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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vintage Style Icon-Theda Bara The Original Vamp

Today marks the 130th birthday of one of early cinema's most enduring figures, Theda Bara the original vamp. 

While her name is largely forgotten today, her iconic image all dark hair, piercing eyes, and poisonous lips remains.   During the teens and early 20s she was one of films biggest stars and earliest sex symbols, earning 4,000 dollars a week and appearing on the covers of numerous film mags.

Throughout her career Bara usually played a definite type, the vamp.   The opposite of sweet, girlish Mary Pickford, the vamp was conniving, sexual, and used her charms to enslave men, draining them of their power as a vampire drains blood.   

In A Fool There Was, 1915, Bara cemented her image as the vamp when she played the "vampire women." A beautiful creature who meets a business and family man on a ship and seduces him. The vampire women degrades and enslaves men, causing them to abandon their moral codes and become devoted only to her.

The film is the origin of the famous line "kiss me, you fool" though the actual title card reads: "kiss me, my fool."

Eager to capitalize on Bara's exotic image in the film the studio created a glamorous false history for her.  Though in actuality she was born in Ohio to Polish and Swiss immigrant parents, Fox Studios claimed she was the Egyptian born  daughter of a French actress and had grown up in the Saharan desert under the Shadow of the Shinx.  Her new image fit perfectly with her biggest role in 1917's Cleopatra, no copies of which survive.

Many of Bara's films where filmed at Fox Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey before  cinema made the move to Hollywood.  A street in the town is now named after her

Sadly all but 6 of Bara's films are lost.  Most were destroyed in 1937 in a storage vault fire.  She left behind few films, but an enduring legacy.  


  1. I haf to confess I had never heard of Theda Bara and wow, aren't some of her outfits rather 'risque' for their time! Very interesting lady-will be doing a bit of research to learn more!
    Loves and licky kisses
    Princess Leah xxx

  2. Those costumes don't leave much to the imagination!
    Lynne x

  3. She had a very distinctive looks! How interesting the studio created a false history for her. Those cleopatra outfits are amazing!

  4. I have read about the scanty costumes that were featured before the Hays office came in but I hadn't seen any til this post. Too bad there are so few of her movies left. She was a pioneer of sort

  5. Great post and look at Theda's career. I think that so often in the vintage world, we see and live with, if you will, a lot of names (and brands, etc) that are largely forgotten in the mainstream modern world and I agree that such rings true for talented Theda. Little do countless actresses that follow know that she was a huge trail blazer for them!

    ♥ Jessica

  6. Love this post, I've never heard of her. I love looking at the silent film eras vastly different beauty ideals. Soft, non-gym-toned bodies, round faces, very different that the rigid starve-yourself-thin expected of film actresses now. And like the comments say, awesomely provocative outfits, especially for the time. Slipped right in under the radar before the "moral police" came and changed the rules for cinema. I -love- her snake bra.

  7. So cool. Those dramatic eyes
    Lily & Edward

  8. Had heard the name before, but knew nothing about her. Will remember the origins of that line!

  9. Early film always intrigues me, just loved learning about Miss Bara today!

  10. I've heard her name before but didn' know all that about her. Very interesting!

  11. Very cool shots. I love the sepia shots especially

  12. Wow, I had no idea! Very cool, and neat photos.

  13. I always love reading your film history posts! :D This one made me laugh about the made up history Fox studios gave her.

  14. I love Theda Bara! I bought "A Fool There Was" as a Christmas gift to myself and quite enjoyed it (although I wasn't sure about the ending). The problem with loving silent films is that so many have been lost. It saddens me to know I will never get to watch most of her films. I keep hoping someone will find an old copy of Cleopatra somewhere (highly unlikely, but a girl can dream)!


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