Sunday, November 26, 2017

The first vampire of the screen - Theda Bara

Theda Bara as The Vampire in the film A FOOL THERE WAS (1915)

By Steve D. Stones

The lovely Theda Bara in A Fool There Was is not so much a vampire who wears a cape and sucks the blood from victims, like Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931) or Max Shreck in Nosferatu (1922). She is a seductress who sucks the life out of married men – who then lose everything, including their wives, children and social status. A Fool There Was is a tale of lust, infidelity and seduction.

John Schuyler, played by Edward Jose, is a wealthy Wall Street lawyer and statesman called by the President of The United States to sail to England as a special envoy to settle claims with Great Britain. His mistress, played by Bara, joins him on the voyage. Soon, Schuyler's friends and wife find out about his affair. His life quickly begins to crumble, as his friends and loved ones turn their back on him.

Bara was born Theodosia Burr Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 29th, 1885. She is considered cinema's first female “sex symbol” and “femme fatale.” Her career spanned 40 films between 1914 – 1926. Most of these films are considered lost from a 1937 vault fire at Fox Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey – where Bara shot most of the films.

In 1917, Bara moved to Hollywood to film Cleopatra. Hollywood at that time was quickly becoming the entertainment capital of America. Hollywood was the place to be if you were an actor at that time. A Production Code was not enforced until 1930, so Bara was known for wearing very revealing costumes in her films. This may be one of many reasons why some refer to Bara as a “vamp.”

Only six of her forty films are said to exist today, including: The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925) and two short comedies made for Hal Roach Studios – Madame Mystery and 45 Minutes From Hollywood. Some footage of Cleopatra (1917) managed to survive at the Museum of Modern Art's film collection in New York. Bara never appeared in a sound film, which adds to her sense of mystique and intrigue.

Bara eventually got tired of being typecast as variations of the vamp character. When her contract ended in 1919 with Fox studios, she assumed other roles would be forthcoming. This did not happen. She instead headed to Broadway in 1920 to star in "The Blue Flame." The performance was a success, but the critics thought it was terrible.

The Fort Lee Film Commission in New Jersey dedicated Main Street and Linwood Avenue as “Theda Bara Way.” Her image also appeared on postage stamps in 1994. A 2006 documentary – The Woman With The Hungry Eyes – was made about Bara's career.

For further information about the career of Theda Bara, refer to Phil Hall's book – In Search of Lost Films (Bear Manor Media 2016). Hall's book is reviewed here on Plan 9 Crunch. Happy viewing.

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