The Tragic Heroine

Zoë Lund

Lund co-wrote the screenplay for Bad Lieutenant, and left behind much unpublished material. Although she had never met supermodel Gia Carangi, she was working on a biographical screenplay of Carangi’s life at the time of her death, and she appeared posthumously in the documentary The Self-Destruction of Gia.

Lund died in Paris on April 16, 1999, from heart failure due to extended cocaine use.[2]

Princess Diana

Royal biographer Sarah Bradford commented, “The only cure for her (Diana’s) suffering would have been the love of the Prince of Wales, which she so passionately desired, something which would always be denied her. His was the final rejection; the way in which he consistently denigrated her reduced her to despair.” Diana herself commented, “My husband made me feel inadequate in every possible way that each time I came up for air he pushed me down again …”

The princess spoke bitterly of Prince Charles’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and of her battle with bulimia. She blamed the affair for worsening her growing depression which led to her attempting to kill herself.

“I was very, very deathly calm. I felt as though I was a lamb going to the slaughter”
– Diana, on her marriage

Nastassja Kinski 

Born in Berlin as Nastassja Aglaia Nakszyński[2], Kinski is the daughter of the German actor Klaus Kinski[4] from his marriage to actress Ruth Brigitte Tocki[5], thus making her half sister to Pola and Nikolai Kinski. Her parents divorced in 1968. Kinski rarely saw her father after the age of 10. Kinski and her mother struggled financially.[6] They eventually lived in a commune in Munich.

Her career began in Germany as a model. After this the German New Wave actress Lisa Kreuzer placed her in the role of the dumb Mignon in Wim Wenders‘ film The Wrong Move. In 1976, in her mid-teens, she starred in the British Hammer Film Productions‘ horror film To the Devil a Daughter (1976). She has stated that, as a child, she felt exploited by the industry and told a journalist from W Magazine, “If I had had somebody to protect me or if I had felt more secure about myself, I would not have accepted certain things. Nudity things. And inside it was just tearing me apart.”[7]

In 1976, Kinski began a romantic relationship with Roman Polanski, when she was 15 years old and he was 43.

Harriet Smithson

Henrietta Constance (Harriet) Smithson (1800 – 3 March 1854) was an Anglo-Irish actress, the first wife of Hector Berlioz, and the inspiration for his Symphonie Fantastique. Berlioz fell in love with Harriet Smithson, after attending a performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with her in the role of Ophelia, on 11 September 1827. He sent her numerous love letters, all of which went unanswered. When she left Paris they had still not met. He then wrote the symphony as a way to express his unrequited love. It premiered in Paris on 5 December 1830; Harriet was not present. His letters continued until the 1832 performance of Lélio, a sequel to his Symphonie Fantastique, when he discovered a mutual acquaintance and offered her a box of tickets. She eventually heard the work in when she came to the performance, and realized that the symphony was about her (as was strongly suggested by the program notes). The two finally met and were married on 3 October 1833. Their marriage was increasingly bitter, and they separated after several years of unhappiness.

Leonard Bernstein described the symphony as the first musical expedition into psychedelia because of its hallucinatory and dream-like nature, and because history suggests Berlioz composed at least a portion of it under the influence of opium. According to Bernstein, “Berlioz tells it like it is. You take a trip, you wind up screaming at your own funeral.”[5]

The symphony is a piece of program music which tells the story of “an artist gifted with a lively imagination” who has “poisoned himself with opium” in the “depths of despair” because of “hopeless love.”


