Stage and film actress, born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec on the 3rd January 1897 in Lipno, Poland. She died in San Antonio, Texas on 1st August 1987.
Stage and film actress, born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec on the 3rd of January 1897, in Lipno, Poland.
Negri’s early life was marked by the departure of her father, who was arrested in 1902 by the Russians and sent to Siberia. She subsequently moved with her mother to Warsaw, where she enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Ballet. After a period of financial hardship, Negri began a new chapter in her life debuting in Tchaikovsky’s epic, Swan Lake in 1908 for which she gained critical praise. Pola worked her way up and gave a solo performance of the Saint-Léon ballet production Coppélia, again achieving commercial success.
Shortly after, Pola Negri fell ill with tuberculosis and had to put her career on hold. After her recovery, she was accepted into the Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts, where she landed the role of Aniela in Aleksander Fredro’s production of Śluby Panieńskie / Maiden Vows at the Small Theatre in Warsaw. It was here that she used her stage name Pola Negri for the first time, which she adopted from her favourite Italian poet, Ada Negri. Unfortunately, reviews for her first production were unfavourable, but she soon managed to land another role, with the help of her mentor Kazimierz Hulewicz, in Ryszard Ordyński’s pantomime Sumurun at the Grand Theatre. The production was a hit and Pola began to set her sights on a career on the big screen- at the humble age of 17.
From Warsaw to Berlin
In 1914 Pola Negri debuted in her first film Slave to her Senses / Niewolnica Zmysłów directed by Jan Pawłowski. She became the first Polish actress to foster such an onscreen image of desire and intrigue. During the 1st World War, Alexander Hertz’s films starring Pola Negri ended up in the German cinema market.
Her popularity throughout Europe grew so much so that Richard Ordyński invited her to Berlin, to do a revival production of Sumurun, to be directed by Max Reinhard at the Berlin Deutsches Theatre. Hertz saw this as an opportunity to arrange an offer with Saturn Studios. This meant forfeiting Hertz’s and Pola’s current two-year contracts at the time which inevitably led to a lawsuit against her, although the whole case was more of a publicity stunt in order to give Pola higher ratings on the german cinema market.
Pola Negri – Star of Silent Cinema
Unfortunately, Saturn Studios went bankrupt and became the property of UFA – the biggest movie studio in Europe. As a result, Hertz had to pay damages and promise to distribute his movies on the German cinema market through UFA channels.
The transition from Warsaw to Berlin was not an easy one for Pola. At the time German cinema was not ready to fulfil her full acting potential. The films she made in Germany were not that dissimilar to the works of Alexander Hertz. Fortunately, at the Berlin Deustches Theater she met Ernst Lubitsch, who made a name for himself by being one of the few to recognise the distinctiveness of filmed theatre and give film projects a more realistic form. Ernst Lubitsch was also producing comedies for UFA.
While living and acting in Berlin, Pola first signed with Saturn Films acting in films such as Mania (1918). Thereafter, she was signed fully to UFA and Lubitsch convinced the studio to create a high-end movie with Pola as the star. The following films were born from this venture -each greater than the next: The Eyes of the Mummy Ma, Carmen (1918), and Madame Dubarry (1919).
When Charlie Chaplin spoke of his time in Europe, he talked to the New York press about a new film talent. He was referring to Pola Negri. Intrigued, Mr Jesse L. Lasky, (head of the Famous Players agency – known today as Paramount Pictures) sent her an invitation to Hollywood.
For the first time in 1922, Pola Negri walked the streets of Hollywood, home to the biggest stars of the day. It was rumoured that she received a personal blessing from Sarah Bernhardt herself to become the former superstar’s successor. Yet her career did not immediately take off. To make the situation worse a rivalry grew between Pola and film star Gloria Swanson, who was known as the ‘Queen of Paramount’. Paramount’s management had let go of Swanson in order to take a chance on Pola.
