Sarah Bernhardt – World’s First Superstar

Day 168 of Colourisation Project – October 22

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World, she had what Victor Hugo called “startling, enigmatic eyes that changed color, from gray to green to blue, depending on her mood….The effect is mysterious, intense. She looks like no one else in the world.”

In Saint Petersburg, Czar Alexander III called on her after a command performance at the Winter Palace. As she was making a deep curtsy, he stopped her: “No, Madame, it is I who must bow to you.” And he did so…before his entire court.

Sigmund Freud kept a photo of her in his waiting room and Proust immortalised her as the actress Berma in À la recherche du temps perdu.

Mark Twain contended “there were five kinds of actresses: bad, fair, good, great — and then there is Sarah Bernhardt”

Sarah Bernhardt

Photographer: Félix Nadar    –     Sarah Bernhardt 1864  –     Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born this day, October 22, 1844, Sarah Bernhardt is regarded as one of the finest actors of the 19th century, appearing on the stage and in some of the earliest films ever produced. She starred in her first film in 1900, Hamlet playing the part of Hamlet.

She travelled extensively performing throughout Europe and the United States. In 1891, Australian audiences got to enjoy her wonderful talents in sell out performances, when J. C. Williamson brought Bernhardt out for a triumphant tour of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide.

Sarah Bernhardt, the illegitimate daughter of a Dutch courtesan and an unknown father, was made a Chevalier of France’s Legion of Honor in 1914.

In 1905, while performing in La Tosca in Rio de Janeiro, Bernhardt injured her right knee when jumping off the parapet in the final scene. The leg never healed properly and by 1915, gangrene had set in necessitating the amputation of her entire right leg.

Despite this setback and in keeping with the show-business tradition of  ‘the show must go on,’ she continued acting. After a successful tour of America in 1915 she worked continuously up until her death in 1923 at the age of 78.

All the theaters in Paris observed two minutes of silence. Half a million citizens lined the streets of Paris to bid her farewell as her monumental funeral procession wound its way to Père Lachaise cemetery, to join other luminaries buried there, such as Molière, Chopin, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde. Only two words adorn the simple granite slab of the world’s first superstar: Sarah Bernhardt.

Bernhardt was honored posthumously with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1751 Vine Street.


“I have often been asked why I am so fond of playing male parts. As a matter of fact, it is not male parts, but male brains that I prefer.”    –    Sarah Bernhardt

This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, Film, France, Photography, Women, Women in Film & TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sarah Bernhardt – World’s First Superstar

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