One of the most interesting aspects of Pola Negri’s history is the subject of her real name. As stated in my biography of her, “A Creature of Flame and Desire,” she was still making pictures in Germany under her UFA contract when “Du Barry” aka “Passion” became a success in America. Since she was unavailable for interviews to tell her story and no one really knew anything about her, the American press went out of its way to create a persona for her that was often contradictory and utter baloney.
One of the more entertaining aspects of this fact-free free-for-all is the question of her “real name.” In the first articles about her, her real name, Apolonia Chalupec, is never mention. When “Passion” was set to debut at the Capitol Theatre in 1920, she was billed as “Poli Negri,” giving rise to the idea that she and the entire production were of Italian origin. German films had been boycotted because of the war, so the perception was allowed to stand. After “Passion” was released, her ‘real name’ was listed as being ‘Paula Negri’ or ‘Paula Schwartz’–with the explanation that “Negri” was merely the Italian translation of “Schvartz” which is the German word for “black.” One article claimed her real name was “Pauline Ergen,” the name she used while working at a department store in Berlin prior to breaking into pictures. This “information” is gleaned from those who had “met her” or “heard of her.” There are also claims that she was German, Polish, Russian and Austrian. None of the articles published on her between 1921 and 1922 seem to describe the same actress.
Yet flash forward a hundred years and there persists this idea that her real name was “Barbara Apolonia Chalupec.” I tried to dig into where “Barbara” came from. Miss Negri does not mention this ‘first name’ in her autobiography, “Memoirs of a Star”. It’s not mentioned in any of the hundreds of articles written about her in the 20’s and 30’s when she was enjoying her greatest success. It’s not listed as her first name in a birth certificate issued for her in Poland in 1987–we are assuming the original was lost. It’s not written in the concrete of her foot and handprints at Grauman’s Chinese. It’s not noted on her crypt in Los Angeles, which identifies her as “Apolonia Chapluec nee Pola Negri.” I have yet to see anything that makes “Barbara” her official first name, nor never seen where the name originated.
Maybe it’s just one of those enduring mysteries we will never figure out.