Theda Bara

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Theda Bara
Thedarose.jpg
Born Theodosia Burr Goodman
(1885-07-29)July 29, 1885
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Died April 7, 1955(1955-04-07) (aged 69)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death Stomach cancer
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale
Nationality American
Education Walnut Hills High School
Alma mater University of Cincinnati
Occupation Actress
Years active 1908–1926
Spouse(s) Charles Brabin (m. 1921; her death 1955)

Theda Bara (/ˈθdə ˈbærə/ THEE-də BARR[1]; born Theodosia Burr Goodman, July 29, 1885 – April 7, 1955) was an American silent film and stage actress.[2]

Bara was one of the most popular actresses of the silent era, and one of cinema's earliest sex symbols. Her femme fatale roles earned her the nickname The Vamp (short for vampire). Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, but most were lost in the 1937 Fox vault fire. After her marriage to Charles Brabin in 1921, she made two more feature films and then retired from acting in 1926, having never appeared in a sound film.

Early life

Bara was born Theodosia Burr Goodman on July 29, 1885 in the Avondale section of Cincinnati, Ohio.[2] Her father was Bernard Goodman (1853–1936),[3] a prosperous Jewish tailor born in Poland. Her mother, Pauline Louise Françoise (née de Coppett; 1861–1957), was born in Switzerland.[4] Bernard and Pauline married in 1882. She had two siblings: Marque (1888–1954)[5] and Esther (1897–1965),[3] who also became a film actress as Lori Bara and married Francis W. Getty of London in 1920. She was named after the daughter of US Vice President Aaron Burr.[6]

Bara attended Walnut Hills High School, graduating in 1903. After attending the University of Cincinnati for two years, she worked mainly in local theater productions, but did explore other projects. After moving to New York City in 1908, she made her Broadway debut in The Devil (1908).

Career

Bara in A Fool There Was (1915)
Bara in The She-Devil (1918)

Most of Bara's early films were shot along the East Coast, where the film industry was centered at that time, primarily at the Fox Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey.[7] Bara lived with her family in New York City during this time. The rise of Hollywood as the center of the American film industry forced her to relocate to Los Angeles to film the epic Cleopatra (1917), which became one of Bara's biggest hits. No known prints of Cleopatra exist today, but numerous photographs of Bara in costume as the Queen of the Nile have survived.[citation needed]

Between 1915 and 1919, Bara was Fox studio's biggest star, but tired of being typecast as a vamp, she allowed her five-year contract with Fox to expire. Her final Fox film was The Lure of Ambition (1919). In 1920, she turned briefly to the stage, appearing on Broadway in The Blue Flame. Bara's fame drew large crowds to the theater, but her acting was savaged by critics.[8] Her career suffered without Fox studio's support, and she did not make another film until The Unchastened Woman (1925) for Chadwick Pictures Corporation. Bara retired after making only one more film, the short comedy Madame Mystery (1926), made for Hal Roach and directed by Stan Laurel, in which she parodied her vamp image.[citation needed]

At the height of her fame, Bara earned $4,000 per week (the equivalent of over $56,000 per week in 2017 adjusted dollars). Bara's best-known roles were as the "vamp", although she attempted to avoid typecasting by playing wholesome heroines in films such as Under Two Flags and Her Double Life. She also appeared as Juliet in a version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Although Bara took her craft seriously, she was too successful as an exotic "wanton woman" to develop a more versatile career.[citation needed]

Image and name

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, and that "Theda" was a childhood nickname. 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."[9][10] In 1917 the Goodman family legally changed its surname to Bara.[3]

Bara is often cited as the first sex symbol[11] of the movies.[12] She was well known for wearing very revealing costumes in her films. Such outfits were banned from Hollywood films after the Production Code started in 1930, and then was more strongly enforced in 1934.[citation needed]