8 Polish Hollywood Actresses
One of her first pictures was an Ernst Lubitsch project (Rosita) which was a commercial failure and did much to tarnish the director’s image. However, with their reputations on the line, Ernst and Pola fought back, and in 1924 the film Forbidden Paradise brought them the success they were waiting for.
Several other films followed, with Pola gaining superstar status after filming Hotel Imperial (1927) directed by Mauritz Stiller. Her fame, however, though great, was short-lived in Hollywood. The American public was unreceptive to Pola. The media only speculated on the film star’s supposed scandals and inappropriate behaviour. Pola gained a reputation as a seductive icon, after a string of romances with Rod La Rocque, Charlie Chaplin (who denied involvement) and Rudolph Valentino, who was her lover to the day he died.
Polish Cinema's Golden Age: The Glamour & Progress Of Poland's Interwar Films
silent movie actress
In 1927 Pola left for Paris to marry for the second time. Her marriage to Georgian Prince Serge Mdivani caused a stir in Hollywood as it came so suddenly after the death of Rudolph Valentino. It was seen as a ploy in her battle with Gloria Swanson to outshine her. She had attained nobility through her previous marriage to Henrim de la Falaise.
After her divorce from Prince Mdivani, she charged her way back to the stage staring in Paul L. Stein’s A Woman Commands (1932), her first sound film. Pola was in competition with another screen star at the time (Marlene Dietrich) and received lukewarm reviews. Nevertheless, the song that Pola Negri sang in the film, entitled Paradise, became a big hit and led to a successful promotional tour.
In 1935, Negri returned to Germany to play a part in the Willi Forst film Mazurka, after completing the film Fantaticism (1934) in France, which happened to be the only French film she has ever made. After the success of Mazurka, she became a big favourite of Adolf Hitler. He even had Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda and chief of UFA studios, try and convince Pola to star in a propaganda film that supported Nazi ideology. There was even a rumour that Pola and Hitler had had an affair. But she denied these allegations and even won a lawsuit against the alleged French magazine Pour Vous for publishing such statements. After Negri’s contract was renewed, she fled to France and remained there until the start of World War II.
After the Nazi’s occupied Paris, Pola fled again – this time to Portugal, from there she took a ship back to the States and remained there for good. She starred in only two more films, including Hi Diddle Diddle directed by Andrew L. Stone in 1943. Although the film was a success and gained rave reviews, Pola was not offered any further roles. She did, however, do a tour for a repertoire of her song Paradise.
Pola did not return to the big screen until 20 years later in her final film The Moon-Spinners (1964), directed by James Nielson. She hoped the film would earn her an Oscar, but with no success. Her long-term rival Gloria Swanson nevertheless became an Academy Award winner for her performance in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard. She retired and was asked to act in Jerzy Hoffman’s 1974 classic film Potop / The Deluge, but she turned it down. She lived in San Antonio, Texas until the 1st of July 1987, when she died from severe pneumonia. At the time she was also suffering from a brain tumour, for which she refused treatment.
To this day Negri remains a legend of the big screen and is the only female Polish actress to have become a world-renowned film star. Ernst Lubitsch spoke of her as the only European actress to have been able to impress people on and off-screen. From 2007 as a memorial to the actress, her hometown Lipno hosts a talent film show, for those looking for an opportunity to act outside Poland. She is also the subject of a popular musical staged in Warsaw, as well as various other cultural initiatives.
Silent Films Poland:
- 1914 – Slave to her Senses / Niewolnica zmysłów, by Jan Pawłowski
- 1915 – Wife / Żona, by Aleksander Hertz
- 1916 – Students / Studenci, by Aleksander Hertz
- 1916 – The Beast / Bestia, by Aleksander Herz
- 1917 – Secrets of Warsaw / Tajemnice Warszawy, by Aleksander Hertz
- 1917 – His Last Gesture / Jego ostatni czyn, Aleksander Hertz, Stanisław Jerzy Kozłowski
Silent Films Germany:
- 1917 – Zügelloses Blut, by ?