“When I was 11, the whole world was closed to me. I just felt I was on the outside of the world. Suddenly, everything opened up. Even the girls paid a little attention to me because they thought, “Hmmm, she’s to be dealt with!” And I had this long walk to school, two and a half miles [there], two and a half miles back. It was just sheer pleasure. Every fellow honked his horn, you know, workers driving to work, waving, you know, and I’d wave back. The world became friendly. All the newspaper boys when they delivered the paper would come around to where I lived, and I used to hang from the limb of a tree, and I had sort of a sweatshirt on. I didn’t realise the value of a sweatshirt in those days, and then I was sort of beginning to catch on, but I didn’t quite get it, because I couldn’t really afford sweaters. But here they come with their bicycles, you know, and I’d get these free papers and the family liked that, and they’d all pull their bicycles up around the tree and then I’d be hanging, looking kind of like a monkey, I guess. I was a little shy to come down. I did get down to the curb, kinda kicking the curb and kicking the leaves and talking, but mostly listening. And sometimes the family used to worry because I used to laugh so loud and so gay; I guess they felt it was hysterical. It was just this sudden freedom because I would ask the boys, “Can I ride your bike now?” and they’d say, “Sure.” Then I’d go zooming, laughing in the wind, riding down the block, laughing, and they’d all stand around and wait till I came back. But I loved the wind. It caressed me. But it was kind of a double-edged thing. I did find, too, when the world opened up that people took a lot for granted, like not only could they be friendly, but they could suddenly get overly friendly and expect an awful lot for very little. When I was older, I used to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and try to fit my foot in the prints in the cement there. And I’d say, “Oh, oh, my foot’s too big! I guess that’s out.” I did have a funny feeling later when I finally put my foot down into that wet cement. I sure knew what it really meant to me. Anything’s possible, almost.”

“I’ve always felt toward the slightest scene, even if all I had to do in a scene was just to come in and say, “Hi,” that the people ought to get their money’s worth and that this is an obligation of mine, to give them the best you can get from me. I do have feelings some days when there are scenes with a lot of responsibility toward the meaning, and I’ll wish, “Gee, if only I had been a cleaning woman.” On the way to the studio I would see somebody cleaning and I’d say, “That’s what I’d like to be. That’s my ambition in life.” But I think that all actors go through this. We not only want to be good, we have to be. You know, when they talk about nervousness, my teacher, Lee Strasberg, when I said to him, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I’m a little nervous,” he said, “When you’re not, give up, because nervousness indicates sensitivity.” Also, a struggle with shyness is in every actor more than anyone can imagine. There is a censor inside us that says to what degree do we let go, like a child playing. I guess people think we just go out there, and you know, that’s all we do. Just do it. But it’s a real struggle. I’m one of the world’s most self-conscious people. I really have to struggle.”

“An actor is not a machine, no matter how much they want to say you are. Creativity has got to start with humanity and when you’re a human being, you feel, you suffer. You’re gay, you’re sick, you’re nervous or whatever. Like any creative human being, I would like a bit more control so that it would be a little easier for me when the director says, “One tear, right now,” that one tear would pop out. But once there came two tears because I thought, “How dare he?” Goethe said, “Talent is developed in privacy,” you know? And it’s really true. There is a need for aloneness, which I don’t think most people realise for an actor. It’s almost having certain kinds of secrets for yourself that you’ll let the whole world in on only for a moment, when you’re acting. But everybody is always tugging at you. They’d all like sort of a chunk of you.”

“I think that when you are famous every weakness is exaggerated. This industry should behave like a mother whose child has just run out in front of a car. But instead of clasping the child to them, they start punishing the child. Like you don’t dare get a cold. How dare you get a cold! I mean, the executives can get colds and stay home forever and phone it in, but how dare you, the actor, get a cold or a virus. You know, no one feels worse than the one who’s sick. I sometimes wish, gee, I wish they had to act a comedy with a temperature and a virus infection. I am not an actress who appears at a studio just for the purpose of discipline. This doesn’t have anything at all to do with art. I myself would like to become more disciplined within my work. But I’m there to give a performance and not to be disciplined by a studio! After all, I’m not in a military school. This is supposed to be an art form, not just a manufacturing establishment. The sensitivity that helps me to act, you see, also makes me react. An actor is supposed to be a sensitive instrument. Isaac Stern takes good care of his violin. What if everybody jumped on his violin?”

“Fame has a special burden, which I might as well state here and now. I don’t mind being burdened with being glamorous and sexual. But what goes with it can be a burden. I feel that beauty and femininity are ageless and can’t be contrived, and glamour, although the manufacturers won’t like this, cannot be manufactured. Not real glamour; it’s based on femininity. I think that sexuality is only attractive when it’s natural and spontaneous. This is where a lot of them miss the boat. And then something I’d just like to spout off on. We are all born sexual creatures, thank God, but it’s a pity so many people despise and crush this natural gift. Art, real art, comes from it, everything. I never quite understood it, this sex symbol. I always thought symbols were those things you clash together! That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something I’d rather have it sex than some other things they’ve got symbols of! These girls who try to be me, I guess the studios put them up to it, or they get the ideas themselves. But gee, they haven’t got it. You can make a lot of gags about it like they haven’t got the foreground or else they haven’t the background. But I mean the middle, where you live.”

