Sarah Bernhardt was one of the stage’s most admired actresses. She was born in Paris, France where she became a star and later traveled the world touring. Bernhardt didn’t start out as the best but did rise to the success she is known for today. She was known for her romantic looks and her melodious voice, her natural acting style and sometimes her tempestuous attitude. Bernhardt lived quite a life, from her many famous lovers, her fabulous clothing, and her travels performing on stages all over the world and even becoming a star of silent movies. She was what we know today as a “drama queen” in many ways. She wasn’t successful right away, but did rise to her stardom. As stated in The Divine Sarah, even Sigmund Freud who saw her in a performance (Sardou’s Theodora) has said “…I believed at once everything she said…, it is incredible what postures she can assume and how every limb and joint acts with her.”
Sarah Bernhardt was born Henriette Rosine Bernard in 1844 to women named Julie Bernard, who was of Jewish descent and little is known about her father. What is known about her mother, is that she was a legendary courtesan and was rarely home, and when she was home, there were always rich men around. Sarah was a wild child who, when she wasn’t sick, did what she wanted and threw many temper tantrums. Her mother wanted Sarah to follow in her footsteps and entertain men for money, the idea made Sarah sick (although later she learned that there is a thin line between acting and prostituting), she told her mom she was to become a nun. That all changed when she saw Racine’s Britannicus at the Comedie Francaise. She planned on attending the Conservatoire, and in 1860 she did where she was trained for two years. In 1862, at the age of 18 she made her first debut as the lead in Racine’s Iphigenie. Sarah often suffered from stage fright and her dire performance received some bad reviews. According to Gold and Fizdale, Francisque Sarcey, Paris’s most powerful critic, was quoted to say “[she] is remarkably beautiful. She carries herself well and pronounces her words with perfect clarity. That is all that can be said at the moment.” Her next appearance was in Scribe’s Valerie which was virtually unnoticed, and her third debut in Moliere’s Les Femmes Savantes was not any better.