Friday, February 26, 2010

Miss Theda Bara

Fabulous, Fabulous Theda Bara. I put Theda in the same category as Alla Nazimova and Pola Negri...the exotic silent film stars who belong in the beautiful silent era. The one difference is that Theda was not really as exotic as Alla and Pola. She was a Jewish girl from Ohio. But the publicity that the studio spun about her and the pictures she appeared in and just her general appearance is what makes her such an amazing woman. She wasn't a "traditional beauty." She wasn't a Norma or a Mary or a Clara, but she had this intense look that made you take notice. Theda is what really helped make the silent era. She was the original vamp, and I love her! (You do too, or you will...)

Theda was born Theodosia Burr Goodman on July 29, 1885 in Cincinnati, Ohio to Bernard and Pauline Goodman. She had a brother Marque and sister Esther (who would become an actress under the name Lori Bara).

She got her stage name of Bara from a relative's name of Barranger. The family all changed their name to Bara in 1917.

She moved to New York City in 1908, making her Broadway debut that same year.

Her first film role was in 1914's The Stain. But she was only an extra, and was barely seen onscreen.

Theda's appearance in 1915's A Fool There Was as a vamp, marked the beginning of her stardom.

The studio decided to go with the idea that Theda really was this exotic, man stealing vampire. So, they changed her background story and even told her to act differently during interviews.

They started the story that her name Theda Bara was an anagram for "Arab Death." That her mother was an Arabian princess and her father was a French artist and that she was born in a shadow of the Sphinx. She also was photographed with skulls and snakes, in dark rooms, to enhance her mysterious vampire persona.

She appeared the first film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, Cleopatra, and Camille.

Its amazing that some of the costumes she wore in films were allowed during the silent era. Bras that were nothing more than coiled rope and sheer fabric didn't leave much to the imagination.

Theda was seen as a man stealing vamp, but she only married once, to Charles Brabin from 1921 until her death. She had retired from the screen, but had thought about making a comeback. Brabin didn't think it was proper for a wife to work, so the comeback never came about.

 Theda died of stomach cancer on April 13, 1955 in Los Angeles. She was interred at Forest Lawn (Unfortunately, you cannot visit her because she is in the Great Mausoleum, believe me, I've tried).

The sad part about Theda is that only four of her 40+ films survive. This is due in large part to the fact that silver nitrate in the film dissolved very easily if not kept properly. Also, her films were stored at a Fox Studios warehouse and were lost after a fire broke out in 1937. Only about 40 seconds of Cleopatra exists, and it is kept at the George Eastman House.

It would be amazing if more of her films turned up somewhere. I mean, its not impossible, right? Bits and pieces are found every now and then. I think it would be amazing to see her as Juliet and as Cleopatra. She lives on though in the photographs that have survived (thank goodness!) And, by having people remembering her as the fabulous, original vamp.

"To understand those days, you must consider that people believed what they saw on the screen. Audiences thought stars were the way that they saw them. Why, women kicked my photographs as they went into the theaters where my pictures were playing, and once on the streets of New York a woman called the police because her child spoke to me." ~ Theda Bara

** 10/23/10 ** Oh man, this 1910 Census record is so hard to read! Someone did a horrible job of scanning it...but this is what I could make out. Bernard Goodman (Theda's father) was born in Poland and her mother Pauline was born in Switzerland.


  1. Hi,
    I just look at the U.S 1900 Census ,Theda's dad birthplace is listed as Poland(Russia) and was a merchant. Theda's mom birthplace was Switzerland Theda also had a younger brother,
    Mark and younger sister,Esther.

    Theresa G

  2. Sebastian Bach of Skid Row has a hidden legal first wife named Nymphaea lavina kymille,she is rarely seen yet often copied and was said to be the gold or silver hidden behind the restoration of the Silent Movie theatre in Hollywood.Lavina was a ghost actress with a fortune rendering her almost reclusive and often allowing other girls the privy of taking her credit.Sebastian was known to of presented three girls as her yet admitted he accepted bribes in his demise.

  3. Baby Vamp: a very popular young woman or an attractive girl. (Note: “Vamp” on its own refers to a flirt.)