Sarah Bernhardt, The First Cause Celeb

Diposkan oleh Christine

Gottlieb admits researching Bernhardt's life was a difficult task. Considered the most famous person in the world, Bernhardt was a dramatist who preferred story to fact. Biographers can't look to her for accurate accounts of dates, places or even birth parents. Perhaps this is why Gottlieb’s is the first English-language biography of Bernhardt.

Her childhood reads like a rewrite on Les Miserables. Starting in 1844—or, as Gottlieb questions, “Was it 1843?”—in Paris, Sarah bounced around to various homes as a foster child. Despite a cruel and detached mother, and no father at all, she had an extraordinary will to survive, if only for vindictive triumph. At age 9, Bernhardt adopted her lifetime motto: Quand meme, loosely translated as “Against all odds.”

Sarah Bernhardt was not only the first celebrity, she was also the first cause celebrity. Her strongest legacy, which Gottlieb covers in great detail, was her dedication to causes other than acting. She knew how to parlay her fame into awareness for women’s rights, civil rights, and religious freedom.

Bernhardt ran a hospital during World War I, working in the trenches to take care of wounded soldiers. On her first voyage to America, she helped a young woman in steerage give birth, and saved an elderly woman from plunging headfirst down a dangerous staircase. Although raised Catholic, Bernhardt was born Jewish, and she always stood firm against anti-Semites of the age. Being Jewish to Bernhardt was a matter of race, not belief.


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