Monday, October 15, 2012

Miss Valeska Suratt

So, I figured since it is October and I am watching a documentary about Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula), why not do a write up about a vamp? We have covered Theda, Pola, Alla, Nita...why not the least remembered of the group, Valeska Suratt.

Valeska Suratt was born on June 28, 1882 in Owensville, Indiana to Ralph and Anna Suratt. No exotic birthplace here, sorry.

I am pretty sure I found the right census record for her family because the birth dates of her parents match up. However, Valeska isn't listed...but I am assuming she had already moved out of the home. Anyway, she had an older brother named John and a younger sister named Leah. It gets even more confusing because I believe her parents divorced around 1900.

When she was 13 years old, she began appearing on the stage in musicals and to rave reviews. Her most famous stage roles were in 1907's "Hip! Hip! Hooray!" and in 1911's "The Red Rose." Her role in the latter was made infamous when she posed for a painting that depicted the left side of her chest unclothed with just a roll placed over her nipple. Scandalous!

In 1915, Valeska made her screen debut in the film The Soul of Broadway. She appeared in around 11 films within two years. Unfortunately, 1917 was the year that she made her last film appearance.

So, why did she leave the movies after only two years? Well, one reason is that she was a dark, evil, mysterious vamp character and as the 1920s came around, the vamp was out and the flapper was in. She didn't really fit into that category, so she retired.

As to why she didn't come back to movies at all...there is perhaps an answer to that. In 1928, Valeska and her friend/mentor, author Mirza Ahmad Sohrab sued Cecil B. DeMille for allegedly stealing the screenplay The King of Kings from them. The case was eventually settled in 1930. The outcome is unknown, but it seems as if Valeska became unofficially blacklisted in Hollywood (You gotta have guts to go up against DeMille for sure!).

Valeska Suratt passed away on July 2, 1962 in Washington D.C.

She was buried at the Highland Lawn Cemetery in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Valeska was married twice. Her first husband was a vaudeville comedian named William J. Flannery, who she married in 1904 and then divorced in 1911. Her second marriagewas that same year to another actor named Fletcher Norton, who she stayed married to until his death in 1941.  Also, in between these two marriages she apparently had a boyfriend/lover who lived with her named Richard Mackey. Go Valeska!

What attracted people the most to Valeska when she was on stage was not her acting and singing abilities, but rather her costumes. She once wore a "Cinderella" cloak that was worth over $10,000! And in one of her films, she wore more than 150 dresses! No wonder she eventually earned the nickname "The Empress of Fashions."

Apparently she got her first big break in films after a film producer noticed her walking down a hotel staircase wearing a daring backless dress. Oooh la la!

I have stated this sad fact before in an earlier post, but I shall say it again...all of Valeska's films are lost. The only thing that remains from her film career are a few film stills here and there. That truly is a tragic story.

In 1914, Valeska became the proud owner of a new car, an Oakland Sedan. And boy did she pimp her ride! She had her initials written in gold on the doors and then had a red rose painted on the other panels. Awesome.

I actually read an article from 1914 where Valeska discusses her beauty secrets. One of them was drinking a mixture of water and sugar...and something else (can't remember), in order to increase your bust size. Wow.

"Miss Suratt has voluptuous beauty, a pleasing voice, as demonstrated in more than a half dozen songs, and acting ability." ~~ The Milwaukee Journal - January 15, 1912

"My Dear Friends, It is somewhat embarrassing to speak of myself, for my friends persist in calling me beautiful. It is delicious, indeed, to be called beautiful, but it is even more inspiring to feel that one's own efforts have brought it all about." ~~ Valeska Suratt to The Pittsburgh Press - September 8, 1912


  1. Hi Jessica,
    Here is a article about Miss Suratt's film"The Immigrant":