YouTube
  4. ^ There is some uncertainty about the date. See [3] Encyclopedia Brittanica online Tierchant (2009), page 15 and Skinner (1967) page 1, and section below on birthdate
  5. ^ Definition from Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary
  6. ^ a b Tierchant 2009, pp. 13-14.
  7. ^ a b Bernhardt 2000, pp. 13-14.
  8. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 29.
  9. ^ Gold, pp. 17–20
  10. ^ Tierchant 2009, pp. 25-26.
  11. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 28.
  12. ^ Bernhardt 2000, p. 68.
  13. ^ Bernhardt 2000, p. 77.
  14. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 22-24.
  15. ^ Bernhardt 2000, pp. 78-85.
  16. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 25-30.
  17. ^ Bernhardt 2000, pp. 102-103.
  18. ^ Bernhardt 2000, p. 96.
  19. ^ a b Tierchant 2009, pp. 42-44.
  20. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 34-35.
  21. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 45-46.
  22. ^ In her memoires Bernhardt gives the date of her debut as September 1
  23. ^ a b Skinner 1967, p. 37.
  24. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 47.
  25. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 38.
  26. ^ Monval, Georges Comédie-française (1658-1900): Liste alphabétique des sociétaires depuis Molière jusqu'à nos jours by published by Aux Bureaux de l'Amateur d'autographes, 1900, p. 93
  27. ^ Gold, p. 52
  28. ^ a b Bernhardt 2000, p. 135.
  29. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 44.
  30. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 42-46.
  31. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 46-47.
  32. ^ a b Tierchant 2009, p. 55.
  33. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 48.
  34. ^ Skinner 1967, pp. 47-52.
  35. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 52.
  36. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 212.
  37. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 62.
  38. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 54.
  39. ^ a b Skinner 1967, p. 55.
  40. ^ Tierchant 2009, p. 68.
  41. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 55-58.
  42. ^ Skinner 1967, p. 63.
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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]