Monday, July 20, 2015
SARAH BERNHARDT: THE RISE TO FAME
After being expelled from the Comédie Française, she resumed the life of courtesan to which her mother had introduced her at a young age, and made considerable money during that period (1862–65). During this time she acquired her famous coffin, in which she often slept in lieu of a bed – claiming that doing so helped her understand her many tragic roles.
Bernhardt then reverted to the theater, securing a contract at the Théâtre de L’Odéon where she began performing in 1866. Her most famous performance there was her travesty performance as the Florentine minstrel in François Coppé's Le Passant (January 1869). With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war performances were stopped and Bernhardt converted the theatre into a makeshift hospital where she took care of the soldiers wounded on the battlefield. She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s and was soon in demand all over Europe and in New York. In between tours Bernhardt took over the lease of the Théâtre de la Renaissance, which she ran as producer-director-star from 1893 to 1899.
In 1899 Bernhardt took over the former Théâtre des Nations on the Place du Châtelet, renaming it the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt and opening on 21 January in one of her most admired parts, the title role in Victorien Sardou's La Tosca. This was followed by revivals of Racine's Phèdre (24 February), Octave Feuillet's Dalila (8 March), Gaston de Wailly's Patron Bénic (14 March), Edmond Rostand's La Samaritaine (25 March), and Alexandre Dumas fils's La Dame aux Camélias on 9 April. On 20 May, she premiered her most controversial part, the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet, in a prose adaptation which she had commissioned from Eugène Morand and Marcel Schwob. The play was greeted with rave reviews despite its running time of four hours. She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title "The Divine Sarah"; arguably, she was the most famous actress of the 19th century.
Bernhardt also participated in scandalous productions such as John Wesley De Kay's "Judas." It performed in New York’s Globe Theatre for only one night in December 1910 before it was banned there, as well as in Boston and Philadelphia. In New York’s art scene of 1910 the story line of the play was nothing short of scandalous. Mary Magdalene, who at first became a lover of Pontius Pilate, then of Judas Iscariot, got involved with Jesus. Judas, after realizing that Mary Magdalene had given herself to Jesus, decided to betray his friend to the Romans. To top the provocation of New York’s theater lovers, Judas was played by the voluptuous Sarah Bernhardt.
In Paris, Bernhardt continued to direct the Théâtre Sarah-Bernhardt until her death, when her son Maurice took over. After his death in 1928, the theatre retained the name Sarah Bernhardt until the Occupation by the Germans in World War II, when the name was changed to Théâtre de la Cité because of Bernhardt's Jewish ancestry...