"I don't care whether they love me or not. I don't care whether I am beautiful or not. I want a chance to act."
Pola Negri (1894-1987)
Pola Negri, born Appolonia Chalupek in Janowah, Poland. She originally had aspirations of being a ballerina, but her poverty and some personal health issues caused her to change her direction from dancing to acting. After managing to attend the Warsaw Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts, she started as a stage actress with a role in Herman Sudermannís Sodomís End followed by Sumuran, a pantomime play in which she realized her gift for showing emotion without depending on spoken words. That play made the successful transformation to film and her new career was born.
She refined her art in Germany before making the move to the U.S. in 1922, where her exotic persona was a natural for American movie screens. Paramount used her in a series of glitzy roles. Her off screen appearances along with the fan magazines, played up her overly free spirit and gladly publicized her romantic relationships with stars like Charles Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino.
Her films included Madame DuBarry (1919), The Spanish Dancer (1923), Forbidden Paradise (1924) and A Woman of the World (1925). With the advent of the talkies, her heavy accent proved too big a deficit for her to overcome. In top of that, the Hays Code limited the types of parts she could carry off. But most of all, it was the public spectacle she made of herself over Valentinoís death brought the virtual end to her popularity for most Americans.
The Minneapolis Morning Press of December 24, 1926 reported "Pola Negri, fiancee of Rudolph Valentino, at the time of his death, has filed a claim against his estate for $15,000 with interest, which the Polish actress says is due her on a loan made to Valentino a year ago. 'It was a business proposition from one person to another,' said Miss Negri. 'The money was loaned to me as a payment on Beverly Hills property on which Mr. Valentino had contracted to build a home.'"
After all of the negative publicity, she felt she had to return to Europe to revive and resume her career as a film actress with the German film The Woman He Scorned(1929), which featured her singing in a synchronized soundtrack.
When the Nazis started their occupation of Europe, they brutally restricted the German film industry, so Negri had little other choice but return to America. She was to appear in two American films, 1943ís Hi Diddle Diddle with Adolphe Menjou and finally had a minor role in the 1964 Disney movie The Moonspinners with Hayley Mills.
Negri was characteristically spirited in the latter years of her life, as she was able to devote herself to her love of poetry and horses, frequently granting interviews to talk about her early work in the silent film era. She passed away in 1987 in San Antonio, Texas as the result of pneumonia after surviving a brain tumor, for which she adamantly refused treatment.
© Jake Horton, an author who is working on a book profiling legendary ladies of the silver screen.