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Theda Bara
Bara in 1921
Theodosia Burr Goodman

(1885-07-29)July 29, 1885
DiedApril 7, 1955(1955-04-07) (aged 69)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery
Alma materUniversity of Cincinnati
Years active1908–1926
(m. 1921)

Theda Bara (/ˈθdəˈbærə/ THEE-də BARE;[1] born Theodosia Burr Goodman; July 29, 1885 – April 7, 1955) was an American silent film and stage actress.[2]

Bara was one of the more popular actresses of the silent era and one of cinema's early sex symbols. Her femme fatale roles earned her the nickname "The Vamp" (short for vampire, here meaning a seductive woman),[a] later fueling the rising popularity in "vamp" roles based in exoticism and sexual domination.[5] The studios promoted a fictitious persona for Bara as an Egyptian-born woman interested in the occult. Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, but most are now lost, having been destroyed in the 1937 Fox vault fire. After her marriage to Charles Brabin in 1921, she made two more feature films and then retired from acting in 1926; she never appeared in a sound film.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • Theda Bara: Early Film Star
  • Theda Bara (1885-1955) - In 'Cleopatra' (1917) and Speaking About Silent Film Acting Technique
  • Theda Bara – The Vamp – Silent Era film Actress – Famous Women 💖 Moments in History 💖 #shorts
  • Theda Bara biography
  • Theda Bara "Cleopatra" (1917) surviving footage.flv


Early life

Bara was born Theodosia Burr Goodman on July 29, 1885 in the Avondale section of Cincinnati, Ohio.[2] She was named after the daughter of U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr.[6] Her father was Bernard Goodman (1853–1936),[7] a prosperous Jewish tailor from Poland. Her mother, Pauline Louise Françoise (née de Coppett; 1861–1957), was born in Switzerland.[8] Bernard and Pauline married in 1882. Theda had two younger siblings: Marque (1888–1954)[9] and Esther (1897–1965),[7] who also became a film actress, under the screen name 'Lori Bara'.

Bara attended Walnut Hills High School, graduating in 1903. After attending the University of Cincinnati for two years, she worked mainly in local theater productions, but did explore other projects. After moving to New York City in 1908, she made her Broadway debut the same year in The Devil.[10]


Most of Bara's early films were shot along the East Coast, where the film industry was centered at that time, primarily at Fox Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey.[11]

Bara lived with her family in New York City during this time. The rise of Hollywood as the center of the American film industry forced her to relocate to Los Angeles to film the epic Cleopatra (1917), which became one of her biggest hits. No complete prints of Cleopatra are known to exist today, but numerous photographs of Bara in costume as Cleopatra have survived. [12]

Bara in A Fool There Was (1915)

Bara was the Fox studio's biggest star between 1915 and 1919, but tired of being typecast as a vamp, she allowed her five-year contract with the company to expire. Her final Fox film was The Lure of Ambition (1919). In 1920, she turned briefly to the stage, appearing on Broadway in The Blue Flame. Bara's fame drew large crowds to the theater, but her acting was savaged by critics.[13]

Advertisement for Destruction, December 24, 1915

Her career suffered without Fox Studios' support, and she did not make another film until The Unchastened Woman (1925) for Chadwick Pictures. She retired after making only one more film, the short comedy Madame Mystery (1926), directed by Stan Laurel for Hal Roach; in this, Bara parodied her vamp image.[citation needed]

Bara in The She-Devil (1918)

At the height of her fame, Bara earned $4,000 per week (the equivalent of over $56,000 per week in 2017 adjusted dollars). Her better-known roles were as the "vamp", although she attempted to avoid typecasting by playing wholesome heroines in films such as Under Two Flags and Her Double Life. She appeared as Juliet in a version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Although Bara took her craft seriously, she was too successful playing exotic wanton women to develop a more versatile career.[citation needed]

Manuel Rosenberg autographed sketch of fellow Cincinnatian, Theda Bara, 1921 Cincinnati Post

Image and name

The origin of Bara's stage name is disputed. The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats says it came from director Frank Powell, who learned Theda had a relative named Baranger, and that Theda was a childhood nickname. In promoting the 1917 film Cleopatra, Fox Studio publicists noted that the name was an anagram of Arab death, and her press agents, to enhance her exotic appeal to moviegoers, falsely promoted the young Ohio native as "the daughter of an Arab sheik and a French woman, born in the Sahara".[14][15] In 1917, the Goodman family legally changed its surname to Bara.[7]


Bara was known for wearing very revealing costumes in her films. Such outfits were banned from Hollywood films after the Production Code (a.k.a. the Hays Code) started in 1930 under Will H. Hays and then rigorously enforced beginning in mid-1934 by Joseph Breen. It was popular at that time to promote an actress as mysterious, with an exotic background. The studios promoted Bara with a massive publicity campaign, billing her as the Egyptian-born daughter of a French actress and an Italian sculptor. They claimed she had spent her early years in the Sahara desert under the shadow of the Sphinx, then moved to France to become a stage actress. (In fact, Bara never had been to Egypt, and her time in France amounted to just a few months.)

A 2016 book by Joan Craig and Beverly F. Stout chronicles many personal, first-hand accounts of the lives of Bara and her husband Charles Brabin.[16]

Marriage and retirement

Bara with Charles Brabin, 1922

Bara married British-born American film director Charles Brabin in 1921. They honeymooned at The Pines Hotel in Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada, and later purchased a 400-hectare (990-acre) property down the coast from Digby at Harbourville, Nova Scotia, overlooking the Bay of Fundy, eventually building a summer home they called Baranook.[17] They had no children. Bara resided in a villa-style home in Cincinnati, which served as the "honors villa" at Xavier University. Demolition of the home began in July 2011.[18]

In 1936, she appeared on Lux Radio Theatre during a broadcast version of The Thin Man with William Powell and Myrna Loy. She did not appear in the play but instead announced her plans to make a movie comeback,[19][20] which never materialized. She appeared on radio again in 1939 as a guest on Texaco Star Theatre.

In 1949, producer Buddy DeSylva and Columbia Pictures expressed interest in making a movie of Bara's life, to star Betty Hutton, but the project never materialized.[21][22]


Bara's niche in the Great Mausoleum, Forest Lawn, Glendale

On April 7, 1955, after a lengthy stay at California Lutheran Hospital in Los Angeles, Bara died of stomach cancer.[2] She was survived by her husband, her mother, and her younger sister, Lori.[2] She was interred as Theda Bara Brabin at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[23]


Bara often is cited as the first sex symbol of the film era.[24][25]

For her contributions to the film industry, Bara received a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. Her star is located at 6307 Hollywood Boulevard.[26]

Bara never appeared in a sound film, lost or otherwise. A 1937 fire at Fox's nitrate film storage vaults in New Jersey destroyed most of that studio's silent films. Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, but complete prints of only six still exist: The Stain (1914), A Fool There Was (1915), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925), and two short comedies for Hal Roach.[citation needed]

In addition to these, a few of her films remain in fragments, including Cleopatra (less than a minute of footage), a clip thought to be from The Soul of Buddha, and a few other unidentified clips featured in the documentary Theda Bara et William Fox (2001). Most of the clips can be seen in the documentary The Woman with the Hungry Eyes (2006). As to vamping, critics stated that her portrayal of calculating, cold-hearted women was morally instructive to men. Bara responded by saying "I will continue doing vampires as long as people sin."[27] Additional footage has been found which shows her behind the scenes on a picture.[28] While the hairstyle has led some to theorize that this may be from The Lure of Ambition, this has not been confirmed. Small fragments from Salomé were discovered in 2021 by an intern at Filmoteca Española.[29]

In 1994, she was honored with her image on a U.S. postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.[30] The Fort Lee Film Commission dedicated Main Street and Linwood Avenue in Fort Lee, New Jersey, as "Theda Bara Way" in May 2006 to honor Bara, who made many of her films at the Fox Studio on Linwood and Main.[31]

Over a period of several years, filmmaker and film historian Phillip Dye reconstructed Cleopatra on video. Titled Lost Cleopatra, the full-length feature was created by editing together production-still picture montages combined with the surviving film clip. The script was based on the original scenario, with modifications derived from research into censorship reports, reviews of the film, and synopses from period magazines.[32] Dye screened the film at the Hollywood Heritage Museum on February 8, 2017.[33]