It was popular at that time to promote an actress as mysterious, with an exotic background. The studios promoted Bara with a massive publicity campaign, billing her as the Egyptian-born daughter of a French actress and an Italian sculptor. They claimed she had spent her early years in the Sahara Desert under the shadow of the Sphinx, then moved to France to become a stage actress. (In fact, Bara had never been to Egypt or France.) They called her the Serpent of the Nile and encouraged her to discuss mysticism and the occult in interviews. Some film historians point to this as the birth of two Hollywood phenomena: the studio publicity department and the press agent, which would later evolve into the public relations (PR) person.[citation needed]

Marriage and retirement

Bara with Charles Brabin (1922)

Bara married British-born American film director Charles Brabin in 1921. They honeymooned at The Pines Hotel in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada, and later purchased a 400-hectare (990-acre) property down the coast from Digby at Harbourville overlooking the Bay of Fundy, eventually building a summer home they called Baranook.[13] They had no children. Bara resided in a villa-style home in Cincinnati, which served as the "honors villa" at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Demolition of the home began in July 2011.[14]

In 1936, she appeared on Lux Radio Theatre during a broadcast version of The Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy. She did not appear in the play but instead announced her plans to make a movie comeback,[15][16] which never materialized. She appeared on radio again in 1939 as a guest on Texaco Star Theatre. These may be the only recordings of her voice ever made.

In 1949, producer Buddy DeSylva and Columbia Pictures expressed interest in making a movie of Bara's life, to star Betty Hutton, but the project never materialized.[17]</ref>[18]

Death

Bara's niche in the Great Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Glendale

On April 7, 1955, Bara died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles, California.[2] She was interred as Theda Bara Brabin in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[19]

Legacy

For her contributions to the film industry, Bara received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Her star is located at 6307 Hollywood Boulevard.[20]

She is one of the most famous completely silent stars – she never appeared in a sound film, lost or otherwise. A 1937 fire at Fox's nitrate film storage vaults in New Jersey destroyed most of that studio's silent films. Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, but complete prints of only six still exist: The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925), and two short comedies for Hal Roach.[citation needed]

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). As to vamping, critics stated that her portrayal of calculating, coldhearted women was morally instructive to men. Bara responded by saying, "I will continue doing vampires as long as people sin."[21]

In 1994, she was honored with her image on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.[citation needed] The Fort Lee Film Commission dedicated Main Street and Linwood Avenue in Fort Lee, New Jersey, as "Theda Bara Way" in May 2006 to honor Bara, who made many of her films at the Fox Studio on Linwood and Main.[citation needed]

Filmography

From Romeo and Juliet (1916); standing, L-R: Helen Tracy (Lady Capulet), Alice Gale (Nurse), and Edward Holt (Capulet); seated: Bara as Juliet
Bara with Alan Roscoe in Camille (1917)
Bara in Cleopatra (1917)
Year Film Role Notes
1914 The Stain Gang moll Credited as Theodosia Goodman
1915 Siren of Hell Lost film
1915 A Fool There Was The Vampire
1915 The Kreutzer Sonata Celia Friedlander Lost film
1915 The Clemenceau Case Iza Lost film
1915 The Devil's Daughter La Gioconda Lost film
1915 Lady Audley's Secret Helen Talboys Lost film
1915 The Two Orphans Henriette Lost film
1915 Sin Rosa Lost film
1915 Carmen Carmen Lost film
1915 The Galley Slave Francesca Brabaut Lost film
1915 Destruction Fernade Lost film
1916 The Serpent Vania Lazar Lost film
1916 Gold and the Woman Theresa Decordova Lost film
1916 The Eternal Sapho Laura Bruffins Lost film
1916 East Lynne Lady Isabel Carlisle
1916 Under Two Flags Cigarette Lost film
1916 Her Double Life Mary Doone Lost film
1916 Romeo and Juliet Juliet Lost film
1916 The Vixen Elsie Drummond Lost film
1917 The Darling of Paris Esmeralda Lost film
1917 The Tiger Woman Princess Petrovitch Lost film
1917 Her Greatest Love Hazel Lost film
1917 Heart and Soul Jess Lost film
1917 Camille Marguerite Gauthier[22] Lost film
1917 Cleopatra Cleopatra Approximately 20 seconds exist
1917 The Rose of Blood Lisza Tapenka Lost film
1917 Madame Du Barry Jeanne Vaubernier Lost film
1918 The Forbidden Path Mary Lynde Lost film
1918 The Soul of Buddha Priestess Story, Lost film
1918 Under the Yoke Maria Valverda Lost film
1918 Salomé Salome Lost film
1918 When a Woman Sins Lilian Marchard / Poppea Lost film
1918 The She-Devil Lorette Lost film
1919 The Light Blanchette Dumond, aka Madame Lefresne Lost film
1919 When Men Desire Marie Lohr Lost film
1919 The Siren's Song Marie Bernais Lost film
1919 A Woman There Was Princess Zara Lost film
1919 Kathleen Mavourneen Kathleen Cavanagh Lost film
1919 La Belle Russe Fleurett Sackton/La Belle Russe Lost film
1919 The Lure of Ambition Olga Dolan Lost film
1925 The Unchastened Woman Caroline Knollys
1926 Madame Mystery Madame Mysterieux Short film
1926 45 Minutes from Hollywood Herself Short film

