Sarah Bernhardt
Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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Sarah Bernhardt—Actress

October 23, 1844, 8:00 PM (7:53 PM), Paris France. (Source: carefully documented biography by a member of her family) Died (of uremic poisoning), March 26, 1893, Paris, France.

Ascendant, early Cancer; MC, Aries, with Moon in Aries exactly conjunct Uranus, also in Aries, and both conjunct the MC; Sun in Scorpio, H5; Mercury and Mars in Libra; Venus in Virgo conjunct Chiron in Virgo; Jupiter in Pisces; Saturn in Capricorn; Neptune in Aquarius



I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America.

Your words are my food, your breath my wine. You are everything to me.

I have, thanks to my travels, added to my stock all the superstitions of other countries. I know them all now, and in any critical moment of my life, they all rise up in armed legions for or against me.

We must live for the few who know and appreciate us, who judge and absolve us, and for whom we have the same affection and indulgence. The rest I look upon as a mere crowd, lively or sad, loyal or corrupt, from whom there is nothing to be expected but fleeting emotions, either pleasant or unpleasant, which leave no trace behind them.

The monster of advertisement ... is a sort of octopus with innumerable tentacles. It throws out to right and left, in front and behind, its clammy arms, and gathers in, through its thousand little suckers, all the gossip and slander and praise afloat, to spit out again at the public.

Alas, we are the victims of advertisement. Those who taste the joys and sorrows of fame when they have passed forty, know how to look after themselves. They know what is concealed beneath the flowers, and what the gossip, the calumnies, and the praise are worth. But as for those who win fame when they are twenty, they know nothing, and are caught up in the whirlpool.

I have often been asked why I am so fond of playing male parts.... As a matter of fact, it is not male parts, but male brains that I prefer.

Permanent success cannot be achieved except by incessant intellectual labour, always inspired by the ideal.
(Mercury trine Neptune. Neptune on MC.)

The actor is too prone to exaggerate his powers; he wants to play Hamlet when his appearance is more suitable to King Lear.

The truth, the absolute truth, is that the chief beauty for the theatre consists in fine bodily proportions.

Our art is the finest, the noblest, the most suggestive, for it is the synthesis of all the arts. Sculpture, painting, literature, elocution, architecture, and music are its natural tools. But while it needs all of those artistic manifestations in order to be its whole self, it asks of its priest or priestess one indispensable virtue: “faith.”

The dramatic art would appear to be rather a feminine art; it contains in itself all the artifices which belong to the province of woman: the desire to please, facility to express emotions and hide defects, and the faculty of assimilation which is the real essence of woman.

Each action of the actor on the stage should be the visible concomitant of his thoughts.

Once the curtain is raised, the actor ceases to belong to himself. He belongs to his character, to his author, to his public. He must do the impossible to identify himself with the first, not to betray the second, and not to disappoint the third.
(Jupiter in Pisces in 10th house.)

Although all new ideas are born in France, they are not readily adopted there. It seems that they must first commence to prosper in a foreign country.

A defective voice will always preclude an artist from achieving the complete development of his art, however intelligent he may be.... The voice is an instrument which the artist must learn to use with suppleness and sureness, as if it were a limb.

What would life be without art? Science prolongs life. To consist of what—eating, drinking, and sleeping? What is the good of living longer if it is only a matter of satisfying the requirements that sustain life? All this is nothing without the charm of art.

The theatre is the involuntary reflex of the ideas of the crowd.

To be a good actor ... it is necessary to have a firmly tempered soul, to be surprised at nothing, to resume each minute the laborious task that has barely just been finished.
(Moon conjunct Uranus in Aries, opposition Mars.)

The artist’s personality must be left in his dressing-room; his soul must be denuded of its own sensations and clothed with the base or noble qualities he is called upon to exhibit.... [he] must leave behind him the cares and vexations of life, throw aside his personality for several hours, and move in the dream of another life, forgetting everything.

For the theatre one needs long arms; it is better to have them too long than too short. An artiste with short arms can never, never make a fine gesture.

What matters poverty? What matters anything to him who is “enamoured” of our art? Does he not carry in himself every joy and every beauty?

I refuse the title of artist to those who owe their reputations to a physical deformity. I regard them as buffoons.

You must have this charm to reach the pinnacle. It is made of everything and of nothing, the striving will, the look, the walk, the proportions of the body, the sound of the voice, the ease of the gestures. It is not at all necessary to be handsome or to be pretty; all that is needful is charm.
(Sun in Scorpio.)

He who is incapable of feeling strong passions, of being shaken by anger, of living in every sense of the word, will never be a good actor ...

... actors of the first water are not more plentiful than playwrights of genius.

Life begets life. Energy creates energy. It is by spending oneself that one becomes rich.
Sarah Bernhardt

Legend remains victorious in spite of history.

It exasperates me to be unable to do anything without being accused of eccentricity. I had great fun going up in a balloon, but now I dare not do so. I assure you that I have never skinned dogs or burned cats. And I regret that I cannot prove that I am a natural blonde.

One should hate very little, because it's extremely fatiguing. One should despise much, forgive often, and never forget. Pardon does not bring with it forgetfulness; at least not for me.

Oscar Wilde: 'Do you mind if I smoke?'
Sarah Bernhardt: 'I don't care if you burn.'


Sarah Bernhardt [1] [2] (October 23, 1844 – March 26, 1923) was a French stage actress.

She was born in Paris as Henriette Rosine Bernard, the eldest surviving illegitimate daughter of Judith van Hard, a Dutch-born Jewish courtesan known as "Youle." Her father was reportedly Edouard Bernard, a French lawyer, and she was educated in French Catholic convents.

