Sunday, 1 October 2017

Bloofer lady: Theda Bara

Theda Bara
 We've had had Bloofer Gents for the past three years, so I think it's time we added another lucious lady of lurkiness to the Bloofer list. And who better than the original vamp herself, Theda Bara?
Once upon a time there was a nice little Jewish girl from Cincinatti called Theodosia Goodman. In 1908 she moved to New York and made her Broadway debut. In 1914, not far off the age of 30 she made her film debut. That was positively ancient for a movie actress then - but we all know that a true vampire never ages. Theodosia had a very small part in The Stain, but caught the eye of a director from Fox Studios, and Theda Bara, raised in the shadow of the Sphinx, was born. 

In A Fool There Was the original vamp took men for everything they had – money, love, their very lives – and the public loved it. Off-screen she maintained her vamp persona, wearing rich fabrics and veils, heavy kohl eye makeup, and even petting a snake while talking to reporters. Other vamps appeared, like Nita Naldi, Pola Negri and Valeska Suratt, but Theda remained queen of them all. There was nothing supernatural about the vamps, but in their dark-haired, hungry way they set the template for every witchy woman who followed.

After the all too real horrors of the Great War and Spanish flu the public lost its appetite for vampires, and so Theda retired as a lead actress in 1921, when she married. She died in 1955. Yet her legend endures, despite the fact that of her 40 films a mere half-dozen remain complete. Cleopatra, Salome, Carmen, Camille... roles so powerful they're also the title of the film, all lost. Yet the legend lives on, because the still camera loved the vamp every bit as much as the moving one.
Silent cinema's spookiest saucepot, Bloofer Lady, we salute you!

18 comments :

  1. What a mistress of reinvention. A fabulous choice. I loved that she lived up to her image off=screen as well as on. Definitely stole make-up tips from Marchesa Casati, and I am sure that the pair of them were no small influence on the likes of Siouxsie Sioux and 80's Goth culture. I love her costumes. Some of them would be considered a bit racy now. like the snake bra from "Cleoparta" I bet that they were scandalous then. She would have been the talk of the Steamie. There are some of her films on You Tube. Xx

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    1. That snake bra is ace. She wore racier things than the flappers wore a decade later, that's for sure. Though my favourite-ever silent vamp clobber is Valeska Suratt's spiderweb-brim hat (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0008368/?ref_=nm_knf_i4)

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  2. Theda Bara proving that everything's better with eyeliner!
    I remember seeing a photo of her without all the costumes and although it was tamer, it was still pure vamp.

    We're busy putting together our October movie viewing and I hadn't thought of Theda Bara-certainly will now. Thank you.

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    1. A bit of silent is always a treat. Has Danny seen The Cabinet of Dr Caligari? Spooky theme, and you could get into all sorts of discussions about the Expressionist film style and perceptions of mental health issues off the back of it if you need it to have an educational slant.

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  3. I will be scouring YouTube for clips of this fabulous lady! Thanks for the introduction.

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  4. She was a scamp, a camp, and a bit of a tramp, she was a V. A. M. P.... VAMP!

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    1. I like the fact that her story didn't have a sad or tragic ending. Go, vamp, go!

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  5. I think she must have been the inspiration for Biba in 1960s and 1970s - all their models/photos/pictures looked very vampish!

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    1. They did do a 'Bara look' on their makeup guide (along with Harlow and Garbo) so she was certainly one of their influences. She'd have been right at home in a lot of their stuff.

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  7. She was an incredible lady, I first heard about her through a friend of mine who had a wonderful picture of her posing with a snake xxx

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    1. She was well-known for her snake. Though one reporter at the time said she fed it on insects, which snakes don't eat!

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  8. With her sultry look, Theda Bara was the ultimate vamp. It's a shame so much of her films got lost. xxx

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    1. A lot went up in a big studio fire. I think the films of the teens are harder to watch than the ones of the 20s, simply because they're more stylised and theatrical, whereas the later ones are more natural. But it'd be wonderful to see Cleopatra in full.

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  9. I've never heard of her but now I love her. what a beauty. I need to get Jon to find one of her films. xxx

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    1. The two photos I've shared are her looking quite natural (for Theda). You should see her in full Cleopatra drag, complete with the infamous snake bra.

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