Romeo and Juliet (1916) with actors (from left): Helen Tracy, Alice Gale, Bara, and Edward Holt
Bara with Alan Roscoe in Camille (1917)
Bara in Cleopatra (1917)
Year Film Role Notes
1914 The Stain Gang moll Credited as Theodosia Goodman
1915 A Fool There Was The Vampire
1915 The Kreutzer Sonata Celia Friedlander Lost film
1915 The Clemenceau Case Iza Lost film
1915 The Devil's Daughter Gioconda Dianti Lost film
1915 Lady Audley's Secret Helen Talboys Lost film
1915 The Two Orphans Henriette Lost film
1915 Sin Rosa Lost film
1915 Carmen Carmen Lost film
1915 The Galley Slave Francesca Brabaut Lost film
1915 Destruction Fernade Lost film
1916 The Serpent Vania Lazar Lost film
1916 Gold and the Woman Theresa Decordova Lost film
1916 The Eternal Sapho Laura Bruffins Lost film
1916 East Lynne Lady Isabel Carlisle
1916 Under Two Flags Cigarette Lost film
1916 Her Double Life Mary Doone Lost film
1916 Romeo and Juliet Juliet Lost film
1916 The Vixen Elsie Drummond Lost film
1917 The Darling of Paris Esmeralda Lost film
1917 The Tiger Woman Princess Petrovitch Lost film
1917 Her Greatest Love Hazel Lost film
1917 Heart and Soul Jess Lost film
1917 Camille Marguerite Gauthier[34] Lost film
1917 Cleopatra Cleopatra Approximately 1 minute exists
1917 The Rose of Blood Lisza Tapenka Lost film
1917 Madame Du Barry Jeanne Vaubernier Lost film
1918 The Forbidden Path Mary Lynde Lost film
1918 The Soul of Buddha Priestess Story, Lost film
1918 Under the Yoke Maria Valverda Lost film
1918 Salomé Salome About 2 minutes survive; Lost
1918 When a Woman Sins Lilian Marchard / Poppea Lost film
1918 The She-Devil Lorette Lost film
1919 The Light Blanchette Dumond, aka Madame Lefresne Lost film
1919 When Men Desire Marie Lohr Lost film
1919 The Siren's Song Marie Bernais Lost film
1919 A Woman There Was Princess Zara Lost film
1919 Kathleen Mavourneen Kathleen Cavanagh Lost film
1919 La Belle Russe Fleurett Sackton/La Belle Russe Lost film
1919 The Lure of Ambition Olga Dolan Lost film; 82-second outtake does exist[35]
1925 The Unchastened Woman Caroline Knollys
1926 Madame Mystery Madame Mysterieux Short film
1926 45 Minutes from Hollywood Herself Short film

Cultural references

The short piano suite Silhouettes from the Screen, Op. 55 (1919) by Mortimer Wilson includes a miniature musical portrait of Theda Bara, who is portrayed in an atonal, expressionistic style.[36]

Bara is referenced in the 1921 Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby song "Rebecca Came Back from Mecca"[37] as well as their 1922 "Sheik From Avenue B," sung by Fanny Brice.[38][39]

Bara was one of three actresses (Pola Negri and Mae Murray were the others) whose eyes were combined to form the Chicago International Film Festival's logo, a stark, black and white close up of the composite eyes set as repeated frames in a strip of film.[40]

The International Times' logo is a black-and-white image of Theda Bara. The founders' intention had been to use an image of actress Clara Bow, 1920s "It girl", but a picture of Theda Bara was used by accident, and once deployed, not changed.[41]

In June 1996, two biographies of Bara were released: Ron Genini's Theda Bara: A Biography (McFarland) and Eve Golden's Vamp (Emprise). In October 2005 TimeLine Films of Culver City premiered the film biography Theda Bara: The Woman with the Hungry Eyes.

Bara has been the subject of several works of fiction, including In Theda Bara's Tent by Diana Altman, The Director's Cut: A Theda Bara Mystery by Christopher DiGrazia, and the play Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi by Bob Johnston.

Bara appears as a character in the books Vampyres of Hollywood and Love Bites by Adrienne Barbeau, and in Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story by Clive Barker.