“I was never used to being happy, so that wasn’t something I ever took for granted. You see, I was brought up differently from the average American child because the average child is brought up expecting to be happy. That’s it: successful, happy, and on time. Yet because of fame I was able to meet and marry two of the nicest men I’d ever met up to that time. I don’t think people will turn against me, at least not by themselves. I like people. The “public” scares me, but people I trust. Maybe they can be impressed by the press or when a studio starts sending out all kinds of stories. But I think when people go to see a movie, they judge for themselves. We human beings are strange creatures and still reserve the right to think for ourselves.”

“Once I was supposed to be finished, that was the end of me. When Mr Miller was on trial for contempt of congress, a certain corporation executive said either he named names and I got him to name names, or I was finished. I said, “I’m proud of my husband’s position and I stand behind him all the way,” and the court did too. “Finished,” they said. “You’ll never be heard of.” It might be a kind of relief to be finished. You have to start all over again. But I believe you’re always as good as your potential. I now live in my work and in a few relationships with the few people I can really count on. Fame will go by, and, so long, I’ve had you fame. If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle. So at least it’s something I experienced, but that’s not where I live.”

Margarita Terekhova in the Mirror

Marie-Elena from Vicky Christina Barcelona


“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, an initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.”

“We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.”

“What I heard was but the melody of children at play, nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic—one could hear now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid laughter, or the crack of a bat, or the clatter of a toy wagon, but it was all really too far for the eye to distinguish any movement in the lightly etched streets. I stood listening to that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for background, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita’s absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord.”

“I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je t’aimais, je t’aimais! And there were times when I knew how you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, brave Dolly Schiller.”

“I looked and looked at her, and I knew, as clearly as I know that I will die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth. She was only the dead-leaf echo of the nymphet from long ago – but I loved her, this Lolita, pale and polluted and big with another man’s child. She could fade and wither – I didn’t care. I would still go mad with tenderness at the mere sight of her face.”

Maggie Cheung- In the Mood for Love

Edie Sedgewick

Despite her family’s wealth and high social status, Edie’s early life was troubled. All the Sedgwick children had deeply conflicted relationships with their father Fuzzy—they adored him, but by most accounts he was narcissistic, emotionally remote, controlling and frequently abusive. Edie had a very difficult relationship with her father, who openly carried on affairs with other women. On one occasion she walked in on him while he was having sex with one of his paramours. She flew into a rage, but Fuzzy claimed that Edie imagined the whole event. As a result of her emotional problems, Edie developed anorexia by her early teens and settled into a lifelong pattern of binging and purging.

The Sedgwick children were raised on their family’s California ranches. Initially schooled at home and cared for by nannies, their lives were rigidly controlled by their parents; they were largely isolated from the outside world and it was instilled into them that they were superior to most of their peers. At age 13, (the year her grandfather Babbo died) Edie began boarding at the Branson School near San Francisco, but, according to Saucie, she was soon taken out of the school because of her anorexia. In 1958, she was enrolled at St. Timothy’s School in Maryland. She was eventually taken out of the school due to her anorexia.

In the fall of 1962, at Fuzzy’s insistence, Sedgwick was admitted to the Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut. According to fellow patient Virginia Davis, the regime was very lax there, and Edie and her friends often left the hospital after lunch and went into town on shopping sprees, charging up thousands of dollars worth of goods on credit at local stores. Edie easily manipulated the situation at Silver Hill, but her weight kept dropping to just ninety pounds. Consequently, her family had her transferred to a “closed” facility at Bloomingdale, the Westchester County, New York division of the New York Hospital. There, thanks to the strict treatment program, Edie’s condition improved markedly. Around the time she left the hospital she had a brief relationship with a Harvard student, became pregnant and procured an abortion with her mother’s help.

