Thursday, April 30, 2009

Redhead series: 'The Divine Sarah'

My series doesn't exactly follow the chronological order, but well...

Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was a French theatre and film actress and is often said to be the most famous actress of the 19th century. Her mother was Jewish and her father probably a Dutchman. Little is known about her early life, as she tended to exaggerate and distort, to the point of being called 'a notorious liar' by Alexandre Dumas (son).

She earned her living by being an actress and a courtesan, both professions considered scandalous at the time. She started her stage carieer in 1862 at Comedie Francaise, and became famous in the 1870s. She slept in a coffin in lieu of a bed, claiming that it helped her to understand the tragic roles she played. She was a performing arist as well as a model, a sculptor, a writer and a couch for several young women wanting to become actresses themselves. Her close friends included famous artists such as Gustave Dore, Victor Hugo and Louise Abbema. Alphonse Mucha based several of his prints on her image.

In 1905, she injured her knee on stage while performing in the play 'La Tosca' in Rio de Janeiro. The leg never healed properly and by 1915, when gangrene set in, her entire right leg had to be amputated. She continued performing even though she didn't like using a wooden limb. She is also said to refuse a $10,000 offer to display her amputated leg as a medical curiosity.

"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."

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