From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pola Negri (Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec; 3 January 1897 - August
1, 1987) was a Polish film actress who achieved notoriety as a femme
fatale in silent films between 1910s and 1930s.
Born Apolonia Chałupiec according to her birth record and autobiography
(unsourced publications sometimes add Barbara as her other baptismal
name) on January 3, 1897 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, Juraj
Chalupec, was a Slovak immigrant tinsmith.
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, appearing in several
films. She made an appearance in the Grand Theatre (in Sumurun), 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
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,
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, 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. Writer Mercedes de Acosta alleged in her autobiography Here Lies
the Heart (1960) that she and Negri were involved in a lesbian affair
during the 1920s, but short of de Acosta's claim there is little proof
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 in 1937 about Negri having had an affair with
Hitler. 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 Memoirs of a Star (1970), Negri 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 Walt Disney film The Moon-Spinners
(1964), 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 Norma Desmond, the character role she had famously
She died on August 1, 1987, at the age of 90. 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
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.)
In a 1973 interview, she said: "Speaking of the 20's and 30's that
was the most extravagant and glamorous era of the film industry. There
was hard work and longer hours than at present, but there was dignity,
class and great style. Stars didn't have to worry as they were on long
term contracts and were able to enjoy their vacations without worrying
about tomorrow. Few had financial worries due to large incomes and
little taxes. Alas, in 1929 came the Stock Market crash and everything
changed and became worrisome. People started practicing conservatism
because of financial losses, myself included.