Jean-Jacques Bernard was born in 1888 in Enghien-les-Bains, France. His father, Tristan Bernard (whose real name was Paul Bernard), made a name for himself in the theater by writing farce. Jean-Jacques Bernard was Jewish by birth and was educated in Paris at the Lycée Carnot and at the Sorbonne. He wrote his first play at the age of twenty-one and finished several other short plays before the beginning of World War I. While he was in the army, he wrote war dispatches for a newspaper.
The effects of war haunted Bernard. His plays of the years immediately following World War I reveal the trauma that war inflicted on the playwright. In the early 1920’s, however, he met the great director, Gaston Baty, and entered the richest period of his dramatic career. Along with another playwright, Denys Amiel, Bernard created a vogue for what has been called the theater of silence or the Theater of the Unspoken. However, war once again changed the course of Bernard’s life.
In 1941, Bernard was arrested by the Germans and was interned in Compiègne, outside Paris. He was released the following year because of poor health. The war, however, was of fatal consequence to other members of Bernard’s family. His father, Tristan Bernard, was arrested by the Germans in 1944 and died, broken in spirit and in health, in 1947. Jean-Jacques Bernard’s oldest son died in the Mauthausen concentration camp, where he was sent by the Nazis because of his activity in the Resistance.
Plagued by chronic illness most of his life, Bernard published little after 1950 (except for his memoir, Mon ami le théâtre). After the war, he worked for a time in film with his brother, and he became active in theater organizations, including La Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques. He died in Paris in 1972.