Pola Negri - Thursday, July 9, 2015

One picture frame located in the American Treasure Tour's Music Room.  In it, images of nine actors famous in the silent film era who are now all but forgotten.  We have visited many of them already here in the blog, but we still have two more.  Today we discuss the life and accomplishments of Pola Negri, who established herself in Polish cinema and became the first European film star to successfully succeed in Hollywood.  Tomorrow, the most famous of them all.

Born Barbara Apolonia Chalupiec in 1897 in what was then part of the Russian Empire, but now Lipno, Poland, her childhood was a bit tough after her father was sent to Siberia on charges of revolutionary activities.  She caught the attention of Warsaw's Imperial Ballet Academy, only to contract tuberculosis and wind up in a sanitarium.  It was there she adopted the name Pola (Short for Apolonia) Negri (after an Italian poet of the time).  Upon her release, she became involved in drama, and did quite well before moving to Germany in 1917 and meeting Ernst Lubitsch, considered the creator of the modern musical, with whom she worked so successfully that Hollywood demanded they leave Europe (and preserve America's domination of the world's film industry).  Negri arrived in 1922, and took her new country by storm.  She set a precedent that continues today, with European and Australian actors moving stateside in the effort to gain international stardom.

Pola Negri became an American star in her own right, but by 1928 she was tired of the games in Hollywood.  She announced her retirement to become a mother and a housewife, only to perform in front of the cameras again the next year, after her new husband began squandering her fortunes.  She entered the world of the talkies in 1930, and did well back in Europe, even getting work for the Nazi-supported UFA company, making movies in Nazi-occupied France for a few years before returning to the United States in 1944.  She retired from the entertainment industry officially in 1945, and moved to San Antonio, Texas, where she lived out her life quietly, away from the prying eyes of the media.  She had been married twice to European nobility, but claimed the love of her life had been Rudolph Valentino.  She died in 1987 at the age of 90, with a legacy of films shot around the world, both silent and in multiple languages.  Today she is all but forgotten, but Pola Negri was easily one of the more influential actresses to hit the silver screen in the early days of cinema.
QUESTION:  In the 1920s, Negri was rumored to be engaged to "the King of Comedy," with whom she shared a long friendship.  The marriage never materialized.  Who earned this nickname for himself during the silent film era?
A)  Rudolph Valentino
B)  Buster Keaton
C)  Harold Lloyd
D)  Charlie Chaplin
ANSWER BELOW

JOHNNY SWIM FAST!  On this day in 1922, the American swimmer Johnny Weismuller broke the 'minute barrier' on the 100 meter freestyle.  This accomplishment would not only make him a world record winner, but also lead him to international fame as Tarzan in the famous film franchise.  He would eventually play the famous ape man in twelve movies.

QUOTE:   With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower. - Johnny Weismuller

ANSWER:  D)  Charlie Chaplin.  While Keaton and Lloyd were superior comedians - and some say better than Chaplin - there can be no doubt that Chaplin's popularity demanded that he earn the title for himself.