French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) is remembered as the greatest tragedienne of her day, but she also occupies an unfortunate place in the car culture of Los Angeles.
Bernhardt was one of the first celebrities to be injured in an automobile accident in the City of Angels.
The mishap occurred on the evening of March 12, 1913, at the intersection of Washington and Crenshaw boulevards, while she was being driven in a taxi to the downtown Orpheum Theatre to appear in "La Tosca."
Roger Harvys, her taxi driver, said years later that she "had taken longer than usual to get ready because she wanted to watch the sunset over the ocean. When she got into the cab, her maid told me to drive rapidly."
Harvys obeyed, winding it up to 18 mph.
18 mph! Horrors! These days, L.A. drivers parallel park faster than that!
Her reinjured leg was never the same.
The day after the accident in Los Angeles, she was forced to cancel an engagement. She resolutely finished the tour a few weeks later and returned to France. But In 1915, gangrene set in, and her leg was amputated.
Author H. Jack Lang wrote that at one point an American promoter cabled her, "We offer you 100,000 dollars to exhibit your leg." She is said to have cabled back: "Which one?"
Her modern namesake, a different Sarah best known for badly portraying an American, also gets $100,000 a time for showing her face and asks the same question - "Which one?"