Theda Bara was the first great femme fatale of the silent screen. For her the word "vamp" was invented — from vampire.
For her, also, a history was created by Hollywood publicists to fit the sultry, tempestuous screen personality of the actress.
They said she was born in the shadow of the Pyramids and was the descendant of kings of Egypt. Her name, according to the legends, was Arab spelled backward.
Actually, Theda Bara was born plain Theodosia Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In the early days of film the public was willing to accept any legend about the dark-haired screen-siren. She lured customers to the box offices by the thousands with her heavy-lidded beauty.
She came to motion pictures from the musical comedy stage. She appeared in New York and Paris prior to her arrival in Hollywood in 1914.
After a few bit roles, William Fox starred her in "A Fool There Was" in 1915. It was one of the biggest box-office smashes of the generation.
The studio quickly followed it with dozens of other films in which the actress usually played the seductive heartbreaker. She was billed as "The Lady of High Tension Love" and the "Champion Homebreaker."
And always as "The Vamp."
She starred in such pictures as "The Vixen," "The Tiger Woman," "The She-Devil," The Serpent of the Nile," "The Siren's Song," "When a Woman Sins" and "Rose of Blood."
In later years, Bara said of these early days of her great triumphs: "I never went to parties, I never was interviewed—I didn't have the time. I made 40 pictures in four years."
By 1919 her brief screen career was near an end.
She went to New York and starred in a musical comedy, "The Blue Flame." It was a great hit on Broadway and the actress toured the nation in it with tremendous success.
Theda Bara made another film in 1921, "Kathleen Mavourneen," directed by Charles Brabin, a leading film director of the day. She and Brabin were later married.
Bara came out of retirement in 1925 to make the picture "Unchastened Woman." She followed it with a few personal appearances in California theaters, made comedies for Hal Roach and then retired for good.