Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923)
Perhaps one of the most recognizable icons of film and stage history, French born Sarah Bernhardt was the most famous actress of the 19th century. Although she was of Jewish descent, she was baptized as a Catholic and raised in a convent. By the age of thirteen, she had been enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire, where she was trained.
Bernhardt's debut came at the age of eighteen and by the time she was 35, she had established herself as the greatest actress of her day— performing throughout Europe to ever larger audiences. The emotional intensity of her acting and the tone of her voice made her a rare and unique performer whose eccentricities were tolerated by an appreciating public.
Bernhardt's career continued on a largely positive trajectory for most of her life. In 1905 however, she suffered a leg injury that eventually resulted in an amputation. However, Bernhardt's work continued despite her handicap as she transitioned from stage acting to the earliest film productions.
She continued to work until just before her death in 1923.