To support herself, she combined the career of an actress with that of a courtesan - at the time, the two were considered scandalous to some degree, but courtesans were widely accepted in many social circles, and looked on as equals in cases where they were highly intellectual and when the art of being a courtesan was merely a sideline for another more respectable career. 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 in New York. 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. She coached many young women in the art of acting, including actress and courtesan Liane de Pougy.

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 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 spirit is alive today for anyone with an ear to hear it and a taste for grand opera. Tosca, Fedora, and La Gioconda, to name only a few, were musical adaptations of plays written for Bernhardt. The common denominator of the female leads of these works is clear, once you look for it, and it's Sarah herself.

Her social life as a courtesan was as continuously active. She had an affair with a Belgian nobleman, Charles-Joseph-Eugene-Henri, Prince de Ligne, with whom she had her only child, the writer Maurice Bernhardt, in 1864 (he married a Polish princess, Maria Jablonowska, 1863-1914). Later lovers included several artists, most notably Gustave Doré and Georges Clarin, and actors Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen.

She later married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala (aka Jacques Damala) in London in 1882, but the marriage, which legally endured until Damala's death in 1889 at age 34, quickly collapsed, largely due to the young actor's dependence on morphine. During the latter years of this marriage she was involved in an affair with Edward VII of the United Kingdom. [3]

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.

Sarah Bernhardt 1844 - 1923

Nicknamed "The Divine Sarah" by the legendary playwright, Oscar Wilde, Bernhardt was the undisputed queen of French romantic and classical tragedy. Bernhardt almost singlehandedly revolutionized the place of women in the classical theater with her startlingly intense and expressive performances. She was very thin, with a pale face and frizzy red hair, but her beautiful voice, the grace of her movements, and her fiery personality made Sarah Bernhardt one of the most famous actresses of her day.

She became famous for her superb portrayals in Phèdre (1874), in Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas (1872), and in Adrienne Lecouvreur (1880). She also starred in works by Sardou and Rostand, and wrote some of her own plays as well. She made tours of Europe and the U.S., including several farewell tours after her leg was amputated in 1915. She played Hamlet at her own Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt in 1899.

She was born Rosine Bernard in Paris on Oct. 23, 1844, an illegitimate child of mixed French-Dutch parentage and of partly Jewish descent. At the age of 13 she entered the drama school of the Paris Conservatoire. Her début at the Théâtre Français (later the Comédie Française) on Sept. 1, 1862, in Racine's Iphigénie en Aulide, was greeted with only mild interest. She soon quarreled with the Comédie and left it for an unsuccessful attempt at burlesque.

Bernhardt's reputation was properly established in 1869 by her appearance as Zanetto, the wandering minstrel in François Coppée's Le Passant, and affirmed in 1872 by her triumph as the Queen in Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas. Soon after this she returned to the Comédie Française, where she won further acclaim for her performances in Racine's Phèdre and Hugo's Hernani. Bernhardt's position as the greatest actress and one of the most magnetic personalities of her time was by now secure. She was eulogized for her voix d'or (golden voice) and for the scope and emotional power of her acting.

In 1880, after a triumphant season in London, she broke her contract with the Comédie Française and embarked upon an independent career with the first of six tours of America, returning to Europe for triumphs in England and Denmark. Her repertoire included La Dame aux Camélias by the younger Alexandre Dumas and Frou-frou by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. She became manager of the Théâtre de la Renaissance,which she opened with a performance of Jules Lemaître's Les Rois.

In 1891, the legendary playwright, Oscar Wilde wrote his Salome first in French, specifically with Sarah in mind for the lead role. Legend says that she was hesitant about appearing in it, at the time, although it eventually had a long-running success. It was Wilde who dubbed her "The Divine Sarah".

In 1898 she sold her lease of the Théâtre de la Renaissance and bought the Théâtre des Nations, which she renamed the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt. The opening play, a revival of Victorien Sardou's La Tosca, was followed by a production in French of Hamlet. Max Beerbohm, in a review, captured the essential incongruity of Bernhardt in the title role by labeling her "Hamlet, Princess of Denmark.''

Undaunted by her critics, she promptly ventured on the title role in Edmond Rostand's L'Aiglon. The hero of this play is Napoleon's son, who is kept in semi-captivity after the fall of the empire. Despite the seeming audacity of a middle-aged woman playing a boy's part, L'Aiglon was one of the greatest
financial successes ever achieved in Paris. In 1905, while performing in Rio de Janeiro, she suffered an injury to her right leg. By 1911 she was unable to walk unsupported, and in 1915 the leg was amputated. Despite the handicap of an artificial leg, she continued her acting career, even performing at the front during World War I. In 1914 she became a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Her last stage appearance was in La Gloire (1922) by Maurice Rostand. She died in Paris on March 26, 1923.

Bernhardt was the first great actress to appear in films, starring in La Reine Elizabeth and La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias) in 1911. The latter was perhaps her most popular role, known in America simply as Camille.

Bernhardt's artistic gifts included sculpture and writing; she published several plays and her memoirs, Ma Double Vie (1907).

In 1914, when Sarah Bernhardt was 70, one of her legs had to be amputated following an accident. After that, she acted from a chair but still performed all over the world. In World War I, she performed for the troops near the front line of battle and was awarded the Legion of Honor.

Bernhardt died on March 27, 1923, after a long battle with Kidney disease. She remains one of the most celebrated and respected figures in the history of Western theater.



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