- 1917 – Nicht Lange Täuschte Mich das Glück, Kurt Matull
- 1917 – Küuss, die Man Stiehlt im Dunkeln, by ?
- 1917 – Wenndas Herz in Hass Erglüht, by ?
- 1917 – Rosen, die der Sturm Entblättert, by ?
- 1918 – Die Toten Augen, by ?
- 1918 – Mania. Die Geschichte einer Zigarettenarbeiterin, by Eugen Illes
- 1918 – Die Augen de Mumie Ma, by Ernst Lubitsch
- 1918 – Der Gelbe Schein, by Eugen Illes, Victor Janson
- 1918 – Carmen, by Ernst Lubitsch
- 1919 – Das Karussel des Lebens, Georg Jacoby
- 1919 – Vendetta (Blautrache), by Georg Jacoby
- 1919 – Kreuzigt Sie!, by Georg Jacoby
- 1919 – Madame Dubarry, by Ernst Lubitsch
- 1919 – Komtesse Doddy, by Georg Jacoby
- 1920 – Die Marchesa d’Armiani, by Alfred Halm
- 1920 – Sumurun, by Ernst Lubitsch
- 1920 – Das Martyrium, by Paul Ludwig Stein
- 1920 – Die Geschlossene Kette, by Paul Ludwig Stein
- 1920 – Arme Violetta, by Paul Ludwig Stein
- 1921 – Die Bergkatze, by Ernst Lubitsch
- 1921 – Sappho, by Dymitri Buchowetzki
- 1922 – Die Flamme, by Ernst Lubitsch
Silent Films USA:
- 1923 – Bella Donna, by George Fitzmaurice
- 1923 – The Cheat, by George Fitzmaurice
- 1923 – The Spanish Dancer, by Herbert Brenon
- 1923 – Hollywood, by James Cruze
- 1924 – Shadows of Paris, by Herbert Brenon
- 1924 – Forbidden Paradise, by Ernst Lubitsch
- 1924 – Lily of the Dust, by Dymitri Buchowetzki
- 1924 – Men, by Dymitri Buchowetzki
- 1925 – East of Suez, by Raoul Walsh
- 1925 – The Charmer, by Sidney Olcott
- 1925 – Flower of Night, by Paul Bern
- 1925 – A Woman of the World, by Malcolm St. Clair
- 1926 – The Crown of Lies, by Dymitri Buchowetzki
- 1926 – Good and Naughty, by Malcolm St. Clair
- 1926 – Hotel Imperial, by Mauritz Stiller
- 1927 – Barbed Wire, by Rowland V. Lee
- 1927 – The Woman on Trial, by Mauritz Stiller
- 1928 – The Secret Hour, by Rowland V. Lee
- 1928 – Three Sinners, by Rowland V. Lee
- 1928 – Loves of an Actress, by Rowland V. Lee
- 1928 – The Woman of Moscow, by Ludwig Berger
- 1929 – The Way of Lost Souls, by Paul Czinner (United Kingdom)
- 1932 – A Woman Commands, by Paul L. Stein (USA)
- 1934 – Fanatisme, by Tony Leikan, Gaston Ravel (France)
- 1935 – Mazurka, by Willi Forst (Germany)
- 1936 – Der Wegnach Shanghai, by Paul Wegener (Germany)
- 1937 – Madame Bovary, by Gerhard Lamprecht (Germany)
- 1937 – Tango Notturno, by Fritz Kirchhoff (Germany)
- 1938 – Die Fromme Lüge, by Nunzio Malasomma (Germany)
- 1938 – Die Nacht der Enstscheidung, by Nunzio Malasomma (Germany)
- 1943 – Hi Diddle Diddle, by Andrew L. Stone (USA)
- 1964 – The Moon-Spinners (USA), by James Neilson
Author: Konrad J. Zarębski, April 2011