Bebe Daniels as ‘Zaida’ “In She’s a Sheik” (1927)

She’s a Sheik is a 1927 silent film comedy adventure produced and distributed by Paramount Pictures. The film is possibly lost.

Bebe Daniels stars as Zaida the daughter of a desert chief who kidnaps a member of the French Foreign Legion in the hopes of wooing him.

The comedy pokes fun at the Valentino ‘sheik’ films with the exception that a woman, played by Bebe Daniels, is the protagonist.

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 Bebe Daniels as ‘Zaida’, 1927

Bebe Daniels for SHE'S A SHEIK (Clarence G. Badger, 1927)

 Bebe Daniels as ‘Zaida’, 1927

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Ad for She’s a Sheik

Gloria Swanson in “Male and Female” by Arthur F. Kales (1919)

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Arthur F. Kales, Gloria Swanson in “Male and Female” directed by Cecil B. DeMille, 1919 via

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Arthur F. Kales, Gloria Swanson in “Male and Female” directed by Cecil B. DeMille, 1919 via

Theda Bara in Lavish Silent Picture “Cleopatra” (1917)

Cleopatra was a 1917 American silent historical drama film which is considered lost, as no known complete negatives or prints of it survive. It starred Theda Bara, the screen’s first sex symbol, as Cleopatra. Only Brief fragments of footage from the film are known to exist today. After the Hays Code was implemented in Hollywood, Cleopatra was judged too obscene to be shown. The last two prints known to exist were destroyed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and unfortunately in the fires at the Fox studios in 1937 along with the majority of Theda Bara’s other films for Fox (Bara made over 40 films, sadly only 2 complete features are known to exist).

Cleopatra was one of the most elaborate Hollywood films ever produced up to that time, with particularly lavish sets and costumes. According to the studio, the film cost $500,000 (approximately $8.3 million in 2009) to make and employed 2,000 people behind the scenes. The film was based on H. Rider Haggard’s 1889 novel Cleopatra and the plays Cleopatre by Émile Moreau and Victorien Sardou and William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. The story told was about the epic romances between Cleopatra and the greatest men of Rome, Julius Caesar and Antony.

 Theda Bara

Between 1915 and 1919, Bara was Fox studio’s biggest star and Cleopatra became one of Bara’s biggest hits. In promoting the film Fox Studio publicists noted that the name Theda Bara was an anagram of Arab death, and her press agents claimed inaccurately that she was “the daughter of an Arab sheik and a French woman, born in the Sahara. It was popular at that time to promote an actress as mysterious, with an exotic background. The studio even called her the Serpent of the Nile and encouraged Bara to discuss mysticism and the occult in interviews. This is perhaps why Bara claimed to have the same astrological sign as the real Cleopatra as a marketing ploy for the film. In reality Cleopatra was a Capricorn and Bara was a Leo. Even though no known prints of Cleopatra exist today, numerous photographs of Bara in costume have survived.

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Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

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Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

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Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

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Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

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Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

Surviving Fragments of Cleopatra

 

Vintage Photos of Femme Fatales of Silent-Cinema

A Femme Fatale is a French phrase for “fatal woman”. She is the archetype found in literature and art as a mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations.

One traditionional view portrays the femme fatale as a sexual vampire; her charms leach the virility and independence of lovers, leaving them shells of themselves.

From the American film-audience perspective, the femme fatale often appeared foreign, usually either of indeterminate Eastern European or Asian ancestry. She was the sexual counterpart to wholesome actresses such as Lillian Gish and Mary Pickford.

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Theda Bara, 1915 via

Theda Bara (1885–1955) was one of the most popular actresses of the silent era, and one of cinema’s earliest sex symbols. According to the studio biography her name was an anagram of “Arab Death”, and she was born in the Sahara to a French artiste and his Egyptian concubine and possessed supernatural powers. In fact, her father was a Cincinnati tailor. The film that made Bara a star was A Fool There Was (1915). The film took it´s title from the popular Rudyard Kipling poem “The Vampire” – the poem was even used in the publicity for the film. Kipling had taken inspiration from a vampire painted by Philip Burne-Jones, to write his poem. The poems refrain: “A fool there was…”, describes a seduced man. So, in the American slang of the era, a femme fatale is a vamp, short for vampire.  And the femme fatale roles earned Bara that nickname  – The Vamp.

Louise Glaum via

American actress Louise Glaum  (September 4, 1888 – November 25, 1970)  was called “The Spider Woman” or “The Tiger Woman” as one of silent screen’s most infamous and exotic vamps. She was credited with giving one of the best characterizations in her early career. Her first role as a “vamp,” was as Mademoiselle Poppea in The Toast of Death (1915).