Sedgwick was deeply affected by the loss of her brothers, who died within 18 months of each other. Francis (nicknamed “Minty”) also had a troubled life; he became an alcoholic in his early teens, triggering a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse, and in late 1963 he suffered a serious breakdown and was admitted to Bellevue Hospital before being transferred to Silver Hill. According to her friend Ed Hennessy, Sedgwick told him that Minty had finally admitted to his father that he was homosexual, and that this had enraged Fuzzy, who said that he would never speak to him again. Shortly after this, in May 1963, on the day before his twenty-sixth birthday, Minty hanged himself with a tie from the door of his bathroom at Silver Hill.

By the time of Minty’s death, Sedgwick had moved to New York City. She lived at first with her senile grandmother, who had an apartment on 75th Street, but in late fall 1964 she took an apartment in the East Sixties between Fifth and Madison, which her mother decorated lavishly. Edie embarked on a constant round of partying and spent her trust fund at an astonishing rate; according to friend Tom Goodwin she went through eighty thousand dollars in just six months and bought huge amounts of clothing, jewellery and cosmetics. After her ‘chauffeur’ crashed the gray Mercedes she had been given by her father, she began using limousine services constantly, moving from company to company each time she had exhausted her credit. She also began experimenting with drugs and was reportedly introduced to LSD by friends from Cambridge who knew Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert.

Sedgwick’s eldest brother Bobby was also experiencing serious mental health problems, and in late 1963, a few months before Minty’s breakdown, Bobby too suffered a breakdown and his sister Saucie had to have him admitted to Bellevue. He became increasingly self-destructive, crashing a sports car and habitually riding his powerful Harley Davidson motorcycle without a helmet. Bobby was asked not to attend the Sedgwick Christmas gathering in California (according to Saucie, his father told Bobby he was a “bad influence” on the other children) and on December 31, 1964 Bobby suffered critical head injuries when his bike slammed into the side of a bus on Eighth Avenue in New York City; he never regained consciousness and died in hospital twelve days later, aged 31. Edie told her friend Gillian Walker that she knew that Bobby was going to die and that he had killed himself. In Walker’s view, Sedgwick dealt with these tragedies by suppressing her feelings and throwing herself back into the New York party world.

Throughout 1965, Sedgwick and Warhol continued making films together – Outer and Inner SpacePrisonLupe and Chelsea Girls. However, by late 1965, Sedgwick and Warhol’s relationship had deteriorated and Sedgwick requested that Warhol no longer show any of her films. She asked that the footage she filmed for Chelsea Girls be removed and it was replaced with footage of Nico, with colored lights projected on her face and The Velvet Underground music playing in the background. The edited footage of Sedgwick in Chelsea Girls would eventually become the film Afternoon.

Following her estrangement from Warhol’s inner circle, Sedgwick began living at the Chelsea Hotel, where she became close to Bob Dylan. Dylan’s friends eventually convinced Sedgwick to sign up with Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager. Sedgwick and Dylan’s relationship ended when Sedgwick learned Dylan had married Sara Lownds in a secret ceremony – something she apparently learned from Warhol during an argument at the Gingerman Restaurant in February 1966.

According to Paul Morrissey, Sedgwick had said: “‘They’re [Dylan’s people] going to make a film and I’m supposed to star in it with Bobby [Dylan].’ Suddenly it was Bobby this and Bobby that, and they realized that she had a crush on him. They thought he’d been leading her on, because just that day Andy had heard in his lawyer’s office that Dylan had been secretly married for a few months – he married Sara Lownds in November 1965… Andy couldn’t resist asking, ‘Did you know, Edie, that Bob Dylan has gotten married?’ She was trembling. They realized that she really thought of herself as entering a relationship with Dylan, that maybe he hadn’t been truthful.”[15]

