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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
Pola Negri and Ernst Lubitsch take on the famous tale of Carmen.
Marion Davies goes Netherlands in this comedy directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.
Pola Negri’s oldest complete surviving film.
One of Marion Davies’ biggest hits at MGM, an adorable family comedy.