Byron Caloz

Theda Bara in Moving Pictures!

Of course Theda Bara appeared in more than 40 movies, however most of them are not available and considered lost or forever destroyed.

Besides the complete feature films A Fool There Was, East Lynne, and The Unchastened Woman and the complete short Madame Mystery the only other film of Theda Bara thought to exist was a very short clip from Cleopatra.

Now there is a new clip of Theda Bara which is not from a film, but more of a film of the making of a movie. The movie, we think, is her last Fox feature The Lure of Ambition from 1919. This is not absolutely confirmed. There is some doubt this is true because of her hairstyle and clothing and might be something she did around 1923 or 1924. For now, though, we will still call this related to Lure

There are two separate clips put together for this silent newsreel type short, one possibly an actual scene from Lure and the other a film of the filming of a scene from Lure

Here is an animated gif pulled from the very end of the second clip where we get the best view of Theda Bara.


You can see the entire short film with the Theda Bara segment titled "Theda Bara The First Glamour Girl" at about 8 minutes into the film. Phillip Dye, the man responsible for the movie Lost Cleopatra describes the short as " a jumble of newsreel footage cut into compilation film by Pack of Fun Films, New York." The title of the short is Fads and Fashions of 1900 which is obviously not correct for all of the footage.

There are many theories about who originally compiled this short and when. According to Carlos Froggy May a consumer 8mm version was sold in the 1930s under the banner of "Reel Old-Time Movies" sold by Stark Films. Most likely this short came out in the 1920s so the producers of the short likely lumped anything more than 10 years old as 1900!

Mr. Dye had heard about this yet could not access the link to the footage. The New Zealand film archive apparently fixed it and let him know. The web page does work if your browser permits all scripts to run.

The first clip appears to be Theda Bara's character considering purchase of a lace shawl of some sort. Interestingly, there may be more footage of Theda Bara which depicts her wearing such a lace shawl. I have never seen this, but the person who has the footage or a copy of it sent me a still from it.


The still is not from any of this footage, so there is a possibility of even more film from The Lure of Ambition (or some other undocumented production) out there!
Byron Caloz

Theda Bara--With Flower

Here are a couple of publicity photos for Theda Bara from the same session, probably taken in the 1920s:



Now, here is an oil painting from probably the 1920's.

Do you see a simularity (especially with the publicity photo on the right)?

I do.

I think the artist created this painting from the photo on the right. The hair appliances were turned into flowers and the gown is actually less revealing than the one in the photo. Still, it does look like a portrait of Theda Bara.

We can't know for sure. There is no title and not even an artist, although it is attributed to Charlotte Overell Chan, a portrait artist active in New York City during the 1920s. She was known for miniatures, but she may have done larger portraits on canvas as well. Hard to say for sure, as I don't have any of her confirmed miniatures to compare against.
Byron Caloz

Coming Soon--A Fool There Was

Here is a U.S. Lantern Slide promoting the Fox film A Fool There Was


This image is from the digital archives of the Cleveland Public Library along with a European Lantern Slide which was a still from Cleopatra.

Not sure if this slide was used to promote the film on its first showing in 1915. The fact that the director was more celebrated here than Theda Bara would indicate it was from the first showing (although I do not know why someone put 1914 in the window).

For your information, lantern slides used in the United States are more rectangular while those used in Europe are more square.
Cleopatra, Theda

Competition in the movie biz

When Theda Bara appeared in films, the movie industry was just breaking from the grip of Edison and production companies were starting to sprout...first on the East Coast then later in Hollywood. These young companies were also fierce competitors and there were no agreed upon rules.

Later that would change as the companies would co-operate and trade stars and writers and directors based on the company needs at the time. From the 1930's until now the big companies would share enough of what they were working on with each other so as not to overtly step on their competitor's toes. If one company was releasing a film with a certain title, another company would make sure not to release a film by exactly the same time that year. This kind of cooperation protected all the companies because audience confusion benefited no one.

However, in the teens of the 20th Century, confusion reigned supreme as film producers were still learning what worked best. Film titles were often repeated in different productions for different companies and shown in theaters at about the same time! Going head to head with your competitor was almost the name of the game.

So, Theda Bara starred in two movies which had not only exact title matches, but pretty much the same story line! There was Carmen which came out at the same time as Geraldine Farrar's Carmen. And there was Harry Hillard and Ms. Bara's Romeo and Juliet from Fox in 1916 competing with Francis X. Bushman and Beverly Bayne's Romeo and Juliet from Metro also in 1916.