In season 2, episode 1 of The Lucy Show, Vivian Bagley and Lucy argue over who should play Cleopatra in an upcoming play; Lucy states "I've seen the movie twelve times!" and Vivian quips "She means the one with Theda Bara".

A photo of Bara as Cleopatra is the album artwork for The Lumineers record Cleopatra released in 2016.

In May 2016, a memoir titled Theda Bara, My Mentor, Under the Wings of Hollywood's First Femme Fatale, by Joan Craig with Beverly Stout, was released. Young Joan, in the companionship of Bara during the 1940s and 1950s, includes tales of Bara's husband, Charles Brabin, friends Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Victor Fleming, and other stars of the past.

In season 2, episode 7 of the television series Downton Abbey, butler Carson describes the newly designed bathrooms at a nearby estate as "like something out of a film with Theda Bara".

In the book Queen of the Flowers, a Phryne Fisher mystery by Kerry Greenwood, a reference is made to "a reply straight from the last Theda Bara movie" (Constable Publishers, London, p. 236).

Theda Withel, a main character in Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett, is reference to and is loosely based on Theda Bara.[citation needed]

Bara, as well as her lost silent film about Cleopatra, are referred to as the muses of theatrical costume designer Rainier in the 2021 independent novel Nevaeh Smiled by S.P.W. Mitchell.


  1. ^ These roles did not portray the undead vampires featured in later horror films. The term "vampire" for a seductive woman was derived from "The Vampire", an 1897 poem by Rudyard Kipling.[3][4]


