POLA NEGRI Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Pola Negri                                                                             
Birth name: Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec                                                       
Born: 31 December 1894 Lipno, Poland                                                         
Died: 1 August 1987 San Antonio, Texas, U.S.                                                 
Pola Negri (Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec) (31 December 1894 - August 1, 1987) was             
a Polish film actress who achieved notoriety as a femme fatale in silent films               
between 1910s and 1930s.                                                                     
Born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec on New Year's Eve, 1894 in Lipno, Poland, as an             
only child in a poor family, her mother had to make a living alone after                     
Chałupiec's father was arrested by the Russians and sent to Siberia. Her father             
was a poor Slovak immigrant.                                                                 
In 1902, both moved to Warsaw, where they lived in extreme poverty. She trained               
as a dancer at the Ballet School in Warsaw and performed there until                         
tuberculosis forced her to stop dancing.                                                     
During her movie career, she was also touted as an accomplished organist, and at             
least one extant photograph shows her apparently performing on a two manual pipe             
organ, but this may have been merely publicity, as her family's extreme poverty               
would seem to argue against her studying with any well-known organist.                       
She turned to acting, and by the end of World War I had established herself as a             
popular stage actress in Warsaw, the capital, appearing in several films. She                 
made an appearance in the Grand Theatre (in Sumurun and Dumb from Portici), as               
well as in Small Theatre (Aleksander Fredro's Śluby panieńskie) and at the                 
Summer Theatre in the Saxon Garden, a popular summer variéte theatre. She                   
debuted in film in 1914 in Slave of the Senses (Niewolnica zmysłów).                       
During that time, she adopted the pseudonym "Pola Negri," after the Italian                   
poetess, Ada Negri. She also appeared in a variety of films made by the Warsaw               
film industry, including The Wife (Żona), The Beast (Bestia), Students (Studenci),           
Street Ruffian's Lover (Kochanka apasza) and the Mysteries of Warsaw series.                 
During her short screen career in Warsaw, she gained much popularity, acting                 
with many of the most renowned Polish film artists of the time, including Józef             
Węgrzyn, Władysław Grabowski, Józef Galewski and Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski.           
In 1917, her popularity provided her with an opportunity to move to Berlin,                   
Germany, where she appeared in several films for film directors of the UFA                   
agency, including Max Reinhardt and Ernst Lubitsch. Their films were successful               
throughout the world, and in 1922 both were offered contracts with Hollywood                 
studios and the following year Negri settled in the U.S. Her exotic style of                 
glamour proved popular with audiences during the 1920s and her affairs with such             
notable actors as Charles Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino ensured that she                     
remained in the public eye.                                                                   
One of the most popular Hollywood actresses of the era, and certainly the                     
richest woman of the movie industry at the time, Negri lived in a palace in Los               
Angeles, modelled after the White House. However, her popularity quickly began               
to fade.                                                                                     
Negri caused a media sensation after the death in 1926 of Valentino by                       
announcing that they had planned to marry, and following the train that carried               
his body from New York City to Los Angeles, posing for photographers at every                 
stop. At his funeral she "fainted" several times, and arranged for a large                   
floral arrangement, which spelled out her name, to be placed on Valentino's                   
coffin. Despite the wide publicity she attracted, many of Valentino's friends                 
stated that Valentino and Negri had not intended to marry, and dismissed her                 
actions as a publicity stunt. Negri allegedly kept Valentino's picture on her                 
bedside table until the end of her life, always insisting he had been the great               
love of her life. Actress Tallulah Bankhead, in particular, badmouthed Negri,                 
although others such as Mary Pickford (supportive and generous to so many                     
troubled actresses of the time) and Valentino's brother, Alberto, defended her.               
Negri's "vamp" style began to go out of vogue, and the advent of talking                     
pictures revealed an accented voice that the public did not warm to. As Negri                 
put it: "They went from Pola to Polaroid." Also, the Hays Code introduced in                 
1930 prevented Negri from using her staging techniques, for which she was so                 
popular in Europe. The ban on "scenes of passion" and "excessive and lustful                 
kissing" proved especially disastrous to her career in the U.S.                               
