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Theda Bara: The First Sex Symbol of the Film Era, Who Lured Men to Destruction

Theda Bara was one the most well-renowned actress from the silent era and she is often cited as the first sex symbol of the film era. Her character set the vogue for sophisticated sensual themes in the motion pictures. She was the ultimate screen ‘vamp’ who would go through men like a shark. Bara made more than 40 films between 1914 and 1926, but she never appeared in any sound film.

Theda Bara’s Film Career

Bara began her career with a stage play ‘The Devil’ in 1908, she made her film debut with the role of a Gang Moll in the movie ‘The Stain (1914). Her career-changing role came in 1915 when she was cast as the ‘Vamp’ in the movie “A Fool There Was”. This film was released with an intense publicity campaign and it made her an overnight star. The same year, she appeared in five more films. Bara mostly portrayed the role of an irresistible, heartless woman who lived only for sensual pleasure. She wore very revealing costumes in her film, such outfits were banned from Hollywood films. Most of her films were unfortunately lost in 1937, in a fire at Fox Studios.

Bara married film director Charles Brabin in 1921 and retired from acting career. The marriage lasted until her death, and the couple had no children. She appeared in her last film ‘Madame Mystery’ in 1926. Bara spent the remainder of her life as a hostess in Hollywood and New York, in comfort and wealth.

Theda Bara’s death

On April 7, 1955, Theda Bara died of abdominal cancer at the age of 69 at Lutheran Hospital Los Angeles. She was interred as Theda Bara Brabin at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

#1 Theda Bara, the first screen star to be called a ‘vamp’. 1915.

Theda Bara, the first screen star to be called a 'vamp'. 1915.

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#2 Theda Bara in Costume for Cleopatra, 1910s.

Theda Bara in Costume for Cleopatra, 1910s.

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#3 Theda Bara, 1920.

Theda Bara, 1920.

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#4 Theda Bara, with William E.Shay in the movie “”The Clemenceau Case”, 1910.

Theda Bara, with William E.Shay in the movie ""The Clemenceau Case", 1910.

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#5 Theda Bara, 1910.

Theda Bara, 1910.

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#6 Theda Bara as Cleopatra sitting on a throne in the film Cleopatra. 1917

Theda Bara as Cleopatra sitting on a throne in the film Cleopatra. 1917

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#7 Theda Bara in a scene from the film ‘A Fool There Was’, 1915.

Theda Bara in a scene from the film 'A Fool There Was', 1915.

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#8 Theda Bara, epitome of the vamps, in a scene from “Carmen.” 1915.

Theda Bara, epitome of the vamps, in a scene from "Carmen." 1915.

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#9 Theda Bara during a film scene, 1915.

Theda Bara during a film scene, 1915.

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#10 Theda Bara, wearing a costume with entwined sequined snakes and a headdress, 1917.

Theda Bara, wearing a costume with entwined sequined snakes and a headdress, 1917.

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#11 Theda Bara holds a peacock feather fan next to a bed, 1917.

Theda Bara holds a peacock feather fan next to a bed, 1917.

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#12 Theda Bara in costume as Cleopatra, 1917.

Theda Bara in costume as Cleopatra, 1917.

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#13 Theda Bara in costume as Madame Du Barry in the movie ‘Madame Du Barry’, 1917.

Theda Bara in costume as Madame Du Barry in the movie 'Madame Du Barry', 1917.

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#14 Theda Bara sits on a bed of cushions in a scene from the film ‘Cleopatra’, 1917.

Theda Bara sits on a bed of cushions in a scene from the film 'Cleopatra', 1917.

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#15 Theda Bara, 1921.

Theda Bara, 1921.

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#16 Theda Bara reading her Fans Letters, 1926.

Theda Bara reading her Fans Letters, 1926.

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#17 Theda Bara with Tyle Brooke, 1926.

Theda Bara with Tyle Brooke, 1926.

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#18 Theda Bara in a scene of her last movie ‘Madame Mystery’, 1926.

Theda Bara in a scene of her last movie 'Madame Mystery', 1926.

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#19 Theda Bara with Jimmie Finlayson and Tyler Brooke in her last movie ‘Madame Mystery’, 1926.

Theda Bara with Jimmie Finlayson and Tyler Brooke in her last movie 'Madame Mystery', 1926.

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#20 Theda Bara wearing a hat, 1920.

Theda Bara wearing a hat, 1920.

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#21 Theda Bara, 1920s.

Theda Bara, 1920s.

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#22 Theda Bara sporting long finger-nails, 1920.

Theda Bara sporting long finger-nails, 1920.

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#23 Theda Bara in a scene from the movie”The Soul of Buddha”, 1918.

Theda Bara in a scene from the movie"The Soul of Buddha", 1918.

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#24 Theda Bara on the set of “Salome”, 1918.

Theda Bara on the set of "Salome", 1918.

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#25 Theda Bara wearing a costume on the set of Salome, 1918.

Theda Bara wearing a costume on the set of Salome, 1918.

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#26 Theda Bara in Salome, 1918.

Theda Bara in Salome, 1918.

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#27 Theda Bara Cleopatra.

Theda Bara Cleopatra.

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#28 Theda Bara and Fritz Leiber on the set of “Cleopatra”, 1917.

Theda Bara and Fritz Leiber on the set of "Cleopatra", 1917.

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Written by Orla Morris

Full-time dress and costume designer, Half Persian half Italian. I still don’t know how to write, but i'm writing and you are reading :)

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