The confusion continues to-day when we find an old still from one of these films. Of the four films only Farrar's Carmen survives so all we can check for source material are other stills or similar static visual fragments. Sometimes there is nothing but the set design or costumes that provide a clue as to which version the still comes from.

For these two movies in particular, please exercise caution in identifying the correct version for a still and don't depend on someone else's judgment, either.
Cleopatra, Theda

Paradise and Hell

Here is a panel from a Spanish language comic book that tells the stories of the stars, including an illustrated sketch of Theda Bara's movie characters.


My translation through Babelfish of the caption: "Her gaze, both languid and dismissive, unsettling yet sensual, promising, at the same time, paradise and hell."

The panel depicts some scene from Salome.
Cleopatra, Theda

Scene from Cleopatra

Here is a rare scene from Cleopatra (1917).


Antony, played by Thurston Hall, is with Cleopatra (Theda Bara) in what appears to be a campaign tent.

The production still is conveniently numbered as 20-116, the 20 as Fox's code for Cleopatra and the 116 is the number of the still (which tends to be in order of sequence from the film). This must be from the latter part of the movie based on the plotline, the characters and this number. Obviously yet to come are scenes from Antony's death, Cleopatras mourning of him and then Cleopatra's own death.
Byron Caloz

Cleopatra--The beginning of the re-creation

Ever so briefly I spied the first two pages of a summary of Theda Bara's 1917 Cleopatra, which is a lost film. The summary was in the weekly magazine Moving Picture Stories from November 16, 1917. Unfortunately I only was able to view the first two pages: there were probably at least 4 maybe 6 total pages!

For the first time I was able to put the hundreds of stills into some sort of order with actual dialog from the original movie (presuming the magazine article was accurate).

This inspired me to pull together a rough video of the initial scenes from the movie. There are several problems I will note up-front:
* Some poor pans and zooms, a technique I am still learning.
* In a few places the original aspect ratio was not enforced.
* The music changes don't usually work with the image transitions.

However, this really makes some sense out of all those stills for the first time!

You Tube Video of Cleopatra

I was hoping that by now some much better producer would have created a full re-creation of the film. If someone who has been working on such a project, I hope he (or she) sees this and provides an update!

The title card is adapted from the title lobby card. Other dialogue or narrative cards are derived from the magazine story summary.

I would like to perfect this sequence and get to Cleopatra's statement about how she will "get" the Romans...and turn the title cards into a format similar to the one Fox films was using at the time. I may create these as a series of You Tube videos in a serial format...ending on a cliffhanger and summarizing what went before, add cast and writer credits...that sort of thing.
Byron Caloz

Walk like an Egyptian

Gotta spare $50K? Well maybe some iconic items will suit you...from one of the many costumes Theda Bara wore in Cleopatra.


Of course, you could bid $30K and get this set...but worth estimates go up to $50K at this movie memorabilia auction at Bonhams.
Byron Caloz

Coming Soon--Cleopatra (2 of 2)

This is an interesting slide for Cleopatra (1917) in that it came as a negative, yet it was housed in the cardboard frame that would indicate it was supposed to be projected in a Magic Lantern. The slide is also cracked.

I assume it was used in producing positives and then those may even have been tinted. I have never seen any (positive or negative, tinted or not) besides this one. This one a reverse image and the crack is removed for your positive pleasure (seriously).


With Cleopatra (played by Theda Bara) is Antony (played by Thurston Hall).
Byron Caloz

The Man from Destruction

This still from The Fox movie Destruction (1915), based on the Emile Zola novel Labor, has been reproduced many times and crediting the actress playing Ferdinande, Theda Bara, but never mentioning who played the man, or explaining what was going on.


The image has even graced the cover of a compact album, subset of the first album of the Brazilian rock band Paralamas do Sucesso in 1983 titled Cinema Mudo (Silent Cinema).


