Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cincinnati's Cleopatra

With the Cleopatra exhibit at the Museum Center, it seems like a good time to talk about smokin' hot silent film babes. Ohio did ok in this field. While Springfield offered up Lillian Gish, Cincinnati came up with Theda Bara.
Born Theodosia Goodman in Cincinnati in 1885, she grew up in far off & exotic Avondale with her father, a tailor, attended Walnut Hills High School and attended the University of Cincinnati. One of the homes she lived in is now an Honors House at Xavier University. She moved away before Cincinnati chili arrived on the scene. This was, of course, all ignored when she commenced her movie career and they promoted her as being born in Egypt with an Italian sculptor for a father and got her acting start in Paris. It wasn't a far stretch. They referred to her as the "Serpent of the Nile" and encouraged her to discuss mysticism and the occult, which was very popular at the time, in interviews. This exotic persona didn't prevent her from promoting war bond sales during WWI, however, as she raised hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sales.

Bara was one of the first movie sex symbols and the word "vamp" was reputedly coined after her sultry performances. This is fitting when you consider the wildly popular Vamps movies originated in Porkopolis.
It made her famous. She made over 40 films & was one of the highest paid actresses at the time raking in about $4,000 a week. Her other claim to fame is being an actress with some of the most lost film in history. In 1937 Fox' storage vaults suffered a fire that destroyed tons of work & most of Bara's.

Archiving 101. Back up your stuff in multiple locations. The media dumbasses get all freaked out when they release their products, movies, music, etc, into the wild because they are terrified they will lose control of their assets. These assets in turn become part of our culture. Are these media clowns the ones we want to steward out culture? Even now, they are deprecating CDs &DVDs in favor of streaming. But if we have to depend on them and their bean counters, what will become of rare old obscure stuff that they don't want to bother to stream? If there's copies out there floating around there's a chance the work will survive somehow even if it's hard to find.

But I digress.....

One of Bara's crowning achievements was her 1917 production of Cleopatra. It was wildly popular & all but about 40 seconds is lost. The production stills show opulent sets and lavish costumes that would later be banned by Hollywood censors.

Egyptian stuff was still really popular in the early 20th century. "Egyptomania" was sparked at the end of the 18th century and lasted all through the 19th as European archaeologists plundered the artifacts of the ancient country. In the second half of the 20th century, better travel & communications has robbed Egypt, and most everywhere else, of much mystery. Still the influence on European & American culture from art and architecture to philosophy is undeniable.

Isis ?

Theda didn't return to Cincinnati after her death in 1955. Her remains are in the columbarium in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Theda Bara on IMDB
Fishwrap story here.
Theda Bara worship site.
While Bara made her name in the silent film era, you can hear her (but not see her) here

No comments: