27 September 2012
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. 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...