Theda Bara

By: Peggy Nelson
July 29, 2011

Silent screen siren THEDA BARA (Theodosia Barr Goodman, 1885-1955) staked her claim early in the black-and-white of silent cinema. A nice Jewish girl from Ohio, Bara exaggerated her dark good looks into a Delacroix-like orientalism, becoming the first celluloid sex symbol. Everything about silent film was exaggerated: the eyes, the gestures, the slapstick, the pathos; as if stark contrast in mascara and morality could compensate for the lack of sound. The word “vamp,” from Bara’s nickname The Vamp, entered the language as a corruption of vampire — something seductive, rapacious, and eternally young, which is not a bad description of cinema itself. Sadly, only six complete prints of her more than forty films still exist, as the others were destroyed in a film vault fire. But unlike many of her contemporaries, who attempted the jump to “talking pictures” with varying degrees of success, Bara knew that limits were no liability. She never spoke onscreen.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Don Marquis and Jean Baudrillard.

READ MORE about members of the Modernist Generation (1884-93).


HiLo Heroes, Movies