Friday, July 12, 2013

Dead French in L.A.: Sarah Bernhardt Performs at Venice Auditorium 1906

Sarah Bernhardt (c. 22/23 October 1844 – 26 March 1923) was a French stage and early film actress, and has been referred to as "the most famous actress the world has ever known." Bernhardt made her fame on the stages of France in the 1870s, and was soon in demand in Europe and the Americas. She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the nickname "The Divine Sarah."
Los Angeles Express, May 19, 1906: 
  Venice Auditorium
Management L.E. BEHYMER
Cars Every Two Minutes
TONIGHT: Farewell Performance
The Last Chance to Say Good Bye
Sarah Bernhardt
Good Seats Remain at all prices in all parts of the house.
Doors Open 7 p.m. • Curtain Prompt at 8 p.m.
Seats now on sale at BIRKEL’S MUSIC STORE, 345 S. Spring St.
Mail orders received and carefully filed.
PRICES, $2, $3, $4 and $5
(including round trip Los Angeles to Venice)
Phones — Home 8277, Sunset Main 8677


Bernhardt was born in Paris as Rosine Bernardt, the daughter of Julie Bernardt (1821, Amsterdam – 1876, Paris) and an unknown father. Julie was one of six children of an itinerant Jewish spectacle merchant, "vision specialist" and petty criminal, Moritz Baruch Bernardt, and Sara Hirsch (later known as Janetta Hartog; c. 1797–1829). Five weeks after his first wife's death in 1829, Julie's father remarried Sara Kinsbergen (1809–1878). He had abandoned his five daughters and one son with their stepmother by 1835. Julie together with her younger sister Rosine, left for Paris, where she made a living as a courtesan and was known by the name "Youle." Julie had five daughters, including a twin who died in infancy in 1843. Sarah Bernhardt changed her first name and added an "h" to her surname. Her birth records were lost in a fire in 1871. In order to prove French citizenship, necessary for Légion d'honneur eligibility, she created false birth records, in which she was the daughter of "Judith van Hard" and "Édouard Bernardt" from Le Havre, in later stories either a law student, accountant, naval cadet or naval officer.

Los Angeles Express, May 19, 1906:


Frenchmen and women cordially greeted Sarah Bernhardt when she passed through Los Angeles yesterday on her way to Venice.

Among those who called upon the tragedienne at the pier after she reached Venice were Mr. and Mrs. Paul DeLongpre, Mr. and Mrs. Jacquard-Auclair, Mr. Lacroix and other well-known residents of this city.

Madame Bernhardt was presented with a big bunch of La France roses by one of the delegation.

La divine Sarah’s first view of Venice was a vista of fences and sand, with a glimpse of the ocean in the distance.

It was while her railroad car stood switched back of the Midway Plaisance that the representatives of the Alliance Francaise broke through the cordon of hired retainers which guarded the actress’ private car and were received by her.

The actress greeted her callers in the parlor. She had risen not long before.

“Madame never rises before 2 o’clock and is never visible before 3,” said her press agent.

Almost her first remark was that she felt very tired as the result of her long trip from the north. Speaking of her journey through the United States, she said that she liked this country immensely and that she had seen much to admire here.

Madame Bernhardt spoke of her automobile ride through the ruined streets of San Francisco. The scene of destruction had affected her greatly.

“C’était navrant!” she said.


In 1905, while performing in Victorien Sardou's La Tosca in Teatro Lírico do Rio de Janeiro, Bernhardt injured her right knee when jumping off the parapet in the final scene. The leg never healed properly. By 1915, gangrene had set in and her entire right leg was amputated; she was required to use a wheelchair for several months. Bernhardt reportedly refused a $10,000 offer by a showman to display her amputated leg as a medical curiosity (while P.T. Barnum is usually cited as the one to have made the offer, he had been dead since 1891). She continued her career often without using a wooden prosthetic limb; she had tried to use one but didn't like it. She carried out a successful tour of America in 1915, and on returning to France she played in her own productions almost continuously until her death. Her later successes included Daniel (1920), La Gloire (1921), and Régine Armand (1922). According to Arthur Croxton, the manager of London's Coliseum, the amputation was not apparent during her performances, which were done with the use of an artificial limb. Her physical condition may have limited her mobility on the stage, but the charm of her voice, which had altered little with age, ensured her triumphs.

Sarah Bernhardt died from uremia following kidney failure in 1923; she is believed to have been 78 years old. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.

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