Monday, September 6, 2010

77: The Self-Empowered Woman: Sarah Bernhardt

Dear Followers,

As you know, I enjoy sharing the stories of a wide variety of women. To me, the era, country of origin, type of talent, or passion are not what's important. What matters is the struggle to fulfill a dream or survive challenges, and there seem to be an unlimited number of women who capture my attention ( and, hopefully, yours as well).

Today's woman worth knowing is the legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was born in 1844 in Paris, and died 1923. She has often been called "the most famous actress the world has ever known."

Her birthname was Sara-Marie-Henriette Rosine Bernard; she was born in Paris as the illegitimate daughter of a Dutch courtesan - she never knew who her father was (1: No Paternal Safety Net). Much of her early life was spent in a convent (3: Belief In The Unbelievable).

When she was thirteen years old she entered the Conservatoire, the government sponsered French school of acting (2: An Early Sense Of Direction). In 1862, she entered the Nationaal Theater Company, the Comedie - Francaise, but the next year her contract was cancelled because she slapped a fellow actress (5: Life Is Not A Popularity Contest).

She left Paris and moved to Belgium where she had an affair with Henri, Prince de Ligne and had his son, Maurice, in 1864. Because his family disapproved of their relationship they ended their love affair. In later years she married a Greek-born actor (Jacques Damala) who became addicted to morphine, and had affairs with a number of men including Victor Hugo and the Prince of Wales (15: Forget About Prince Charming).

By 1866 she was back in Paris, and was soon popular not only in Europe but in New York, as well. She was known as " the Divine Sarah". In 1905, she was performing in Rio de Janeiro when she injured her knee during a performance. It never healed properly, gangrene set in, and her right leg had to be amputated. In spite of her loss, she continued to act even though she couldn't really move around the stage (12: Hard Times).

If you would like to know more about the amazing woman who was known around the world long before jet travel and the internet were available, I recommened Sarah: The Life of Sarah Bernhardt by Robert Gottlieb (Yale, $25.00).

Looking forward to your comments...

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