“Your words are my food, your breath my wine. You are everything to me.” Sarah Bernhardt
Who was Sarah Bernhardt?
Sarah Bernhardt (1844 – 1923) was a French stage actress. She was the illegitimate daughter of Judith Bernard, a prostitute with a wealthy or upper class clientele. The name of her father is not recorded. Her mother traveled frequently, and saw little of her daughter. She placed the child with a nurse in Brittany, then in a cottage in the Paris suburb of Neuilly.
In 1859 Sarah learned that her father had died overseas. Her mother summoned a family council, including Morny, to decide what to do with her. Morny proposed that Sarah should become an actress, and arranged for her to attend her first theater performance at the Comedie Française. Sarah was so moved by the emotion of the play that she began to sob loudly, disturbing the rest of the audience. Morny and others in their party were angry at her and left, but Dumas comforted her, and later told Morny that he believed that she was destined for the stage. After the performance, Dumas called her “my little star”.
Morny used his influence with the composer Daniel Auber, the head of the Paris Conservatory, to arrange for her to audition. The jurors were skeptical, but the fervor and pathos of her recitation won them over, and she was invited to become a student.
Sarah Bernhardt starred in some of the most popular French plays of the late 19th and early 20th century. She also played male roles, including Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Rostand called her “the queen of the pose and the princess of the gesture” while Hugo praised her “golden voice”. She made several theatrical tours around the world, and was one of the first prominent actresses to make sound recordings and to act in motion pictures.