Theme Month! April 2015: Pola and Marion

On January 3, 1897, two baby girls were born an ocean apart. Apolonia Chalupec, the daughter of a Slovakian immigrant living in Lipno, Poland. Marion Douras was born in Brooklyn, New York. Both women adopted more glamorous surnames (Apolonia shortened her given name for good measure) and became famous as Pola Negri and Marion Davies.

Both actresses were supremely talented and left behind some very fine films. They are also still targeted for ridicule, their love lives treated like a joke. Davies’ reputation has been on the mend but Negri still needs help.

As you can see, our two January girls have a lot in common. They also happen to be my number one (Negri) and number two (Davies) favorite silent film actresses. I couldn’t resist taking a month to celebrate their wonderful careers.

A longstanding policy of this site is that I do not dig deeply into the personal lives of my subjects. In the first place, I don’t actually care and darned if I didn’t forget to install cameras in their bedrooms. Silly old me. In the second place, these discussions often fly off the rails and overwhelm what actually matters. You know, their films. The rule goes double for this month.

It really makes me angry when talented women are solely identified through their love lives and/or male romantic/authority figures. Negri and Davies have both regularly been reduced to the-lover-of-Hearst/Valentino/Chaplin. This is rather sexist and it ignores the aforementioned talent that these women possessed.

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Marion Davies: Davies had a rough patch for a while but now most important voices in classic film agree that her relationship with William Randolph Hearst actually damaged her career and that she was a delightful light comedienne when left to her own devices.

That doesn’t mean that everyone got the memo. While touring Hearst Castle, my older brother was in the vicinity of some knuckleheads who were snickering about Davies being Hearst’s mistress and how he “bought” her movie career. I am happy to say that my brother schooled them on movie history (naturally, they had never seen one of Davies’ films) and made them feel not a little cheesy. As it should be. I was proud.

And, no, I don’t want to hear theories about the “murder” of Thomas Ince. Shoo.

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Pola Negri: When Negri arrived in America, she took up with the poor, virginal Charlie Chaplin, whose innocence she stole, the vamp. (Dripping sarcasm, by the way. I could have been mean. Hoo boy could I have been mean.)

Moving on…

Negri’s subsequent companion was even more controversial. Some moron on IMDB wrote that Pola Negri and Rudolph Valentino may have never even met and it was all in her head. I wonder if they care to explain this. (I fixed the erroneous IMDB entry, don’t worry.) Overzealous Valentino fans still pant out the details of his funeral. “Pola tried to steal the show! She didn’t really love him and she fainted too much! That evil witch!” Charming people. Remind me to have them over for dinner sometime. I’ll serve Joan Crawford’s Banana Salad and Victor McLaglen’s Chili.

(Hollywood tried to do the same thing to Marlene Dietrich with her mourning for John Gilbert. It didn’t stick.)

So, Pola wished to date attractive, famous people. A shocker! She saw what she liked and she went for it. No! She demanded better scripts and didn’t like to be cast in stupid films. The Jezebel! Will these females never learn to stay in their place? (Faints!)

Pola Negri refused to stay in her place. She was an excellent actress and she knew it. She was also a star and she knew that too. I really don’t care who she dated and why. I don’t care about her funeral etiquette. What do I care about? Her astonishing acting ability. (No comments regarding Pola’s love life will be approved. Not. Touching. This.)

So, yeah, I’m defensive. Darn tootin’ I am!

Calming down…

So, I hope you will enjoy this theme month. While you’re waiting for the reviews, here are some Davies and Negri titles that I have already reviewed.

Marion Davies:

Show People

Pola Negri:

Barbed Wire

A Woman of the World

The Wildcat

Hotel Imperial

Pola #1: Gypsy Blood (1918)

Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch take on the famous tale of Carmen.

Marion #1: The Red Mill (1927)

Marion Davies goes Netherlands in this comedy directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Pola #2: The Polish Dancer (1917)

Pola Negri’s oldest complete surviving film.

Marion #2: The Patsy (1928)

One of Marion Davies’ biggest hits at MGM, an adorable family comedy.

22 Replies to “Theme Month! April 2015: Pola and Marion”

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, it seems the silent era is particularly susceptible to the preference for gossip over film discussion. I think it’s because so many films are lost that gossip is all we have in some cases.

  1. So happy you’re doing Marion Davies. Along with Myrna Loy and Jean Arthur, she is one of our supreme comediennes. I, too, would rather read about their work rather than their private lives. What makes it difficult about Davies, though, is that, for better or worse, her private life was lived at the epicenter of early 20th Century American history. This, in many ways, was her tragedy. Still, not to be prurient, it was a true love story.

  2. Will you be reviewing Madame DuBarry as part of your retrospective on Valentino’s lov…um… I mean esteemed actress Pola Negri? 😉 😛

      1. Silly question but how you are going to update the site while abroad? Do you have the review already written and ready to post?

      2. I’ve already been to Korea and returned but before I left, I wrote all the content for the month that I was gone. I used the WordPress phone app to post the content as I find that scheduled posts are dicey at times. The main issue for users was that it took a little longer for comments to be approved.

      3. Ah….. When you said “I’m heading off to sunny Spain for the most part” I thought you meant you were actually going on holiday to Spain, hence my questions about posting while abroad…. :-\

  3. This is a great idea! Pola especially is one of my personal favorites so it will be a treat.

    Also to all those obsessive Valentino fans who like to bash Pola I say this: if any Valentino fan had the chance to date him like Pola did we all most assuredly would have taken it, so stop gossiping over the romantic lives of people well over 100 years old! Frankly, I consider it weird to be fighting over who dating who when the parties in question have often been dead for years at this point.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. The negative obsession with Pola (and all of Valentino’s lovers, real and imagined) is just plain uncalled for. Miss Negri was one of the finest actresses of her generation and to define her through her romantic entanglements is condescending, sexist and ignorant.

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