Theda Bara: ‘Cleopatra’ Star Featured in Documentary
The Woman with the Hungry Eyes, about the life and films of Theda Bara, will have its New York City premiere at the Museum of Modern Art at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, 2006. Hugh Munro Neely directed the documentary, which features the voice of Dana Delany as the adult Theda Bara.
Now, who was Theda Bara? Well, Theda Bara (née Theodosia Goodman on July 29, 1885, in Cincinnati, Ohio) was the supreme film vamp of the 1910s, a welcome personification of the feminine dark side at a time when most movie heroines were of the saccharine, curly-top variety. What Bara wanted – usually a man’s body, blood, and/or soul – was hers for the taking. Unfortunately, as a result of the 1937 vault fire that all but obliterated the original negatives of pre-1935 Fox movies, most of her films are now lost.
Besides the “voice” of Theda Bara, The Woman with the Hungry Eyes also features actors and non-professionals providing voices for the likes of Isadora Duncan, Preston Sturges, Cecil B. DeMille, Raoul Walsh, and D.W. Griffith actress (and later Walsh’s wife) Miriam Cooper.
Theda Bara movies
One of the earliest Fox stars, Theda Bara – whose name was an anagram for “Arab Death” – starred in several dozen movies at the studio. Among those was Frank Powell’s A Fool There Was (1915), in which she plays The Vampire, a woman whose lips, stare, and every breath lure men into her sensuous grasp. Once there, there’s no escape. They become their sex slaves for life (and possibly beyond).
A superstar following the immense success of A Fool There Was, Theda Bara was subsequently cast in movies playing up her vampish image. The titles say it all: The Devil’s Daughter, Carmen, Lady Audley’s Secret, Gold and the Woman, The Vixen, The Tiger Woman, Camille, Cleopatra, The Darling of Paris, Madame Du Barry, Salome, When a Woman Sins, The She Devil, The Siren Song. Other Theda Bara star vehicles included Romeo and Juliet, Under Two Flags, and the more elaborate 1919 production Kathleen Mavourneen, which was, according to reports, a box office disappointment.
Also in 1919, Bara’s movie stardom came to a halt, possibly because she had been playing variations of the same role in vehicles solely created to exploit her screen persona. Two years later, she married her Kathleen Mavourneen director, Charles Brabin (a.k.a. Charles J. Brabin).
In 1925, Bara tried coming back with the melodrama The Unchastened Woman (1925), but to no avail. The following year, she spoofed her vamp persona in the short comedy Madame Mystery. That turned out to be her final screen performance.
For years a Beverly Hills resident, Theda Bara died of cancer on April 7, 1955, in Los Angeles.
Theda Bara Cleopatra photo: Fox.
Carole Lombard & Claudette Colbert Radio Days
Harry Heuser on broadcastellan: “Once you have exhausted the classics, you will find a worthwhile substitute in American radio theatricals like Lux [Radio Theater], which give you not only an opportunity to catch a different reading of films so familiar to you that they play before your mind’s eye, but also allow you to re-imagine them with alternate casts. What, for instance, if Suspicion had starred Olivia DeHavilland [sic], rather than her sister, Joan Fontaine? How would Barbara Stanwyck or Ida Lupino fare in Merle Oberon’s role [sic] as the title character of Jane Eyre? And what, if anything, could Loretta Young do when called upon to take over for Bette Davis in Jezebel? It all happened on the Lux program.”
[A minor correction: Joan Fontaine, not Merle Oberon, played Jane Eyre. Perhaps Heuser was thinking of George Sand, who Oberon incarnated in the highly romanticized 1945 film version of Chopin’s life, A Song to Remember. In case you’re wondering, Cornel Wilde played Chopin and – inexplicably – received an Academy Award nomination for his non-performance.]
Heuser then goes on to talk about the Lux production of Hands Across the Table, starring Claudette Colbert in a role originated by Carole Lombard on the screen. Well worth a read.
On his personal site, Heuser has a Claudette Colbert photo page – no need for me to add that he’s a big-time Colbert fan. Well, no one can say the guy has poor taste.
