Playing to the Gods: Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, and the Rivalry That Changed Acting Forever, by Peter Rader
The riveting story of the rivalry between the two most renowned actresses of the nineteenth century: legendary Sarah Bernhardt, whose eccentricity on and off the stage made her the original diva, and mystical Eleonora Duse, who broke all the rules to popularize the natural style of acting we celebrate today.
Audiences across Europe and the Americas clamoured to see the divine Sarah Bernhardt swoon - and she gave them their money’s worth. The world’s first superstar, she traveled with a chimpanzee named Darwin and a pet alligator that drank champagne.
Eleonora Duse shied away from the spotlight. Born to a penniless family of itinerant troubadours, her new, empathetic style of acting revolutionized the theater - and earned her the ire of Sarah Bernhardt in what would become the most tumultuous theatrical showdown of the nineteenth century.
Bernhardt and Duse seduced each other’s lovers, stole one another’s favourite playwrights, and took to the world’s stages to outperform their rival in her most iconic roles. A scandalous, enormously entertaining history full of high drama and low blows, Playing to the Gods is the page-turning account of the feud that changed theater forever.
“Delightfully readable and informative, Rader’s book examines a rivalry that defined modern theater while also exploring the origins of modern celebrity culture. A well-researched and thoroughly entertaining dual biography.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Thrilling [and] deeply researched. [Rader] has a sizzling way of delivering 100-year-old scandals.” - The New York Times Book Review