Pola Negri

  1. Rudolph Valentino, The Spanish Dancer, 1923.    A Valentino vehicle was  swiftly rewritten to be the third US film for Hollywood’s first Euro signing –  dubbed The Madonna of the Silent Screen by Lotte Eisner, of the French Cinémathèque.  Negri’s usual German director, Ernst Lubitsch,  also new in Film City, made his version of the same play at the same  time  –  “the worst picture, bar none, that I ever made,”  declared his  Rosita star, Mary Pickford.
  2. Claudette Colbert, The Sign of the Cross, 1932.  Adrianne Allen, Pola Negri, Norma Talmadge, and latterly Elissa Landi were seen for Nero’s wife.. In fact, even two weeks before shooting was to start on June 18, director Cecil B DeMille still  not found his Empress Poppaea… until  noticing Colbert strolling by his office. He opened his window to calle out: “Claudette, how would like to play the wickedest woman in the world.  “I’d love it!”  She was not so happy about her milk bath – turning to cheese  under  the hot lights.
  3. Luise Rainer, The Good Earth, 1937.    When MGM changed casting, Pola split to UFA. Adolf Hitler liked her and even established Aryan origins for her (although  Goebbels  called her “the  Polish Jewess”) and was responsible for her second German career. “Why not?”  she said. “There have been many important men in my life – Valentino,  for example.”  When WWII  began, she joined  the Red Cross  and  returned to Hollywood in 1943.
  4. Katina Paxinou, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1943.     The ex-vamp Negri  had only recently returned to Hollywood after being banned from German films by Goebbels for being considered part-Jewish.  The Greek star won in the clinches with such other  old-timers as Fay Bainter, Ethel Barrymore, Alla Nazimova, ,Flora Robson, Marjorie Rambeau, Norma Talmadge…   And Gloria Swanson  – her one-time lover. Cecil B DeMille. had planned his own version of the Ernest Hemingway book.  But Glorai the diva was interested only in  the lead.  At age 46, she wondered why she lost that role to Ingrid Bergman… at 28!
  5. Florence Bates,  The Mask of Dimitrios, 1943.  La Negri was somewhat miffed by director Jean Negulesco’s offer to play Madame Elise Chavez, a US society hostess in Istanbul.  But, but, but it’s just one scene!  Well, Bates made a decent meal out of it.
  6. Agnes Moorehead, The Seventh Cross, 1943.      Gentleman director Fred Zinnemann had his pick of ladies for his first major feature: Signe Hasso and in their screen debuts, Katherine Locke and Jessica Tandy. But hew failed to land Negri for Mme Marelli. Still, once you have Spencer Tracy as your star, you can’t have everything…
  7. Hillary Brooke, Ministry of Fear, 1943.   Negri was director Fritz Lang’s first choice for the fortune-teller.  Next,  Rita Johnson, who fell ill, and was substituted by the platinum blonde Brooke.  Graham Greene said his novel became a bad film and Lang later apologised to him  for making it.
  8. Alla Nazimova, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, 1943.     Ex-Chicago tycoon Benedict Bogeaus switched to producing movies by spending $50,000 for Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel set in Peru, 1774. (His next 27 films until 1961 were not so grandiose). He wanted Fritz Lang or Rouben Mamoulian to direct Pola Negri and Margo opposite Kent Smith as the twins, Manuelo and Esteban… and settled for Rowland V Lee helming  Nazimova, Lynn Bari and Francis Lederer. All the real money had gone on the book.  
  9. Olga Baclanova, Claudia, 1943.    The silent vamp tested for Madame Daruschka which went to the Broadway creator of the role, La Baclanova, in her final film  – her first since The Billion Dollar Scandal ten years before. “Amusing, literate and bittersweet, Claudia is an altogether winning caprice,” said TS in the New York Times.
  10. Vivien Leigh, Caesar and Cleopatra, 1945.    From the 20s onward, La Negri kept trying to buy the rights but found George Bernard Shaw more difficult to seduce than her Hollywood lovers, Chaplin and Valentino
  11. GloriaSwanson, Sunset Blvd, 1949.   Same “insulted!” response as from first and third choices (Mae West, Mary Pickford).“A has-been – moi?” Said still in her awful accent that killed her career in the talkies.On George Cukor’s say-so,Gloria flew in to meet Billy Wilder.Ready for her close-up.


 Birth year: 1894Death year: 1987Other name: Casting Calls:  11