Thursday, July 21, 2011

Silent Film Star: "The Vamp", Theda Bara.

Theda Bara ( July 29, 1885 – April 13, 1955), was a very popular silent film actress of her era, and one of cinema's earliest sex symbols. Her femme fatale roles earned her the nickname "The Vamp". The term "vamp" soon became a popular slang term for a sexually predatory woman.

Please click here to learn more about Theda Bara.

Theda Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, complete prints of only six still exists: A Fool There Was (1915) and ending with The Lure of Ambition (1919). The phenomenal success of A Fool There Was gave William Fox the money to found Fox Film Corporation, while the ensuing films ensured the studio's success.

At the height of her fame she was one of the most popular movie stars, ranking behind only Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. 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 performed 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.

Most of Bara's early films were shot on the East Coast, at the Fox Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey. 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.

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). 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).

Out of her 40 films, only a few that are completely intact: The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925), and two short comedies for Hal Roach. 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).

She was well known for wearing very revealing costumes in her films, which could still be considered risque by today's standards, more than 90 years later. Such outfits were banned from Hollywood films after the Production Code started in 1930, and then was more strongly enforced in 1934.


  1. Dawn,
    The first photo of Theda doesn't look like her, she looks so well, demur but lovely.

    I don't really know that much about Theda so she's always been somewhat of a mystery to me. So this post was a welcome surprise and a fun read.

  2. What a shame Cleopatra is a lost film. I would love to see that! Does Theda wear her famous sexy costume with only the little snakes as a bra top in Cleopatra? I haven't actually seen any of her movies, just stills. I would like to see "East Lynne", a very famous Broadway play at the time. Really fascinating post, Dawn, and I loved the clips.

  3. Page, Thank you. I thought she sounded fascinating and wonderful.

    Becky, Thank you. I did find some pictures of her wearing the costume with only the little snakes as a top. But... I was not brave enough to post them, the top covers nothing. I just located a movie of hers to view on line. I will post it on the side bar. Enjoy.

    I hope you had a Happy Birthday!!:)


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