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Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt

Sarah Bernhardt (October 22, 1844 - March 26, 1923) was a French stage actress.

She was born in Paris as Rosine Bernard, the illegitimate daughter of French prostitute Julie Bernard. To support herself, she combined the career of an actress with that of a courtesan - at the time, the two were considered scandalous to a roughly equal degree. She was sponsored into the Conservatoire de Musique et Déclamation by the Duc de Morny in 1859 for theatrical training.

Her stage career started in 1862, largely in comic theatre and burlesque. She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s, and was soon in demand all over Europe and in the United States. She soon developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title, The Divine Sarah; arguably, she may have been the most famous actress of the 19th century.

Although primarily a stage actress, Bernhardt made several cylinders and discs of famous dialogue from various productions. One of the earliest was a reading from Phèdre by Jean-Baptiste Racine, at Thomas Edison's home on a visit to New York City in the 1880s. Multi-talented, she was involved with the visual arts as well as acting, painting and sculpting herself, as well as modelling for Antonio de La Gandara. She was also to publish a series of books and plays throughout her life.

Her social life was as continuously active. She had an affair with Henri, Prince de Ligne of Belgium, with whom she had a son, Maurice, in 1864. Later lovers included several artists (Gustave Doré and Georges Clarin) and actors (Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen). She married fellow actor Jacques Damala in 1882, but the marriage was not to last.

Bernhardt was also one of the pioneer silent movie actresses, debuting as Hamlet in Le Duel d'Hamlet in 1900. (Technically, this was not a silent film, as it had accompanying cylinders with dubbed dialogue.) She went on to star in eight motion pictures and two biographical films in all. The latter included Sarah Bernhardt à Belle-Isle (1912), a film about her daily life at home.

Sarah Bernhardt was made a member of France's Legion of Honor in 1914.

In 1915, ten years after a serious injury, her right leg was amputated, confining her to a wheelchair for several months. Nonetheless, she continued her career, in spite of the need to use a wooden prosthetic limb. She died in the arms of her son Maurice. She is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France.

Sarah Bernhardt has a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.

The actress La Berma, a fictional character in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu was inspired by Bernhardt.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

Sarah Bernhardt Facts

Birth NameRosine Bernard
OccupationActress, Writer
BirthdayOctober 22, 1844
SignLibra
BirthplaceParis, France
Date of deathMarch 26, 1923 (age 78)
Height5' 3" (1m60)  How tall is Sarah Bernhardt compared to you?

Selected Filmography

Shakespeare's Women
Shakespeare's Women & Claire Bloom
The Ernest Green Story
Queen Elizabeth
Personalities of the Past, Volume 4
Personalities of the Past, Volume 4 by Al Jolson
The Man in the Silk Hat
The Other Half/Mirror Image
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