Several weeks before the December 29, 2006, one-week release of the controversial film Factory Girl (described by a review in The Village Voice as Edie for Dummies[16]), the Weinstein Company and the film’s producers interviewed Sedgwick’s older brother, Jonathan, who asserted that she “had an abortion of the child she was (supposedly) carrying by Dylan”.[17] Jonathan Sedgwick, a retired airplane designer, was flown in from Idaho to New York City by the distributor to meet Sienna Miller, who was playing his late sister, as well as to give an eight-hour video interview with details about the purported liaison between Edie and Dylan, which the distributor promptly released to the news media. Jonathan claims an abortion took place soon after “Edie was badly hurt in a motorcycle crash and sent to an emergency unit. As a result of the accident, doctors consigned her to a mental hospital where she was treated for drug addiction.” No hospital records or Sedgwick family records exist to support this story. Nonetheless, Edie’s brother also claimed “Staff found she was pregnant but, fearing the baby had been damaged by her drug use and anorexia, forced her to have the abortion.” However, according to Edie Sedgwick’s personal medical records and oral life-history tape recorded less than a year before her death for her final film, Ciao! Manhattan, there is credible evidence that the only abortion she underwent in her lifetime was at age 20 in 1963.

Throughout most of 1966, Sedgwick was involved in an intensely private yet tumultuous relationship with Dylan’s closest friend, Bob Neuwirth. During this period, she became increasingly dependent on barbiturates. Although she abused many drugs, there is no evidence that Sedgwick ever became a heroin addict. In early 1967, unable to cope with Sedgwick’s drug abuse and erratic behavior, Neuwirth broke off their relationship.

In April 1967, Sedgwick began shooting Ciao! Manhattan, an underground movie. After initial footage was shot in New York, co-directors John Palmer and David Weisman continued working on the film over the course of the next five years. Sedgwick’s rapidly deteriorating health saw her return to her family in California, spending time in several different psychiatric institutions. In August 1969, she was hospitalized in the psychiatric ward of Cottage Hospital after being arrested for drug offenses by the local police. While in the hospital, Sedgwick met another patient, Michael Brett Post, whom she would later marry. Sedgwick was in the hospital again in the summer of 1970, but was let out under the supervision of a psychiatrist, two nurses, and the live-in care of filmmaker John Palmer and his wife Janet. Staunchly determined to finish Ciao! Manhattan and have her story told, Sedgwick recorded audio-tapes reflecting upon her life story, which enabled Weisman and Palmer to incorporate her accounts into the film’s dramatic arc.

Sedgwick married Michael Post on July 24, 1971, and under his influence she reportedly stopped abusing alcohol and other drugs for a short time. Her sobriety lasted until October, when pain medication was given to her to treat a physical illness. She remained under the care of her physician Dr. Wells, who prescribed her barbiturates, but she would demand more pills or claim that she had lost them in order to get more, and often combined the medications with alcohol. Post was later put in charge of administering her medication; by his account, she took at least two 300 mg Quaalude tablets and two capsules of three-grain Tuinal every night, in addition to alcohol and whatever other drugs she may have been secretly consuming.

On the night of November 15, 1971, Sedgwick went to a fashion show at the Santa Barbara Museum, a segment of which was filmed for the television show An American Family.[21] After the fashion show, she attended a party where (according to the accounts of her husband and brother-in-law) a drunken guest insulted her by calling her a heroin addict and repeatedly asserting that her marriage would fail. Sedgwick phoned Post, who arrived at the party and, seeing her distress at the accusations, took her back to their apartment around one in the morning. On the way home, Sedgwick expressed thoughts of uncertainty about their marriage.[22] Before they both fell asleep, Post gave Sedgwick the medication that had been prescribed for her. According to Post, Sedgwick started to fall asleep very quickly, and her breathing was, “bad – it sounded like there was a big hole in her lungs”, but he attributed that to her heavy smoking habit and went to sleep.[23]

When Post awoke the following morning at 7.30 am, Edie Sedgwick was dead. The coroner ruled Sedgwick’s death as “undetermined/accident/suicide”. The death certificate was signed at 9:20 am and states the immediate cause was “probable acute barbiturate intoxication” due to ethanol intoxication. Sedgwick’s alcohol level was registered at 0.17% and her barbiturate level was 0.48 mg%. She was 28.[24]

Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” from his 1966 album Blonde on Blonde are purportedly about Sedgwick.[27] His 1965 No. 2 single “Like a Rolling Stone” was also reportedly inspired by her.[28]

Sarah Bernhardt

Bernhardt was born in Paris as Rosine Bernardt,[4] the illegitimate daughter of Courtesan Julie Bernardt (1821, Amsterdam – 1876, Paris) and an unknown father.