  1. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Theda Bara Speaking 1936". YouTube. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d "Theda Bara, Screen Star, 68. 'Siren' of Silent Films Was Top Box-Office Attraction During the Twenties Denounced in Churches 'Cleopatra' 'The Vampire,' 'Salome' And 'Madame Du Barry' Among Her Hits Screen 'Vampire'". The New York Times. April 8, 1955.
  3. ^ Golden, Eve (1996). Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. Vestal, NY: Emprise. ISBN 1-887322-00-0. OCLC 34575681.
  4. ^ Weinstock, Jeffrey (2012). The Vampire Film: Undead Cinema. London: Wallflower Press. p. 25.
  5. ^ Love, Claire; Pollack, Jen; Landsberg, Alison (April 6, 2017). "Silent Film Actresses and Their Most Popular Characters". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  6. ^ "The Dramatic Life and Mysterious Death of Theodosia Burr". Atlas Obscura. October 7, 2016. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "Theda Makes 'em All Baras". New York Times. Vol. LXVII, no. 21847. November 17, 1917. p. 11. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 20, 2008. Retrieved October 28, 2023.
  8. ^ Genini, Ronald (1996). Theda Bara: A Biography of the Silent Screen Vamp, with a Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 9780786491612.
  9. ^ "Marque Bara". The Newport Daily News. Newport, RI. April 26, 1954. p. 2.
  10. ^ "The Devil – Broadway Play – Original".
  11. ^ Fort Lee: Birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry. Arcadia Publishing. 2006. ISBN 978-0-7385-4501-1.
  12. ^ "Library Reports on America's Endangered Silent-Film Heritage" (Press release). Library Of Congress. December 4, 2013. Retrieved July 28, 2023.
  13. ^ Golden, Eve (1996). Vamp: The Rise and Fall of Theda Bara. Vestal, NY: Emprise. pp. 204–209. ISBN 1-887322-00-0. OCLC 34575681.
  14. ^ Garza, Janiss (2008). "Cleopatra (1917)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 8, 2008. Retrieved May 29, 2011. Film review.
  15. ^ "Famous Silent Screen Vamp Theda Bara Dies Of Cancer". The Montreal Gazette. Associated Press. April 8, 1955. Retrieved May 29, 2011.
  16. ^ Craig, Joan; Stout, Beverly F. (2016). Theda Bara, My Mentor: Under the Wing of Hollywood's First Femme Fatale. McFarland and Company, Inc. ISBN 9781476662831. LCCN 2016009417.
  17. ^ Innis, Lorna (February 26, 2012). "Hollywood's link with province long, varied". Chronicle Herald. Halifax. Archived from the original on May 17, 2014. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  18. ^ "Early film star's Cincinnati mansion being torn down". The Columbus Post Dispatch. July 7, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  19. ^ "The Thin Man". Lux Radio Theatre. Internet Archive. Retrieved December 1, 2015. Skip to 50m:50s.
  20. ^ "The Lux Radio Theatre". RadioGOLDINdex. Retrieved December 1, 2015.
  21. ^ Brady, Thomas F. (January 21, 1949). "De Sylva Working on Movie of Bara". The New York Times. p. 25.
  22. ^ Brady, Thomas F. (December 2, 1949). "Betty Hutton Set for 2 Metro Films". The New York Times. p. 36.
  23. ^ "Rites for Theda Bara Today". The New York Times. April 9, 1955. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  24. ^ "Classic Images – Vol. 250 – April 1996 Issue". Archived from the original on July 16, 2012. Retrieved August 2, 2010.
  25. ^ Adinolfi, Francesco (2008). Mondo Exotica: Sounds, Visions, Obsessions of the Cocktail Generation. Translated by Pinkus, Karen; Vivrette, Jason. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780822341321. OCLC 179838406.
  26. ^ "Theda Bara". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved September 21, 2017.
  27. ^ Panati, Charles (1998). Sexy Origins and Intimate Things: The Rites and Rituals of Straights, Gays, Bi's, Drags, Trans, Virgins, and Others. Penguin Books. p. 295.
  28. ^ Fads and Fashion of 1900 [& Other Newsreels] (film). Fun Film. 1905. 8 minutes in – via Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.
  29. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "REDISCOVERED: THEDA BARA IN "SALOME", 1918". YouTube.
  30. ^ "Hirschfeld draws silent screen stars stamps". Stamps. 246 (13): 353. March 26, 1994. ProQuest 220978182.
  31. ^ Page, Jeffery (July 9, 2015). "A Star in the Era Before Hollywood". The Record. Retrieved August 21, 2019 – via Gale Onefile:News.
  32. ^ "Lost Cleopatra". Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  33. ^ Ziemba, Christine N. (February 6, 2017). "Twenty Of The Coolest Events Happening in L.A. This Week in Arts & Entertainment". LAist. Archived from the original on May 1, 2017.
  34. ^ "Theda Bara Makes 'Camille' Reality". Hartford Courant. October 30, 1917. Archived from the original on August 31, 2012. Retrieved October 8, 2019. Heralded as one of the screen triumphs of the day, "Camille", adapted from the Dumas novel, and with Theda Bara the featured player, fulfills the promises of the management of Poli's Theater, where this film really heads the bill this half of the week. Vaudeville must...
  35. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Lost Film segment – Theda Bara – 1919 (currently unknown film source)". YouTube. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  36. ^ Performance of Silhouettes from the Screen by Steve Norquist
  37. ^ "What's a Nice Jewish Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? – Arab Kitsch".
  38. ^ Furia, Philip George; Lasser, Michael L. (2006). America's Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley. Taylor & Francis. pp. 35–. ISBN 978-0-415-97246-8.
  39. ^ "The sheik of Avenue B". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on May 21, 2017.
  40. ^ "About: Mission & History Our Logo". The Chicago International Film Festival. Our Logo. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  41. ^ Miles, Barry (1998). Many Years From Now. VintageRandom House. p. 232. ISBN 0-7493-8658-4.

Further reading

  • Shakespeare on Silent Film: An Excellent Dumb Discourse by Judith Buchanan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Chapter 6. ISBN 0-521-87199-9.
  • Famous Juliets by Jerome Hart, in Motion Picture Classic, March 1923.
  • A Million and One Nights by Terry Ramsaye. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1926.
  • Fox, Susan (2006). William Fox: A Story of Early Hollywood 1915–1930. Midnight Marquee Press Inc. ISBN 1-887664-62-9.
  • DiGrazia, Christopher (2011). The Director's Cut: A Theda Bara Mystery. 1921 PVG Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9827709-4-8.
  • Johnston, Bob (2002). Theda Bara and the Frontier Rabbi. Dramatist's Play Service. ISBN 0-8222-1837-2.
  • Altman, Diana (2010). In Theda Bara's Tent. Tapley Cove Press. ISBN 978-0-615-34327-3.

External links

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