Theda Bara was a silent film actress of the late Teens generally agreed to be the first significant studio-crafted persona, as well as the first sex star. A working-class girl born Theodosia Goodman, Bara shot to fame as the star of 1915’s A Fool There Was, a film infamous in its day for its then-racy intertitle: “Kiss me, my fool!” The studio sought to further promote their picture’s scandalous content by blurring the lines between Bara and the vamp character she portrayed, circulating stories about the actress’ wild, pagan ways and “mysterious” (read: invented) exotic origins, even stressing that “Theda Bara” was an anagram for “Death Arab” (in fact, Theda was short for Theodosia, and Bara was a family name).

Once her first film hit, Bara and her handlers had to keep escalating the myth: she conducted all interviews in darkened hotel rooms, rode around town in a hearse chauffeured by “Nubian footmen”, and posed for publicity stills wearing diaphanous rags, holding knives, and/or crouched beside human remains. She made a film every couple of months for three years, and in almost all of them she seduced a married or otherwise unavailable man, brought him to ruin and then rejected him. When the audience got bored with this shtick, Bara had nothing left to offer; she married a film director and quit the business after only 5 or 6 years. Above is a still from Cleopatra (1917); wearing what Wikipedia describes as "a costume of dubious historical accuracy", Bara was the first actress to play the Egyptian queen on screen.
categories Cinematical