Actress. Sarah Bernhardt, who was known as "The Divine Sarah," received worldwide recognition as a French stage actress of the late 19th century and advancing to film actress in the early 20th century. Born Henriette Rosine Bernard, she was the eldest of three illegitimate daughters of Dutch prostitute with upper-class clientele, Julie Bernard. Although it is not clear who her father was, speculation often names a young student called Morel. Since the presence of children interfered with her mother's preferred lifestyle, she spent her childhood in a boarding house cared for by a hired nurse, followed by Grandchamp Augustine, a convent boarding school near Versailles. When she turned sixteen, her mother's protector, Charles Duc de Morny, sent her to the Conservatoire de Musique et Déclamation in Paris, to study for a career in the theater. She came to regard the Conservatoire's methods as obsolete. In 1862, she adopted the stage name of Sarah, and was accepted by the national theatre company Comédie-Française and debuted in the title role of Racine's "Iphigénie." In 1863 she proceeded to the Théâtre du Gymnase-Dramatique, but was dissatisfied with the small parts she received. In 1868, she had her first public and critical success in Alexandre Dumas' "Kean," followed by a portrayal of Cordelia in "King Lear," and a great triumph as the minstrel boy in "Le Passant." In 1872, the Comédie Française attracted by her success, invited her back, and she became an undisputed star with her portrayals of "Phèdre" in 1874 and of Doña Sol in Victor Hugo's "Hernani" in 1877. She played Desdemona in "Othello" in 1878, and again, when the Comédie-Française appeared in London in 1879. In 1880, she formed her own traveling company, touring in Europe and in the United States, which was a great success. In 1882 she met Aristidis Damala, a Greek army officer. They married at St. Andrew's Church in London at the end of her successful European tour. When her fame was at its peak, she received honors from King Umberto of Italy, Alfonso XII of Spain, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, and Czar Alexander III. In 1891, she undertook a world tour that included Australia and South America. Returning to France in 1893, she was the wealthiest and most publicized actress of her day. That same year, she became the manager of the Théâtre de la Renaissance, and in 1899 she relocated to the former Théâtre des Nations, which she renamed the Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt. She had made notable appearances as "Hamlet" in Paris and London in 1899, and as François-Joseph Bonaparte in "L'Aiglon" in 1900. She was one of the first women known to have performed the title role in "Hamlet." In 1905, during a South American tour, she injured her right knee when jumping off the parapet in the last scene of "La Tosca." Nearly a decade later, the deteriorating knee became infected and gangrenous after a cast was tightly applied; and her leg had to be amputated above the knee on February 22, 1915. She again left for the United States in October of 1910. She appeared in several silent films, but her only success was in the title role in "Elizabeth Queen of England" in 1912. In 1914, she was made a Chevalier of France's Legion of Honor. Being carried in a litter chair after the loss of her leg, she insisted on visiting the French soldiers at the front during World War I. In 1916, she began her last of nine tours in the United States with an 18-month road tour. In November of 1918, she returned to France, only to begin on a European tour, playing parts she could perform while seated. New roles were provided for her by several playwrights that catered to her physical needs. In the fall of 1922, she gave a benefit performance to raise money for Madame Curie's laboratory. She later collapsed during the dress rehearsal of the play "Un Sujet de roman" but recovered sufficiently to take an interest in the motion picture, "La Voyante", which was being filmed in her house in Paris shortly before her death. She was the author of an autobiography, "My Double Life: Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt" in 1907, a novel, "Petite Idole" in 1920, and a treatise on acting, "L'Art du théâtre" in 1923.
Bio by: Iola