Vinícius Rosa Frahm, a fan of the group, was curious to know who the man is. So, I looked into it and, at first (without reading the plot lines carefully) believed the actor was J. Herbert Frank in his role as Dave Walker from Destruction. My flawed logic went as follows:

1. He is a adult male.
2. He is not the only male cast member I do know: Warner Oland, who played Mr. Deleveau.
3. The presumably adult males in the cast beside Warner Oland are Arthur Morrison (Lang), Frank Evans (a mill foreman), Carleton Macy (John Froment Jr.), Johnnie Walker (unknown part), J. Herbert Frank (Dave Walker), James A. Furey (John Froment Sr.), Gaston Bell (John Froment III).
4. The imdb plot summary is: Fernande (played by Theda Bara) marries a man and schemes to get his wealth when his expected death occurs. But he dies before he can change his will. She next tries to kill the son who inherits, but he outfoxes her.
5. The AFI plot summary is: When John Froment III, a college student known as "Jack," learns that his father, a wealthy mill owner, has married the temptress Ferdinande Martin, he warns his father, but Ferdinande claims that she earlier refused Jack's proposal, and Froment disregards the warning. After Froment complains about Ferdinande's extravagances, she convinces his manager, Deleveau, who desires her, to reduce the workers' wages. A strike is called, which to Ferdinande's delight, worsens Froment's serious heart condition. After Dave Walker, a worker who abuses his wife Josine, is wounded during a riot, Jack befriends Josine and urges his father to settle. When Ferdinande accuses Jack of trying to ravish her, Froment orders Jack out, and decides to change his will to favor Ferdinande, but Froment's invalid grandfather sees Ferdinande try to poison Froment, and warns him. After Froment sees Ferdinande embracing Deleveau, he locks the original will away, and dies. Later, Ferdinande convinces Walker that Jack is involved with Josine. Walker then rapes Ferdinande and attacks Jack. After escaping to the Froment mansion, he dies with Ferdinande as it burns. Jack marries Josine, and the community thrives.
6. The man's age indicates he is not John Froment, Sr.
7. Johnnie Walker is in a bit part: most likely not in a major scene with Theda Bara.
8. Arthur Morrison is just given a character named Lang. This is most likely a bit part and thus not in a major scene with Theda Bara.
9. Then there is Frank Evans, a mill foreman. As he is not a named character, he is most likely not in a major scene with Theda Bara.
10. The man's age, physique and clothing...and his action... suggests he is the Dave Walker character (played by J. Herbert Frank) in the process of raping Ferdinande!

Is it really J. Herbert Frank? Well, if you follow his filmography, he tended to be cast into "heavy" roles. Certainly this qualifies. Here is J. Herbert Frank from his role as Don Rodrigues in the 1918 Goldwyn comedy Dodging A Million.

Don Rodrigues (J. Herbert Frank), spies on Jack Forsythe (Tom Moore) and Arabella Flynn (Mabel Normand) from Dodging A Million (1918).

J. Herbert Frank led a tragic life. He was never a star, always a supporting cast member. Besides Destruction (1915) and Dodging a Million (1918), he was in 51 other films from 1914 to 1924. His most productive and recognized period started with his appearance in the Theda Bara film and lasted through around 1918.

After World War I he became less employable as a silent film actor. He appeared in only 11 films during that period, often under different aliases such as Bert Frank or Burt Frank. Toward the end of his life he got into trouble with the law a great deal and was arrested for bootlegging and drug dealing. Police were suspicious of him as a possible narcotics supplier to actor Wallace Reid after Reid died in 1922 (from health conditions related to his morphine addiction).

In 1926, Frank commited suicide by flooding his Los Angeles apartment with natural gas. He was scheduled to appear in court on a disturbance charge. He was only 40 years old when he died.

However, the picture of J. Herbert Frank really did not look like the character seen in Destruction. The face was more gaunt and, as Vinícius pointed out, his hairline was different.

I then re-read the plot summaries and realized I totally dismissed one of the most prominent roles in the movie, that of Froment III, "Jack." While the clothing and physique was more of a worker, the plot line (especially from IMDB) would indicate that there was a scene with Jack fighting Ferdinande...thus the picture.

What clinches it, really, is this picture of the actor playing Jack, Gaston Bell:


As a result, I believe that the scene from Destruction is that of Jack Froment (Gaston Bell) fighting Ferdinande (Theda Bara).

Unlike Herbert, Bell had not hitched his life and career on Hollywood and the films. He was better known as a stage actor and most likely never came out west as the movie business moved to California. Bell's final film, the one after Destruction, was in 1919 when he played a Soviet secret agent in The Heart of a Gypsy. Bell died at the age of 86 in Woodstock, New York.