Theda Bara was a film actress of the silent era, nicknamed "The Vamp." She was one of the first movie stars and inspired many imitators in the early years of cinema. Theda Bara is one of the only movie stars never to have appeared in a sound film, and unfortunately, she has the highest percentage of lost films of anyone with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
Theda Bara was born Theodesia Burr Goodman on 29 July 1885 in Cincinnati, Ohio to European Jewish parents. The oldest of three children, she attended Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati before turning her attention to the stage. In 1908, Theda Bara moved to New York City and began her acting career. Her first Broadway role was in The Devil (1908). Six years later, she made her film debut in The Stain, one of her few remaining films.
Theda Bara first portrayed "The Vamp," a predatory femme fatale that she would come to personify, in her second film, A Fool There Was. This film is also extant and can be found on the Internet. From 1914 to 1919, Theda Bara worked with the Fox Film Corporation, mostly at their New Jersey studio, and she was partially responsible for the corporation's success. In 1917, Theda Bara moved to Hollywood to work on the film Cleopatra, of which only 40 seconds remain intact.
From her earliest films, Theda Bara became known for her exotic, seductive, and dangerous characters. Though she experimented with other roles, such as Juliet, in an attempt to avoid being typecast, publicists presented her as an exotic, mysterious woman in real life. The publicity claimed that her name was an anagram of "Arab Death" and that she had grown up in Egypt, the daughter of a sculptor and a French actress. Many of her roles had her in diaphanous and extremely suggestive costumes in the Oriental style. In addition to characters like Cleopatra and Salome, she played madwomen, artists' muses, and the victim of a haunting.
After her contract with Fox expired in 1919, Theda Bara waned in popularity and only appeared in three more films, shot in 1925 and 1926. In 1921, she married director Charles Brabin, who preferred that she end her career. Theda Bara retired after a 1926 Broadway performance in The Blue Flame. She died of stomach cancer in Los Angeles, California on 17 April 1955. Though her film career was brief and only a small percentage of her work remains, Theda Bara and her vamp persona helped define the femme fatale as a staple character in Hollywood.