Pola Negri continues to be one of the greatest Polish film stars to have ever performed in Hollywood. She was born on 3rd January 1897, in a small town in Dobrzyń Land – Lipno, as Barbara Apolonia Chałupiec, although it would be more correct to use the original spelling of her surname, which was Chalupec. Her father was a Slovak, who settled in this land at the end of the 19th Century. Pola Negri died in San Antonio, USA, on 1st August 1987.
She was a great star of Polish, German, and American cinema, and definitely one of the first-ever film stars of international stature, especially for her performances in silent films.
When she was 5, her father Jerzy (Juraj) was deported to Siberia by the Russians. Trying to make ends meet, her mother decided to move to Warsaw, in 1902. While there, she noticed that her daughter was developing a talent for acting, and supported her ambitions. This was the first step in the creation of “Pola Negri,” some dozen or so years later.
Apolonia finished a theatrical school in Warsaw and started performing in local theatres. Her début came in 1912, as Klara in “Śluby panieńskie/Maiden Vows,” in Teatr Mały (the Small Theatre) in Warsaw.
The turning point in her career came with the role in Niewolnica zmysłów/Slave to her Senses” by Jan Pawłowski, in 1914, a Polish film made for the Sfinks production company. That was the moment when she adopted the name Ada Negri as a tribute to her beloved Italian poet. She played in a number of other Polish films, and then focused on a career in Germany, which was back then the very centre of European cinema.
She became one of the most-popular cinema stars in the blink of an eye. Her expressive acting manner and remarkable, slightly Oriental, looks enchanted the aidience. She played in The Eyes of the Mummy Ma, Carmen, and Madame Dubarry, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch. Her successful career in Germany became the doorway to a career overseas.
In 1923, she arrived in Hollywood and almost immediately started playing in one blockbuster after another. She played in Bella Donna by Hugo Riesenfeld, Napiętnowana/The Cheat by George Fitzmaurice, two films by Herbert Brenon – Tancerka hiszpańska/The Spanish Dancer and Czarna Lu/Shadows of Paris, then in Piętno krwi/East of Suez by Raoul Walsh, or in Skłamałam/The Crown of Lies by Dimitri Buchowetzki.
She was highly acclaimed by film critics, inter alia, for her creation in Hotel Imperial (1927) by Mauritz Stiller. Forbidden Paradise (1924) is commonly considered to be the most-ambitious film in her American career, in which she portrayed Catherine the Great.
Pola Negri was quickly recognised as a sex icon, which was further fuelled by her well-known love affairs with Charlie Chaplin and Rudolph Valentino, and even rumours about the alleged affection that Pola Negri had for her long-time friend Margaret West.
Although Pola Negri was an international cinema star, she never forgot where she came from. She was particularly fond of Bydgoszcz, where she lived in a tenement house on ul. Gdańska, while visiting Poland. She also bought a house in Bydgoszcz for her mother Eleonora – it was situated on ul. Zamojskiego. She also supported charity organisations and institutions, in both Lipno and Bydgoszcz. In 1925, she visited the city by the Brda River and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds of people. Her last film performance was in Księżycowe prządki/The Moon Spinners (1964) by James Nelson, made for the Walt Disney Company. She died forgotten, in 1987.
The memory of Pola Negri is still cultivated in her hometown, Lipno. In 2007, the Pola Negri Culture Society in Lipno started organising an annual festival under the name “Pola i inni” (Pola and Others).
It is a combination of a retrospective of her films and a ceremony of awarding the “Politiki” statuettes for Polish artistes having their careers abroad, just as Pola did. In the Nawojka Cinema, there is the Pola Negri Exhibition Room .
Silent films made in Poland
Silent films made in Germany
Silent films made in the USA
Walk of Fame – a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, German Film Awards – Honorary Award.