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Theda Bara: power beyond words

I can’t let Women’s History Month pass by without paying homage to Theda Bara, one of the world’s most popular stars of the silent screen. She was born Theodosia Burr Goodman in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1885. After appearing in the epic film Cleopatra, in 1917, she became the third highest box-office draw in Hollywood: Mary Pickford commanded the lead and Charlie Chaplan was second.

Theda Bara in Cleopatra
Theda Bara archives

In terms of communication skills, she was the incontestable queen of body language. Without words, she conveyed her thoughts and emotions with remarkable flair for drama. Nicknamed The Vamp, she also inspired the admiration of her film audience with her powerful sexuality. (See Ahead of her time, she was often considered the original sex symbol of that era. 

She characterized the quintessential femme fatale. Journalist Robert Avrech described her screen presence as that of “the lethal seductress who sucks the life out of a man, then abandons him, leaving only chaos and destruction her wake,” although she led a quiet private life, married to one man, director Charles Brabin. She was known to be an avid reader, who had a special passion for art history and poetry. (See

Bara was once quoted saying, “I have the face of a vampire, but the heart of a feminist.” (See

A 1937 fire in Fox’s nitrate film storage vaults destroyed most of the studio's silent films, including Cleopatra. Out of her 40 films, only 3 remain intact. (See But her legend lives forever.

Here’s a Youtube tribute to Bara, an authentic individualist with inestimable power:


  • Paula Ashley 5 years ago

    Touché, MK! I couldn't help but notice, too, how this vibrantly sexy woman had a NORMAL-looking body. Inspiring!

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