Update: I just checked this excellent Lux Radio Theater site. Heuser must have been referring to Wuthering Heights. Merle Oberon plays Cathy in the 1939 film version; on Lux, Barbara Stanwyck starred in the 1939 presentation, and Ida Lupino in 1940. Oberon starred in a Lux presentation of Wuthering Heights in 1954.
Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights; her sister Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre. That’s probably why Heuser got confused.
B Film Noir Definition: Low-Budget But (Sometimes) High-Quality Crime Movies
Between May 5 and June 15, 2006, New York City’s Film Forum will be screening 70 examples of the “B” film noir genre: low-budget, shadows-and-light Hollywood crime movies set in the United States’ urban underbelly. In other words, do not expect to find The Maltese Falcon, The Blue Dahlia, The Big Sleep, or Key Largo among Film Forum’s film noir offerings.
Instead, among Film Forum’s classic, semi-classic, or largely forgotten B film noirs are Joseph H. Lewis’ My Name Is Julia Ross (1945), starring Nina Foch and George Macready (Rita Hayworth’s husband and Glenn Ford’s sugar daddy in Gilda); Budd Boetticher’s revenge drama The Killer Is Loose (1956), with Wendell Corey and Joseph Cotten (the star of Carol Reed’s classic “A” film noir The Third Man); and Stuart Heisler’s Among the Living (1941), in which poor Albert Dekker discovers that he has an evil twin who happens to be a homicidal maniac. Future Best Actress Academy Award winner Susan Hayward (I Want to Live!), former Western star Harry Carey, and the beautiful but troubled Frances Farmer (portrayed by Jessica Lange in Frances) co-star.
Also: Edgar G. Ulmer’s fate-is-a-bitch B film noir classic Detour (1945), with Tom Neal and rotten-to-the-core Ann Savage; Jules Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway (1949), with Richard Conte and Italian import Valentina Cortese (a 1974 Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for François Truffaut’s Day for Night); Joseph Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s M (1951), with David Wayne – best known for featherweight characters in comedies such as Adam’s Rib and How to Marry a Millionaire – in the old Peter Lorre role of a child killer; and John Berry’s He Ran All the Way (1951), with John Garfield playing a small-time thief in his last movie role.
Publicity shot of Tom Neal and Ann Savage in the film noir Detour: PRC Pictures.
Thanks for the clarification, Harry. I must have misread your previous post. I’ll look for both Braddon’s “Lady Audley” and Collins’ “No Name.”
I’ll also look for that “Thin Man” radio production. I’ve never heard Bara’s voice.
Bara sounds smart, has a good reading voice (a recording of “The Thin Man” production is available online). She did appear in a radio sketch some years after that, playing Cleopatra again. “Lady Audley,” to avoid confusion, is by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who rivaled Collins as a so-called “sensation” novelist. Henry James described the novel as a “skilful combination of bigamy, arson, murder, and insanity.” It’s just the right material for Bara, I think. For another thrilling Collins, I’d recommend “No Name.” Cheers, Harry.
Thanks for the Bara story, Harry. Actually, it’s really too bad she never made a talkie. What did she sound like, I wonder.
I’ve read Collins’ “The Moonstone” and “The Woman in White.” Enjoyed both tremendously. Now I gotta look for “Lady Audley’s Secret.”
I’ll probably mention it in a few weeks; but I might as well share it with you here. As late as 8 June 1936, Bara announced to the listeners of the Lux Radio Theatre that she was “going to do some motion picture work.” After chatting with W. S. Van Dyke about Cleopatra-for which role she claimed to have worked for months with a curator of egyptology at the Metropolitan Museum in New York-Bara assured audiences that she wasn’t quite done with Hollywood: “I am considering an offer now, running through scripts and ideas. Oh, I just hope everyone will be as happy about another Theda Bara picture as I am. The public has been very good to me in the past.”
I wonder what she was like as the scheming Lady Audley in Lady Audley’s Secret, based on a “sensation novel” a Wilkie Collins reader is likely to enjoy.
And thanks for editing! Ouch!