Her mother, Julie was born one of six children of a widely traveling Jewish spectacle merchant, “vision specialist” and petty criminal, Moritz Baruch Bernardt, and Sara Hirsch (later known as Janetta Hartog; c. 1797–1829).[5] Julie’s father remarried Sara Kinsbergen (1809–1878) two weeks after his first wife’s death, and abandoned his family in 1835.[5] Julie left for Paris, where she made a living as a courtesan and was known by the name “Youle”. Sara would add the letter “H” to both her first and last names.

When Sarah was young her mother sent her to Grandchamp, an Augustine convent school near Versailles[7] In 1860 she began attending The Conservatoire de Musique at Déclemation in Paris and eventually became a student at the Comédie Française where she would have her acting debut ( August 11, 1862) as the title role of Rancin’s Iphigéniie to lackluster reviews.[8] Her time there was short lived, she was asked to resign after slapping another actress across the face for shoving her younger sister during a birthday celebration for Molière.[9



She soon ended up in Belgium, where she became the mistress of Henri, Prince de Ligne, and gave birth to their son, Maurice, in 1864. After Maurice’s birth, the Prince proposed marriage, but his family forbade it and persuaded Bernhardt to refuse and end their relationship.[10] She then left to become a courtesan by 1865. During this time she acquired her famous coffin, in which she often slept in lieu of a bed – claiming that doing so helped her understand her many tragic roles.

Sarah secured a contract at the Théâtre de L’Odéon where she began performing in 1866. Her most famous performance there was that of her travesty performance as the Florentine minstrel in François Coppé’s Le Passant (January 1869)[11] With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war performances were stopped and Sarah converted the theatre into a makeshift hospital where she took care of the soldiers wounded on the battlefield.[12] She made her fame on the stages of Europe in the 1870s and was soon in demand all over Europe and in New York.[13]

Sarah’s birth records were lost in a fire in 1871, but in order to prove French citizenship, necessary for Légion d’honneur eligibility, she created false birth records, on which she was the daughter of “Judith van Hard” and “Edouard Bernardt” from Le Havre, in later stories either a law student, accountant, naval cadet or naval officer.[5][6]Much of the uncertainty about Bernhardt’s life arises because of her tendency to exaggerate and distort. Alexandre Dumas, fils described her as a notorious liar.[3]


In between tours Sarah took over the lease of the Théâtre de la Renaissance, which she ran as producer-director-star from 1893 to 1899.[14] That same year Sarah played her most controversial role, a female Hamlet, in a prose version of the play she commissioned herself. The play was greeted with rave reviews despite its running time of four hours.[15] She developed a reputation as a serious dramatic actress, earning the title “The Divine Sarah”; arguably, she was the most famous actress of the 19th century.

Sarah’s close friends included several artists, most notably Gustave Doré and Georges Clairin, and actors Mounet-Sully and Lou Tellegen, as well as the famous French author Victor HugoAlphonse Mucha based several of his iconic Art Nouveau works on her. Her friendship with Louise Abbéma (1853–1927), a French impressionist painter, some nine years her junior, was so close and passionate that the two women were rumored to be lovers. In 1990, a painting by Abbéma, depicting the two on a boat ride on the lake in the bois de Boulogne, was donated to the Comédie-Française. The accompanying letter stated that the painting was “Peint par Louise Abbéma, le jour anniversaire de leur liaison amoureuse”[19] (loosely translated: “Painted by Louise Abbéma on the anniversary of their love affair.”)

Bernhardt also expressed strong interest in inventor Nikola Tesla, only to be dismissed as a distraction to his work. She later married Greek-born actor Aristides Damala (known in France by the stage name Jacques Damala) in London in 1882, but the marriage, which legally endured until Damala’s death in 1889 at age 34, quickly collapsed, largely due to Damala’s dependence on morphine. During the later years of this marriage, Bernhardt was said to have been involved in an affair with the future King Edward VII[20] while he was still the Prince of Wales.

