The Mistress of the World: Hungarian Vamp Lya de Putti

Lya De Putti (1897 – 1931) was a Hungarian film actress of the silent era, noted for her portrayal of vampcharacters.

She began her stage career on the Hungarian Vaudeville circuit. She soon progressed to Berlin, where after performing in the ballet, she made her screen debut in 1918. She became the premiere danseuse at the Berlin Winter Garden in 1924.

Around that time German film director Jol Mai noticed her and cast her in her first important film, The Mistress of the World. She followed this success with noteworthy performances in Manon Lescaut and Varieté (1925).

The actress came to America in February 1926. At the time she told reporters she was twenty-two years old. Her ocean liner’s records list her as having been twenty-six. De Putti was generally cast as a vamp character, and often wore her dark hair short, in a style similar to that of Louise Brooks or Colleen Moore.

In 1913, she married Zoltán Szepessy, a county magistrate. They divorced in 1918. The couple had two daughters, Ilona (b. 1914) and Judith (b. 1916).

The following year, De Putti went to Hollywood, but found little success there. Despite working with such distinguished actors as Adolphe Menjou and Zasu Pitts, she failed to make it big, and left the screen by 1929 to attempt to restart her career on Broadway.

Her Hollywood efforts were inhibited by her foreign accent. Later she went to England to make silent movies and studied the English language. Soon she returned to America to attempt talkies.

She died in 1931, aged 34, in the Harbor Sanitorium. She was hospitalized to have a chicken bone removed from her throat, and contracted a throat infection. She left just £800 and a few bits of jewellery. Four years earlier, £800 was her weekly wage. She is interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York.

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Lya De Putti postcard

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Lia de Putti

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Lya de Putti

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 Lya de Putti & Eugen Klöpfer in Comedians (1925, dir. Karl Grune)

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Lya De Putti in “Sorrows of Satan” 1926

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Ross Verlag, Germany, C1920s

Lya de Putti

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