Nita Naldi was a raven-haired silent screen star whose large piercing eyes and feminine mystique were the source of magnetic allure, and detriment, to many male film characters. Often playing a man-eating seductress, Naldi captivated film audiences as the queen of vamp throughout the 1920s.
A convent was the unlikely beginning locale for the infamous seductress. Born Donna Dooley, the future icon of seduction grew up partly, at a Ft. Lee, N.J., convent where her great-aunt was Mother Superior. Reinventing herself, little Donna adopted a stage name, inspired by the name of schoolmate whose last name was Rinaldi, and left for Broadway.
The brunette bombshell was hand-picked from a chorus line in Morris Gest's "Aphrodite" (1919) by John Barrymore for the film "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1920). As Gina, a femme fatale to Mr. Hyde, Naldi was a smash. Screen roles in "Glimpses of the Moon," "You Can't Fool Your Wife," "Lawful Larceny" and "The Ten Commandments" followed.
But it was her pairing with Rudolph Valentino that made her an icon in the annals of silent screen couples. Her lusty turn as a femme fatale to Valentino in "Blood and Sand" (1922) was a match made in heathen heaven. Audiences loved the pairing, triggering demand for more films from the duo. "Sainted Devil" (1924) and "Cobra" (1925) followed.