Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Theda Bara: She's No Bella Swan

In my never ending search through the cobwebs of the Internets for the lost films of Theda Bara, I found a thread on this horror forum to which was published a recently-discovered three second fragment (saved as an animated GIF) from a 1910 nitrate film called The Vampire. The fragment shows the climactic scene from the film: Margarita Fischer as The Vampire holding a wriggling asp and looking at the dead body of Charles Clary.

I am fascinated by the asp
Thanks Doctor Kiss!

The Vampire is not about a vampire; it is about The Vampire - not the Twilight tween but the energy-draining, succubus type first immortalized in 1897 as the male dominating-and-destroying rag and a bone and a hank of hair in Rudyard Kipling's poem The Vampire*. This 1910 film version was produced by the Selig Polyscope Company and was a harbinger of vamps to come - most notably Theda Bara.

Press For The Vampire 1910
Note the production still

Article on Theda from Screenland June 1923 issue

Theda Bara made the vamp her own in Fox Film Corporation's A Fool There Was released in 1915. This film was based on a play by Porter Emerson Browne (which was based on the Kipling poem). Despite being covered from neck to toe in the film, Bara manages to slink her way through oodles of men uttering her most famous line "Kiss me, my Fool!"

Poster image of the 1922 version of A FOOL THERE WAS
starring Estelle Taylor

Second only to Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford in popularity during the Word War I period, Bara's vamp was picked apart by critics who proclaimed her the best actress AND the worst. But Bara yearned to play a character that was not a sexual femme fatale. Enter East Lynne.

The Demure Theda

East Lynne (based on a late 19th century novel and play) was filmed in 1916 and is a confusing, melodramatic mash-up of Mrs. Doubtfire and Stella Dallas. It was thought to be a lost film - 80% of Fox's pre-1937 films were destroyed in a fire - but it was found and forgetthetalkies.com posted a copy. You'll see that Theda Bara was not just The Vampire (or as she was sometimes billed Hell’s Handmaiden) - sometimes she was just the heartbroken daughter of a Jewish tailor from Cincinnati who wants to see her children.

It seems that forgetthetalkies.com has removed East Lynne
but I downloaded it and will post with a music soundtrack when complete.

Email me for a link to download a digital copy of The Woman With The Hungry Eyes (a documentary about Theda I would not be offering if available commercially), 1916's East Lynne or 1925's The Unchastened Woman, one of Theda's last films. You can watch the complete A Fool There Was at archive.org and clips from Madame Mystery on YouTube. Following is a list of several sites that contain extensive biographical information and pictures of Theda Bara.

A Fool There Was

More on Pinterest

* Passages from The Vampire by Rudyard Kipling are used throughout A Fool There Was as intertitles. The poem in its entirety is below.
A fool there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care),
But the fool he called her his lady fair
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the years we waste and the tears we waste
And the work of our head and hand,
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand.

A fool there was and his goods he spent
(Even as you and I!)
Honor and faith and a sure intent
But a fool must follow his natural bent
(And it wasn't the least what the lady meant),
(Even as you and I!)

Oh the toil we lost and the spoil we lost
And the excellent things we planned,
Belong to the woman who didn't know why
(And now we know she never knew why)
And did not understand.

The fool we stripped to his foolish hide
(Even as you and I!)
Which she might have seen when she threw him aside --
(But it isn't on record the lady tried)
So some of him lived but the most of him died --
(Even as you and I!)

And it isn't the shame and it isn't the blame
That stings like a white hot brand.
It's coming to know that she never knew why
(Seeing at last she could never know why)
And never could understand.

At 4m10s Cher (as only Cher can) interprets the V-A-M-P Theda Bara

At 8m30s Theda appears in 45 Minutes From Hollywood for a (literal) moment

See my Pinterest page for A LOT more pictures of Theda Bara.

↓ one of many silent film t-shirts created for crew d'tees


  1. The poster image of A FOOL THERE WAS is from the 1922 version of this story with Estelle Taylor, not Theda Bara.

    1. Wow! Thank you for the info, Bruce. I had no idea another version was made - much less one starring Estelle Taylor. This poster image always confused me and now I know why.