Having divorced Eugeniusz Dąbski in 1921, Negri married Serge Mdivani in 1927 (he           
claimed to be a Georgian prince and his brother was married to actress Mae                   
Murray). In 1929, Negri lost most of her fortune in the Wall Street Crash. The               
couple divorced, and she returned to Europe.                                                 
In 1928, Negri made her last film for Paramount Pictures entitled The Woman from             
Moscow, opposite actor Norman Kerry. The film was only Negri's second talkie (the             
first being Loves of an Actress, also released in 1928) and Paramount declined               
to renew her contract after audiences allegedly had difficulty discerning her                 
dialog because of her heavy Polish accent. Negri subsequently left Hollywood                 
later that year for Great Britain to make the 1929 drama The Way of Lost Souls (also         
known as The Woman He Scorned).                                                               
She made only a few films after 1930, and worked mainly in England and Germany,               
where she acted in several films for the Joseph Goebbels-controlled UFA.                     
The 1935 Willi Forst picture Mazurka gained much popularity in Germany and                   
became one of Adolf Hitler's favorite films, a fact that gave birth to a rumor               
about 1937 about Negri having had an affair with the Reich's Führer. There was               
no truth to the rumor. Pola sued a French magazine, Pour Vous, that had                       
circulated the libelous rumor and won her case. Mazurka was remade (almost shot-for-shot)     
in the U.S. as a Kay Francis picture, Confession. Negri had expressed a desire               
to return to the States to do the remake but had been turned down; in her                     
autobiography, she recounted that with Francis in the lead the picture was a                 
flop. Years later director Forst was interviewed stating that although Negri                 
still looked attractive her lifestyle had aged her and she could not be                       
photographed in a tight close-up. He also said she came out of the women's room               
with "Snow" (cocaine) on her upper lip.                                                       
She fled Germany in 1938, after a few Nazi officials labeled her as having "part             
Jewish" ancestry. She moved to France, and then in 1941 she sailed to New York               
from Portugal and was temporarily detained at Ellis Island. After her release,               
she eventually returned to Hollywood. She briefly appeared in the 1943 film Hi               
Diddle Diddle, though her career was essentially over.                                       
After actresses Mae West and Mary Pickford declined the role, director Billy                 
Wilder approached Negri to appear as Norma Desmond in the film, Sunset Boulevard             
(1950). Wilder recalled that Negri "threw a tantrum at the mere suggestion of                 
playing a has-been", and the role was given to the more amenable and realistic               
Gloria Swanson, who became immortalized on celluloid as Norma Desmond.                       
In 1951, Negri became a naturalized citizen of the United States. Her final film             
appearance was in the 1964 Walt Disney film The Moon-Spinners, with Hayley Mills.             
The same year she received an honorary award from the German film industry for               
her career work. Negri lived her remaining years in San Antonio, Texas, with her             
companion, Texan heiress and composer, Margaret West. Negri maintained her                   
flamboyant persona to the end of her life and was often compared to the                       
character role she had famously turned down: Norma Desmond.                                   
She died on August 1, 1987, at the age of 92. Her death was caused by pneumonia,             
however she was also suffering from a brain tumor (for which she had refused                 
treatment). At her wake at the Porter Loring Funeral Home in San Antonio, her                 
body was placed on view wearing a yellow golden chiffon dress with a golden                   
turban to match. Her small obituary in the local newspaper read, "she had an                 
international career as a screen and stage actress".                                         
She was interred in Calvary Cemetery, East Los Angeles next to her mother,                   
Eleonora. Since she had no children, she left most of her estate to St. Mary's               
University in Texas, including several rare prints of her films. In addition, a               
generous portion of her estate was given to the Polish nuns of the Seraphic                   
Order; a large black and white portrait hangs in the small chapel next to Poland's           
patron, Our Lady of Częstochowa, in San Antonio, Texas.                                     
Pola Negri has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to                   
Motion Pictures at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard. She was the 11th star in Hollywood               
history to place her hand and foot prints in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.             
There were rumors that Negri had a short affair with the young comedian Milton               
Berle. Decades later, Berle claimed that these rumors were true on The Howard                 
Stern Show and Larry King Live. (Berle made many such statements about various               
women, always after said women were dead and could not reply.)