You may not have heard of Theda Bara, but she became the biggest sex symbol in the world back in 1915. The mysterious vamp had humble beginnings: She was born as Theodosia Goodman and grew up in Cincinnati. She was the child of middle-class Jewish immigrants.
When she started her acting career, she was 30–but said she was 25 (because that’s what you had to do back then). After she was discovered and starred in a film called “A Fool There Was,” which set the tone for her aesthetic and future roles as the sultry, seductive vamp–a departure for most women, as she portrayed a strong, dominant and sexualized woman (and a Jewish one at that!).
This is when she began to use her stage name, Theda Bara, which apparently became a verb, as “to pull a ‘ThedaBara’ was to ‘seduce and destroy,'” according to The Hairpin. Of course, this wasn’t all her doing–she had some help from Fox Studios’ PR team, who concocted an unusual backstory for her (her romanticized, false story: Her mother was a French actress and her father an Italian sculptor).
Sadly, her career was over by 1920. Most of her films (about 40 in total) were lost in the infamous Fox vault fire of 1937.
Bara aptly summed up her own reputation, however, as if she could see the future, saying, “To be good is to be forgotten. I’m going to be so bad I’ll always be remembered.”
Check out our video to learn more about her (and catch a glimpse of “Cleopatra” below that):
Check out a segment from one of her films: