MADAME SARAH by Cornelia Otis Skinner
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KIRKUS REVIEW those days the theater-going public liked nothing so much as a good cry,"" and during the late 19th and early 20th century no one could turn them on as well as Sarah Bernhardt, doyenne of the protracted death scene. The stringy, tubercular, neglected daughter of a minor courtesan had decided to become the world's greatest actress, and she was--both offstage and on. Her self-promotion was of an Elinor Glyn/tiger skin flamboyance, her lovers were said to be legion (she had the leading-man-as-lover habit), her scale of living was always on the far side of debt and her temperament was out of grand opera. Nevertheless, her dedication to the theater never flagged and was matched only by her patriotism. She was proving both on her last leg as the world's most famous amputee until her last role in 1922, a career that had spanned sixty years. It's a marvelous story and the distinguished actress/author tells it well. Bernhardt, her coterie and her enemies left so much exaggeration and so many outright lies for the record, that weighing the evidence and assaying it for truth could have staggered a less determined biographer. ""The Divine Sarah"" trooped all over the Western world, even to barbaric America, and her private scenes were as dramatic (and sometimes wildly comic) as the ones she staged. It's been a good year for theater biography and this goes next to Le Gallienne's Duse (p. 224). This author and this subject should draw a record audience.

Pub Date: Jan. 16th, 1966
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin