Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Of Hams and Gams

So I've been reading a book (shades of Kitty Packard in Dinner at Eight - no Marie Dressler double takes, please; I can be very literary when the fancy strikes me).

It's a biography of Sarah Bernhardt, by Robert Gottlieb, a nice brisk read that serves as a good once-over-lightly of her remarkable life and career.  The Divine Sarah, by the prodigiously amusing Gold and Fizdale, remains the gold standard of Sarah-stories, but Gottlieb does discuss rather more evenhandedly than some the gamut of Sarah's co-stars (who were numerous) and paramours (even more so).

Here, for example, we have Jean Mounet-Sully, an actor who was a leading player and frequent co-star at the Comédie-Française when Sarah was a rising star and whose career approached hers in length (he was a leading man for 40 years, from 1870 to 1910) if not in worldwide renown (but when it comes to Sarah, whose career even comes close?).

She always did have a thing for men in tights.  I think I see what she saw in  him, which is more than I can say for some of her boyfriends (I mean really - Napoleon III?  Weedy.  Edward VII?  More than a handful.  And let's not even start on Sarah's disatrous husband, the lamentable Greek sensation-to-nobody-but-she Aristide Damala...).

Despite their long friendship (Sarah was a genius at preserving camaraderie when romance was a distant memory), one gets the sense that there may have been a little professional rivalry between the two.  Mounet-Sully was a notable Hamlet - how pleased could he have been when Sarah took to the stage in his trademark black doublet and made an even greater triumph as the doubtful Dane?


  1. I am reminded of a favorite quote, by critic Ivor Brown, about John Gielgud, wearing tights in the role of Romeo: "He has the most meaningless legs imaginable."