Cultural references

Bara was one of three actresses (Pola Negri and Mae Murray were the others) whose eyes were combined to form the Chicago International Film Festival's logo, a stark, black and white close up of the composite eyes set as repeated frames in a strip of film.[23]

The International Times' logo is a black-and-white image of Theda Bara. The founders' intention had been to use an image of actress Clara Bow, 1920s "It girl", but a picture of Theda Bara was used by accident and, once deployed, not changed.[24]

In June 1996, two biographies of Bara were released: Ron Genini's Theda Bara: A Biography (McFarland) and Eve Golden's Vamp (Emprise). In October 2005 TimeLine Films of Culver City premiered a film biography, Theda Bara: The Woman With the Hungry Eyes.

Bara has also been the subject of several works of fiction, including In Theda Bara's Tent by Diana Altman, The Director's Cut: A Theda Bara Mystery by Christopher DiGrazia and the play Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi by Bob Johnston.

Bara appears as a character in the books "Vampyres of Hollywood" and "Love Bites" by Adrienne Barbeau and in "Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story" by Clive Barker.

In season 2, episode 1 of The Lucy Show Vivian Bagley and Lucy argue over who should play Cleopatra in an upcoming play; Lucy states "I've seen the movie twelve times!" and Vivian quips "She means the one with Theda Bara".

A photo of Bara as Cleopatra is the album artwork for The Lumineers record Cleopatra released in 2016.

In May 2016, a memoir titled Theda Bara, My Mentor, "Under the Wings of Hollywood's First Femme Fatale, by Joan Craig with Beverly Stout, was released. Young Joan, in the companionship of Bara during the 1940s and 1950s, includes tales of Bara's husband, Charles Brabin, friends Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Victor Fleming, and other significant stars of the past.

In season 2, episode 7 of the television series Downton Abbey, butler Carson describes the newly designed bathrooms at a nearby estate as "like something out of a film with Theda Bara".

