Sarah Bernhardt, the annoying one: stronger than Madonna!

vsent years after her death, the legend of Sarah Bernhardt is still alive… It must be said that she is the greatest French artist of the Belle Époque, a star worshiped on five continents. He understood before anyone else the power of the press, then in full swing, and the fame he could get from it by imposing his personality.

And what a personality! A new biography by Hélène Tierchant, in Tallandier, revisits with gusto the incredible fate of this sacred monster. “He is a total artist,” explains the author. Theater, literature, painting, sculpture… He explored all genres, even cinema, which was just at the beginning of the century. In his studio, he sculpted busts of personalities he met and even made a magnificent pietà. His dream is to study Fine Arts…”

READ ALSOThe suffering of Sarah Bernhardt, the Madonna of her time The bastard son of a courtesan, Sarah Bernhardt cut her teeth at the conservatory, then at the Odéon. He was quickly dubbed “the golden voice” for his total acting, succeeding at the Comédie-Française in major tragedies, before resigning with wisdom, causing scandal but ending his name with great audiences. Then he set up his company and decided to travel five continents on tours that brought him millions, quickly engulfed in a chaotic and eccentric life. From London to Sydney, through Constantinople, Moscow, Washington, Rio or even Cairo, Bernhardt filled the halls and built his legend. “Rather die than not be the greatest artist in the world!” »

The repertoire is always the same: his great hits, such as Phaedrus, Hernani, Theodora, or an anthology of his best scenes that we applaud in text, while a pop-star sings his greatest hits. She became the most famous Frenchwoman after Joan of Arc, we see her traveling across America in a special train, always on the side of her 80 trunks, even renting a marquee with five thousand seats to declare her texts . One night, in Nebraska, a cowboy made a scene to get a spot, despite a full house. “I have traveled three hundred miles for Bernhardt, and I will see him!” He launched a revolver …

Casket and champagne

He understood that to be recognized, you have to provide grain to be ground in the mass-circulation press. Therefore, this great mythomaniac puts his life on stage, opening his door to journalists who comment on his famous stuffed coffin sitting on the throne in his home, where he says he lies down to immerse himself in his duties; or even the personal animal he likes to surround himself with: a wolf, cheetah, chameleon, monkey, lion cubs, boa, koala and even an alligator brought back from his tours, nicknamed Ali Gaga, which he made to drink. champagne… “The day will come to continue feeding the gossip of the newspapers, Sarah Bernhardt will start sweeping chimneys herself or do her own cooking, ironically one day Le Figaro. And his friends will exclaim with admiration: he will not be seen Phaedrusyou have to admire him when he peels his onions…”

But beware, the star can also bring out his claws: he made headlines one day by setting up a commando operation at the house of a former actress friend, Marie Colombier, who unleashed a firebrand to him, The Memoirs of Sarah Barnum. Armed with a dagger and a riding crop, he ransacks his apartment from top to bottom as the assailant slips away without asking for his break. The affair made the front page of all the newspapers, as far as New York, and the book, which was scoured in bookstores, quickly became a bestseller, bringing in a whopping 200,000 francs for the owner. its author.

Mistress of Edward VII

And what about his private life! On the subject, she remains very free, a Brigitte Bardot before her time who did not hesitate to launch: “Love is a glance, a jerk, and a wipe… “It must be said that she entered courtship from in his youth, how much was due in his rent to speed his career. When journalists asked her about the father of her child, she responded: “I can’t remember if it was Victor Hugo, Gambetta, or General Boulanger! “In fact, the list of lovers is impressive: theater owners, journalists, socialites, ministers, the great comedian Mounet-Sully, the Emperor Napoleon III, but also the Prince of Wales’ Edward VII, who regularly came to applaud her …

She ended her life in apotheosis by becoming the patroness of the Théâtre des Nations, place du Châtelet, by signing a 25-year lease with the City of Paris. Free to choose, he directs his actors, decides on costumes and sets, and fills the house Hamlet and most of all L’Aiglonof Edmond Rostand: he was more than fifty years old, the son of Napoleon Ieh must be 20 years old, but who cares! People came from all over France and Europe to applaud the “Divine”, even the Kaiser wanted to see the play…

Until the end, the actress imposed an iron discipline on herself to maintain her figure, with a bicycle and a rowing boat. At the age of sixty-six, he tried the first aesthetic surgery, first in Chicago then in Paris to perform a facelift that gave him a youthful appearance. Just in time to shoot his first films, including The Lady of the Camelliasrenamed Camille, she succeeded in the United States…

READ ALSO“On the nineteenthe century, one was “wife of” or a harlot At the end of his life, he had only 10,000 francs left of the 45 million gold francs he had accumulated during his career – about 185 million euros. He sells his possessions, his jewels, but he refuses to give the leg that has to be amputated to avoid gangrene: an American wants to naturalize him to show him to all America! The actress still found the strength to put on patriotic plays to support the Poilus of 1914 and even played in front of them at the front. When he died in the spring of 1923, a million Parisians would join his coffin at Père-Lachaise.

To read : Sarah Bernhardt, scandalous and indomitable, by Hélène Tierchant, Tallandier editions.

To see: the exhibition “Sarah Bernhardt. And the woman created the star at the Petit Palais, Paris, from April 14, 2023.

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