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.

Annex - Bara, Theda (Cleopatra)_NRFPT_03

Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917


Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

Annex - Bara, Theda (Cleopatra)_05

Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917


Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917


Theda Bara in Cleopatra, 1917

Surviving Fragments of Cleopatra


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