Valeska Suratt via

Valeska Suratt (June 28, 1882 – July 2, 1962)  was dubbed “The Vampire Woman” on the silent screen. In 1915  Suratt signed with Fox. and like fellow Fox contract players Theda Bara and Virginia Pearson, Suratt was marketed as a “vamp” and was cast as seductive and exotic characters. During her years on the stage, Valeska was noted for the high fashion clothes she wore on stage. She was sometimes called the “Empress of Fashions”. She began on film after being noticed by producer Edward Edelston as she was walking down a hotel staircase one evening wearing a provocative backless gown. Her name became synonymous worldwide for lavish gowns. In the late 1920s her fame waned and she quickly disappeared from public view, never to return.

Musidora via

Jeanne Roques (23 February 1889 – 11 December 1957), better known by her stage name Musidora, was a French actress chiefly famous for her work under the direction of Louis Feuillade: the serials Les Vampires as Irma Vep (an anagram of “vampire”) and in Judex as Marie Verdier.  Les Vampires was not actually about vampires, but about a criminal gang-cum-secret society inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang. Her vamp persona has been compared with that of Theda Bara. Her mystique was accentuated by large, dark eyes and a habit of wearing a black leotard, hood and tights while on the set. After she retired from acting, she became a journalist and a writer on cinema.

Pola Negri via

Pola Negri (January 3, 1894  – 1 August 1987) was a Polish stage and film actress who achieved worldwide fame during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film for her tragedienne and femme fatale roles. She was the first European film star to be invited to Hollywood, and become one of the most popular actresses in American silent film. She also started several important women’s fashion trends that are still staples of the women’s fashion industry. Her varied career included work as an actress in theater and vaudeville; as a singer and recording artist; as an author; and as a ballerina.However,  three things conspired to end her career in Hollywood. The display that she put on at the funeral of Valentino in 1926, changed the public mood towards her. The Hays Office codes which would not allow filming the very traits that made her a sex-siren European star. And finally, her thick accent would not play in the sound pictures that were coming into vogue.

Myrna Loy via

Myrna Loy (August 2, 1905 – December 14, 1993) trained as a dancer and started her career at the end of the silent era. She was originally typecast in exotic roles, often as a Theda Bara-like femme fatale  or a woman of Asian descent. Fortunately, she was rescued by the advent of the sound picture, where she was recast in the role of the witty, urbane, professional woman. She is best remembered for her role of Nora Charles opposite William Powell in six “Thin Man” movies.

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Jetta Goudal via

Jetta Goudal (July 12, 1891 – January 14, 1985) left World War I era devastated Europe in 1918 to settle in New York City, where she hid her Dutch Jewish ancestry, generally describing herself as a “Parisienne” and on an information sheet for the Paramount Public Department she wrote that she was born at Versailles on July 12, 1901 (shaving 10 years off her age).

In her glorious Hollywood heyday, she was a star rivaling that of Gloria Swanson and fellow vamp Nita Naldi.

Goudal appeared in several highly successful and acclaimed films for DeMille, who later claimed that Goudal was so difficult to work with that he eventually fired her and cancelled their contract. Goudal filed a lawsuit for breach of contract against him and DeMille Pictures Corporation. Because of this and her high-profile activisim in the Actors’ Equity Association campaign for the theatre and film industry to accept a closed shop, some of the Hollywood studios refused to employ Goudal. In 1932, at age forty-one, she made her last screen appearance in a talkie, co-starring with Will Rogers in the Fox Film Corporation production of Business and Pleasure.

 

Helen Gardner, 1912 via

American film actress Helen Gardner (September 2, 1894 – November 20, 1958), is considered the screen’s first vamp and is known for her portrayals of strong female characters. She predates both Theda Bara, Valeska Suratt and Louise Glaum. She was also a writer, editor, producer and costume designer. Her first production was Cleopatra (1912) which was one of the first American full-length films, playing for many years in the US and abroad.

Olga Petrova via

Olga Petrova (May 10, 1884 – November 30, 1977) was an American actress, screenwriter and playwright. Born as Muriel Harding in England, she moved to the United States and became a star of vaudeville using the stage name Olga Petrova. Petrova starred in a number of films for Solax Studio sand was Metro Pictures first diva, usually given the role of a femme fatale. During her seven years in film, Petrova appeared in more than two dozen films and wrote the script for several others. Most of her films are now lost.

Virginia Pearsson via

Virginia Pearson  (March 7, 1886 – June 6, 1958) made fifty-one films in a career which extended from 1910 until 1932. In her silent heydayn she was known as “the screen’s heretic”. She was promoted by William Fox of Fox Film Corporationfor for strong vamp parts and she reigned along with Theda Bara, Louise Glaum and Valeska Suratt as Hollywood’s most notorious vamps. Among her movies is Blazing Love (1916), Wildness of Youth (1922), The Vital Question (1916), Sister Against Sister (1917), The Red Kimona (1925), Wizard of Oz (1925), and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). She went out of style after WWI and by 1924 had to declare bankruptcy. Thereafter she was reduced to extra parts and was forced to live with her husband, former actor Sheldon Lewis, in a small Hollywood Hotel room.