Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pola Negri; The Greatest Star You Never Heard Of

It is fast approaching the greatest time of year for me: Halloween! I absolutely adore Halloween, not just because of the scary movies I get to watch, or the fact that the decor of my house finally makes sense for a few weeks out of the year, or the fact that Nabisco gives us the black and orange Oreo cookie. No, these reasons are all grand, but my favorite thing about Halloween is the costumes. Duh. I mean, come on, I'm a burlesque performer...I practically spend almost every weekend in costume:)

And you know what would make a great Halloween costume this year? Silent film star Pola Negri.

Who?

Well, chances are that if you didn't grow up in Poland or during the 1920's...or Poland in the 1920's, you have probably not heard of her.

But guess what? She was one of THE biggest stars of her time. In fact, she was the first European star to be invited to Hollywood...(yeah, I didn't know you had to be invited to Hollywood, either. I just thought you crashed the party, like Tara Reid.)

Pola Negri was born Barbara Apolonia Chalupiec in Lipno, Vistula Land. A couple of things about this: Vistula Land was part of the Russian Empire and is now modern day Poland. And, people named their children Apolonia before the move Purple Rain.

Chalupiec got her showbiz start in the Imperial Ballet of Warsaw. But, a bout with tuberculosis forced her to quit. While she was convalescing, she came up with the stage name of Pola Negri- Pola, which was a shortened version of Apolonia, and Negri from the Italian novelist Ada Negri.

After her illness, Pola auditioned for the Warsaw Imperial Academy of the Dramatic Arts. She received much acclaim during her stay there and after graduation, she was offered several stage and film roles. Negri debuted in the Polish film Slave to Her Senses, which led to many more film roles and she quickly became one of Warsaw's most prominent actresses.

By 1917, Negri was given the opportunity to move to Berlin, Germany and act on the stage there. In Berlin, she met German film producer, Ernst Lubitsch. Lubitsch casted Negri in his wide scale film The Eyes of the Mummy Ma in 1918. The film was such a success that it sparked several more collaborations between Negri and Lubitsch.  Why is this important? Well, their collaboration caught the eye of the United States, and more importantly, Hollywood. The invitation was sent.

Well, invitation, is a weird word. The thing is, Hollywood was feeling threatened by the emerging German film industry, so Hollywood's tactic was to buy German talent. So, Hollywood did the same with Negri, and Paramount Pictures offered her a contract. This set the precedent for the procurement of other European stars like Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and later, Ingrid Bergman and Sophia Loren.

American audiences LOVED Pola. In fact, she became one of the richest stars at the time. She even modeled her Hollywood mansion after the White House. She also started several women's fashion trends, like red painted toenails, fur boots, and turbans. I am rocking all three of those looks right now.

Negri earned fame as the femme fatale in her movies, but Paramount wanted to break her typecast because they thought audiences would start to turn on her if she continued to play the seductress. So, Hollywood, in its infinite wisdom, started to cast her in "peasant" roles. The combination of this- and the fact that she had a rumored affair with Rudolph Valentino and caused a scene at his funeral- soured the American publics response to Negri. Pola Negri began her initial retirement in 1928.

Negri married Georgian prince Serge Mdivani, who ended up gambling away most of her fortune...so, she divorced his loser ass and went back to work. She went to France and starred in the film Mazurka.

Mazurka gained popularity not only in France, but Germany as well. In fact, a German egomaniacal dickbag named Adolf really enjoyed her film. The fact that Adolf Hitler named this as one of his favorite films gave birth to the rumor that Hitler and Negri had an affair. This rumor was completely untrue. In fact, Pola Negri sued a French magazine for printing this libelous rumor and won the lawsuit.

After the Nazis took over France, Negri hightailed it out of there and came back to the U.S. She got a role in the 1943 comedy Hey Diddle, Diddle. She was so well received in that film, that fickle Hollywood came knocking at her door once again. But most of the roles offered to her were a rehashing of her role in Hey Diddle, Diddle. Instead, she turned them down and went on the Vaudeville circuit.

She toured the US with her Vaudeville act then went back into semi-retirement. She became close friends with oil heiress Margaret West and moved into Wests' San Antonio ranch. Many speculated that the two were having an affair, but there is no evidence to support this.

In 1948, Billy Wilder approached Negri to play the role of Norman Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. She turned it down and the role went to her rival, Gloria Swanson.... Doh.

Negri did come out of retirement once to appear in the Disney film The Moon Spinners in 1964. Other than that, she led a somewhat reclusive life.

Pola Negri died on August 1, 1987 at the age of 90. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as Poland's Walk of Fame in Lodz.

I think Pola Negri was a fascinating starlet. And if you want to go as Pola Negri for Halloween, may I suggest a necklace to finish off your costume...that way, when people say "Who are you?" you can just point to your necklace:)   http://www.etsy.com/listing/81267058/pola-negri-necklace-polish-silent-film

And use coupon code BLOG15 for 15% off this item or any item in my shop:)

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