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Sarah Bernhardt

Act IV: The Divine Sarah

“She will be remembered as the woman whose influence over all who saw and heard her was a psychic mystery that will never be explained.” -- Sarah Bernhardt’s Manager

Sarah, in regard to her career, was never a shrinking violet in maintaining control of it. She planned what roles she would play, where she would play them and how she would perform them. From 1893 to 1898 she controlled and directed the productions at the Renaissance Theatre in Paris. In 1899 she took over the Theatre des Nations, becoming its theater director and primary star, eventually renaming the place the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt. By operating her own theatre, she could have complete artistic control of her productions and choose what playwrights and actors she wanted to work with.

For the Paris Exposition in 1900, she allowed herself to be filmed and the footage shown at the event. She may have been the first actress to have her work shown on the new median of filmmaking. Sarah was challenging herself in areas of multimedia that were unknown at that time. She was filmed and later voice recordings were made that would be retained for posterity. Because of her pioneering contributions to the field of filmmaking, she has been given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not back for an actress who never lived to see the advent of talking films. We have her on film and we have her recordings of her stage renditions, but we do not have the two combined together.

In 1914, she made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Her love affair with her native country of France was her one constant through her life. During the Great War (World War I), she entertained the soldiers on the western front, never fearing for her own personal safety. During the war, when it became necessary for Sarah to have surgery to amputate her leg, the French government insisted that she have the surgery outside of Paris. They were concerned that if the Germans took control of the city, Sarah would become a prime prisoner of the enemy. Their “national treasure” was safely operated on outside of Paris and was kept safe from the German forces.

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