As I browsed old photo files used over the last few years to research some of my virtual tours, I found an illustration that made me smile.
There, on a comic book cover, stood two European giants: Lucky Luke and Sarah Bernhardt.
Sarah was a Parisian, one of the greatest “tragédiennes” who ever lived, and the first true international star.
She understood before anyone else the importance of publicity and merchandising and was often featured on cigarette packs, cookie boxes, postcards, the first French woman to be represented on a stamp. Let’s not forget those iconic Art Nouveau posters by Alphonse Mucha.
She was loved. She was criticized, but they all talked about her. She took on the most challenging roles (male or female) in the classic repertoire and performed in the world’s most famous venues – some of the most isolated too. She ran a theatre in Paris. She sculpted; painted and designed her own costumes.
She was a true diva, an original who overcame challenging odds to turn into the woman referred to as “la Divine.”
This inspired her personal motto, “Quand même” (anyway.)
Lucky Luke is a comic book hero. A nonchalant and warm-hearted cowboy riding a clever horse named Jolly Jumper, he travels around the Wild West, feared by all outlaws.
In post-WWII years, he was the creation of Belgian cartoonist Morris, who later partnered with the great René Gosciny (father of two other European icons, Asterix and Obelix.)
Lucky Luke’s adventures have been translated in many languages. He needs no introduction. He remains everyone’s favorite cowboy, the man who “shoots faster than his own shadow.”
On the comic book cover, Lucky Luke looks adoringly at Sarah Bernardt performing in the Wild West for local audiences (who likely were not familiar with her language or the text of “Phèdre,” Racine’s classic and one of her favorite parts.)
The humor could be missed: A fictional character meets the biggest star of her time… thousands of miles away from home. In the 1880’s, Sarah B. toured the world indeed. In the USA alone, she visited over 50 cities in the most remote parts of the continent and delivered more than 250 performances for enraptured audiences.
Sarah Bernhardt is long gone but the fascination remains.
I’ll think of her once again when I sit down in a few days at a favorite local café in Paris, “le Sarah Bernhardt.” Above my head, I’ll see the theatre she once ran. It is scheduled to finally reopen in 2023 after a long restoration.
The Nazi decided during the Occupation the theatre had to be renamed. Sarah was Jewish. We know it today as “le Théâtre de la Ville.”
Should anyone be willing to start a petition so the new and improved 19th century landmark can be named “le Théâtre Sarah Bernhardt” once again, count me in.
It seems only fair “la Divine” should prevail. Quand même.
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