In 1917, Theda Bara was the biggest draw for Fox studios, and a movie star whose popularity was surpassed only by Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. The quintessential vamp, Bara’s exotic allure was wholly invented by the studio to capitalize on her unusual beauty. In this photograph by Albert Witzel, hand colored and printed she is seen posed in an early iteration of her Cleopatra headdress, with flowing deep black hair.
Witzel was Bara’s favorite photographer, and he was as responsible for creating her regal, yet dangerous, image as were the films themselves. Though most of Bara’s performances are lost, she is still instantly recognizable as Salome and Cleopatra, due to the work of Albert Witzel. With his eye for depth of focus, Witzel made Bara appear to emerge from the past, a sensuous icon for all time, while making a name for himself as one of the premiere Hollywood portraitists.
Inscribed to Tom Mix, the cowboy superstar, who in 1917 had just joined Bara as a headlining performer for Fox studios, this came from Mix’s collection. This is a one of a kind, personal and important photograph, and the artistry and allure are unmatched. Photograph is floating in beveled mat, and professionally framed in gallery frame.
Biography by Hal Erickson
Although publicized as an Egyptian of royal lineage, silent film actress Theda Bara was actually born Theodosia Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her exotic good looks brought her to the attention of Fox studios in 1914; reasoning that there were too many sweet little ingenues in films of that period, Fox decided to create a worldly “vamp” character, a woman who could destroy men with little more than a sexy glance. The studio changed Theodosia’s name to Theda Bara (which coincidentally was an anagram for “Arab Death”), casting her in a liberal adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s A Fool There Was(1914). She became Fox’s biggest star, appearing in as many as ten feature films per year, including Salome (1918) and Cleopatra (1917). Her somewhat overripe histrionics became out of fashion by 1920, so she retired from acting to married life; Bara resurfaced in a “so bad it’s good” Broadway play The Blue Flame, then made an unsuccessful film comeback attempt in 1925. Her last screen work was in a two-reel lampoon of her vamp character, Madame Mystery (1926), directed by, of all people, Stan Laurel. Though happily married and fabulously wealthy, Bara never gave up the dream that she might someday return to screen glory; at the time of her death in 1955, Hollywood’s casting service directories still listed the actress as “at liberty.”