|Born:||3 January 1897|
|Deathplace:||San Antonio, Texas, U.S.|
|Birthname:||Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec|
Born Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec on January 3rd, 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 was a poor Slovak immigrant.
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 public eye.
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, defended her.
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 entitled 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 book Here Lies The Heart that she and Negri were involved in a lesbian affair during the 1920's, but short of de Acosta's claim there is little proof of that.
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, she 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.
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 the character role she had famously turned down: Norma Desmond.
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 stage actress".
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."