Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sarah Bernhardt's Leg

Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was a legendary French actress of the stage and screen, famously portrayed on posters by Alphonse Mucha.

According to Mucha's son Jiří, as Sarah Bernhardt was still clinging to the pinnacle of her fame, she injured her foot on a rusty nail. For many years she tried to battle the decay of the leg, but it was no use. An amputation would necessary because it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide her infirmity.

According to Jiří Mucha's account:
"'Madame,' said Barnum on day to her, 'I will give you $50,000 for your leg if you will allow me to exhibit it in spirit.' Sarah turned the offer down, but subsequently when during her stay in New York the leg became gangrenous and surgical intervention could not be delayed any longer, she sent word to Barnum.

But the great showman was dead by then and his successors were not interested. The leg was amputated and, weighted with a heavy stone, secretly buried in the depths of the Hudson."


Image from Olga's Gallery.
From "Alphonse Maria Mucha: His Life in Art" by Jiří Mucha, p. 241.

8 comments:

Steve said...

Well, Jim, you're right out of the gate on your way to 2,000 posts. Three in one day -- a bizarre story of a leg for sale, a tribute to the amazing William Stout, and a job posting. (Mr. Kooks might have the qualifications for the job, by the way).

GooGoo's suggestion of taking a break obviously fell on deaf ears, much to our edification and entertainment.

jeffkunze said...

Great timeless poster designs!

I looked up Sarah Bernhardt on Wikipedia and it cited some contradictory accounts.

James Gurney said...

Jeff, I saw that on Wikipedia too. The Wiki version said that it was a different showman than Barnum and that he only offered $10,000. Who knows? That's why I credited the quoted account as Jiri's version.

Mary Bullock said...

I believe Jiri's version since Sarah and Mucha had such a symbiotic realtionship. She wanted only Mucha to design her posters, and his posters of her made him famous

allie said...

gross... yet strangely intriguing.

Whimsical Trovers said...

True or not, that story is awesome. I like a time period when displaying the rotting limb of a famous celebrity was considered completely acceptable, or at least titillating enough to be a good serious business propostion. Fingers crossed, we can bring those times back again!

Erik Bongers said...

Agree with WT.
The Times They Have A-Changed. (bad quote, I know)

On one hand I'd love to bring back some of the romantic fever of that era back but on the other hand - that fever evolved into a worldwide lethal flu called 'die for your country' and resulted in two WOs of which we now no longer understand what lead people to believe that there is something nobel in conquering other nations.

We've grown up.

Justin M. said...

HA. I would have sold that sinking ship. A great example for us to be self aware enough to reconsider our investments and know when to sell sell sell.