Sarah Bernhardt

Comedie-FrancaiseFYS 27 September 2012 Sarah Bernhardt Sarah Bernhardt is called the first international stage star. This nineteenth and twentieth century actress faced many hardships including religious oppression, severe debt, and ableism. Despite these struggles, she overcame them with much perseverance. The “Divine Sarah”, as her fans called her, was born as Henriette Rosine Bernard to Julie Bernard. Julie was a Dutch Jewish prostitute who had two other illegitimate children.

Sarah’s father is not known but when she was thirteen, her uncle, Edouard Bernard, signed as her father on her baptismal certificate. When she was younger, she was cared for by a nurse in a pension. Later in her childhood, she went to Grandchamp Augustine convent which, for a time, inspired her to become a nun. Her religious path was changed when Charles Duc de Morny introduced her to theater. Sarah studied acting for two years at the Conservatoire de Musique et Declamation. Because she was a Jew, she was discriminated against.

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This discrimination was mostly displayed in caricatures that poked fun at Jewish greediness. Her Jewishness was brought up in novels and biographies. She defended herself against the media’s accusations on her nationality. She said, “Jewish most certainly, but German, no. ” She also stated, “If I have a foreign accent- which I much regret- it is cosmopolitan, but not Teutonic. I am a daughter of the great Jewish race, and my somewhat uncultivated language is the outcome of our enforced wanderings. Because of her religion, she was either rejected from roles or given small parts. Sarah played seventy roles in productions throughout Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Australia, and the Middle East. She also owned many theaters in Paris. Some of her notable roles were in the productions of Phedre, La Tosca, Theodora, Adrienne Lecouvreur, and many more. She was known for her “golden voice” which added to her romantic acting style. Sarah took her company to America that had tremendous success.

Sarah was given gifts and received much attention from the royals. Umberto, the king of Italy, gave her a Venetian fan. Alfonso XII of Spain gave her a necklace with a diamond brooch. Franz Joseph gave her an antique necklace. Tsar Alexander III of Russia had great respect for her talents. Because of her great success in America, she bought the Theatre de l’Ambigu with her son, Maurice, as the owner. She acquired great amounts of debt and her son resigned from his managerial role so she decided to lease the Porte Saint-Martin.

She toured to North and South America with much success which made her a millionaire. Her net worth in 1892 was 3. 5 million francs. Despite the financial gains, her theater’s debts amassed to two million francs. Determined to avoid any more financial loses, Sarah signed a twenty-five year lease for the Theatre des Nations at Chatelet. During a performance of La Tosca in America, she had an accident that led to her right leg being amputated. Despite her inability to move freely on stage, her beautiful voice compensated for that.

The long dresses of the time period covered her wooden leg. She visited French soldiers during World War I and was involved in a propaganda film, Les Meres francaises. To benefit Marie Curie’s laboratory, she put on the performance Regine Armand. She was offered a role in an American film but died of uremia shortly after. Sarah Bernhardt contributed much to the arts. She wrote poetry, prose and plays. This international star had the “golden voice” that could be heard around the world.

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