Bernhardt, Sarah

ACTOR (FRANCE)
BORN 22 Oct 1844, Paris - DIED 26 Mar 1923, Paris
REAL NAME Bernardt, Henriette Rosine
GRAVE LOCATION Paris: Père Lachaise, Rue du Repos 16 (division 44, 1ere ligne, N, 20)

Sarah Bernhardt was probably the most famous actress of her time. She was born in Paris as the daughter of the Jewish Julie Bernhardt and an unknown father. Her birth certificate was lost during a fire in 1871 but it is believed that she was born in 1844.

She was educated at Grandchamp, a convent school near Versailles. There she found herself in trouble at several occasions: she laughed at a bishop, she threw a stone at soldiers and she went out with a soldier after dark. In 1860 she enrolled at the Conservatoire de Musique at Déclamation in Paris and after that she became a student at the Comédie Française.

She debuted as an actress at the Comédie Française in 1862 as Iphigénie in Racine's play. It was a success but soon afterwards she was forced to resign because she had slapped another actress. She left for Belgium where she became the mistress of Henri, Prince de Ligne. They had a son, Maurice, in 1864 (he died in 1928). The Prince wanted to marry her but his family prevented this. She lived as a courtesan for a while before she returned to the theatre.

She started her performances at the Odéon in 1866 and during the Franco-Prussian war of 1871 she took care of wounded soldiers inside the theatre. During the 1870s she became famous all over Europe and was able to extend her fame to New York. Between 1893 to 1899 she managed the Théâtre de la Renaissance where she produced plays and performed in them as well.

In 1882 she had married the actor Aristides Damala (stage name Jaques Damala) but he was addicted to morphine and he openly criticised her before her friends. The marriage soon failed and officially ended when Damala died in 1889. In 1883 the playwright Jean Richepin was her lover. Around 1910 she had an affair with Lou Tellegan who was 37 years her junior.

She was obsessed by death and at an early age she had bought a coffin in which she liked to sleep. She often took the coffin with her during her tours and she claimed that it helped her to understand her tragic roles.

In 1900 she was Hamlet in a silent movie and she performed in several more motion pictures. In 1905 she seriously hurt her right knee during a performance in Rio de Janeiro and it never healed properly. In 1914 gangrene set in and her leg had to be amputed. But she continued her career and succesfully toured in North-America in 1915. She mostly used an artificial limb and the amputation was hardly visible during her performance. She still won over the audiences with the charm of her voice that had hardly altered.

Related persons
• knew Annunzio, Gabriele d'
• was a friend of Croizette, Sophie Alexandrine
• was painted by Makart, Hans
• was photographed by Nadar
• was the lover of Pozzi, Samuel Jean de
• has a connection with Ventura, Marie

Sources
• Wallace, Irving, Amy, Sylvia & Wallechinsk, David, Lijstenboek 2, 1983
De Complete Encyclopedie, Lekturama
• Wallechinsky, David, Irving Wallace & Amy Wallace, Alle Feiten Op Een Rijtje, Luitingh, Laren, 1980
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Bernhardt

Images

The grave of Sarah Bernhardt at Père Lachaise, Paris.
Picture by Androom (24 Oct 2014)

 


Bernstein, Elsa

Published: 21 Jun 2015
Last update: 22 Jun 2015