From the Cambridge Companion to the Actress

“In the second half of the nineteenth century, new spectacles of feminine suffering began to appear on the fashionable French and English stages as audiences were mesmerised by the figure of the fallen woman and the actresses who played her. The French actress who took the role of courtesan, or the English actress who played a disgraced wife or prostitute, risked the stigma of their own profession and that of the fallen woman. ‘For a large section of society,’ writes Tracy C. Davis on the employment of actresses in the nineteenth century, ‘the similarities between the actress’s life and the prostitute’s or demi-mondaine’s were unforgettable and overruled all other evidence about respectability. She was “no better than she should be”.”

“Juxtaposed with the risk to the actress of being seen as ‘no better than she should be’ was the ‘redemption’ of star actress through her celebrity status. It is a condition of celebrity-making that a star’s aura, her charisma, can overcome these kinds of tensions and conflicts. This goes some way to explaining why, for example, Ellen Terry was fête ‘an icon of Victorian femininity’ despite being a mother of two illegitimate children. The two actresses focused on in this chapter, Sarah Bernhardt and Mrs Patrick Campbell, both had illegitimate children, numerous affairs and failed marriages, but both achieved international stardom, and in Bernhardt’s case especially, cult status.”

Maria Schneider

“I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that. Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take.[6]

“Last Tango … first major role. In fact, it’s a total coincidence. I was friends with Dominique Sanda. She would make the film with Jean-Louis Trintignant, but she was pregnant. She had a large picture with her of both of us. Bertolucci saw it. He made me do a casting…I regretted my choice since the beginning of my career would have been sweeter, quieter. For Tango, I was not prepared. People have identified with a character that was not me. Butter, about saucy old pigs…Even Marlon with his charisma and class, felt a bit violated, exploited a little in this film. He rejected it for years. And me, I felt it doubly.[7][8]

“I was rock ‘n’ roll. About drugs, we did not know at the time, it was so dangerous. There was an ideal, to change society, and especially a thirst for novelty…I have lost seven years of my life and I regret it bitterly…I started using drugs when I became famous. I did not like the celebrity, and especially the image full of innuendo, naughty, that people had of me after Last Tango. In addition, I had no family behind me, who protect you … I suffered abuse. People who come up to tell you unpleasant things on planes. I was tracked down, and I felt hounded.[16][17]

By the 1980s, however, her life had improved:

“I was very lucky – I lost many friends to drugs – but I met someone in 1980 who helped me stop. I call this person my angel and we’ve been together ever since. I don’t say if it’s a man or a woman. That’s my secret garden. I like to keep it a mystery.”[6]

“Maria accused me of having robbed her of her youth,” he said, “and only today am I wondering whether there wasn’t some truth to that.” Bertolucci agreed that Schneider had been “too young to withstand the impact of the film’s unpredictable and brutal success,”

-Bertolucci on Schneider’s death


Thelma and Louise

Theda Bara

Theodosia Burr Goodman, was an American silent film actress – one of the most popular of her era, and one of cinema’s earliest sex symbols. Her femme fatale roles earned her the nickname “The Vamp” (short for vampire).

The origin of Bara’s stage name is disputed; The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats says it came from director Frank Powell, who learned Theda had a relative named Barranger. In promoting the 1917 film “Cleopatra”, Fox Studio publicists noted that the name was an anagram of “Arab death”, and her press agents claimed inaccurately that she was “the daughter of an Arab sheik and a French woman, born in the Sahara.”[4][5]

Theda Bara has a higher percentage of lost films than any other actor with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A 1937 fire at Fox’s nitrate film storage vaults in New Jersey destroyed most of that studio’s silent films. Out of her 40 films, only a few remain completely intact: The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925), and 2 short comedies for Hal Roach.

In addition to these, a few of her films remain in fragments including Cleopatra (just a few seconds of footage), a clip thought to be from The Soul of Buddha, and a few other unidentified clips featured in a French documentary, Theda Bara et William Fox (2001). Most of the clips can be seen in the documentary The Woman with the Hungry Eyes (2006).

Bara is often cited as the first sex symbol[10] of the movies.[11] She was well known for wearing very revealing costumes in her films, which could still be considered risqué by today’s standards, more than 90 years later.

“To understand those days, you must consider that people believed what they saw on the screen….Audiences thought the stars were the way they saw them. Why, women kicked my photographs as they went into the theaters where my pictures were playing, and once on the streets of New York a woman called the police because her child spoke to me.”

Nicole Kidman in the Rabbit Hole


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