References

  1. ^ "Theda Bara Speaking 1936". Retrieved 7 January 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Theda Bara, Screen Star, 68. 'Siren' Of Silent Films Was Top Box-office Attraction During The Twenties Denounced In Churches 'Cleopatra' 'The Vampire,' 'Salome' And 'Madame Du Barry' Among Her Hits Screen 'Vampire'". New York Times. April 8, 1955. 
  3. ^ a b c "Theda makes 'em all Baras". The New York Times. November 17, 1917. 
  4. ^ Ronald Genini (1996). Theda Bara: A Biography of the Silent Screen Vamp, with a Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 9780786491612. 
  5. ^ "Marque Bara", Newport Daily News (Newport, Rhode Island), April 26, 1954, p. 2.
  6. ^ "The Dramatic Life and Mysterious Death of Theodosia Burr". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 2017-09-21. 
  7. ^ Fort Lee: Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry. Arcadia Publishing. 2006. ISBN 978-0-7385-4501-1. 
  8. ^ Golden, Eve (1996). Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. Vestal, New York: Emprise. pp. 204–209. ISBN 1-887322-00-0. OCLC 34575681. 
  9. ^ "Cleopatra (1917)". The New York Times. Retrieved May 29, 2011.  Film review.
  10. ^ "Famous Silent Screen Vamp Theda Bara Dies Of Cancer". The Montreal Gazette. Associated Press. April 8, 1955. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Classic Images – Vol. 250 – April 1996 Issue". Classicimages.com. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  12. ^ "Theda Bara Photo Gallery". Bombshells.com. Retrieved 2010-08-02. 
  13. ^ Lorna Innis (February 26, 2012). "Hollywood's link with province long, varied". Chronicle Herald. Halifax. 
  14. ^ "Early film star’s Cincinnati mansion being torn down," The Columbus Post Dispatch, July 7, 2011
  15. ^ "The Thin Man". Lux Radio Theatre. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  16. ^ "The Lux Radio Theatre". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  17. ^ Thomas F. Brady (January 21, 1949). "De Sylva Working on Movie of Bara". The New York Times. p. 25. 
  18. ^ Thomas F. Brady (December 2, 1949). "Betty Hutton Set for 2 Metro Films". The New York Times. p. 36. 
  19. ^ "Rites for Theda Bara Today". New York Times. April 9, 1955. 
  20. ^ "Theda Bara". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved September 21, 2017. 
  21. ^ Panati, Charles (1998). Sexy Origins and Intimate Things: The Rites and Rituals of Straights, Gays, Bi's, Drags, Trans, Virgins, and Others. Penguin Books. p. 295. 
  22. ^ "Theda Bara Makes 'Camille' Reality". Hartford Courant. October 30, 1917. Retrieved 2008-07-20. Heralded as one of the screen triumphs of the day, "Camille", adapted from the Dumas novel, and with Theda Bara the featured player, fulfills the promises of the management of Poli's Theater, where this film really heads the bill this half of the week. Vaudeville must... 
  23. ^ About Our Logo – The Chicago International Film Festival.
  24. ^ Miles, Barry (1998). Many Years From Now. VintageRandom House. p. 232. ISBN 0-7493-8658-4. 

Further reading

  • Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse by Judith Buchanan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Chapter 6. ISBN 0-521-87199-9.
  • Eve Golden (1996). Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. Emprise. ISBN 1-887322-00-0. 
  • Ronald Genini (1996). Theda Bara: A Biography of the Silent Screen Vamp, with a Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-0202-4. 
  • Famous Juliets by Jerome Hart, in Motion Picture Classic, March, 1923.
  • A Million and One Nights by Terry Ramsaye. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1926.
  • Susan Fox (2006). William Fox: A Story of Early Hollywood 1915–1930. Midnight Marquee Press Inc. ISBN 1-887664-62-9. 
  • Christopher DiGrazia (2011). The Director's Cut: A Theda Bara Mystery. 1921 PVG Publishing. ISBN 0-9827709-4-4. 
  • Bob Johnston (2002). Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi. Dramatist's Play Service. ISBN 0-8222-1837-2. 
  • Diana Altman (2010). In Theda Bara's Tent. Tapley Cove Press. ISBN 0-615-34327-9. 

External links

  • Theda Bara on IMDb
  • Theda Bara at AllMovie
  • Theda Bara at the TCM Movie Database
  • Theda Bara at the Internet Broadway Database
  • Excerpt from Golden's biography Vamp
  • Biography at monash.edu.au
  • Theda Bara photo gallery NY Public Library Billy Rose collection
  • "Theda Bara", entry in Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia
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