What are a few books on which to read about the unheralded Queen of Silent Pictures, Pola Negri? (Nobody asked, but I’m offering anyway). Who has the skinny? The insight? There’s no reason anymore for anyone to label her an “obscure movie actress.” Hence go forth and read–spread her name throughout the land. I have it on good authority that Pola wouldn’t mind.
1. “A Creature of Flame and Desire.”–by Sergio Delgado. Yep, my own biography of her…coming soon if i have anything to say about it. Most biographies only tell about half her story–and repeat the usual gossip BS about her. On top of it, they get her story WRONG. I’ve offered two chapters for free. Let me know if you want to see this published.
2. “Memories of A Star” by Pola Negri. This 1970 book has been described as “a work of fiction.” It omits a great deal of her story and contradicts most of the rest. I tend to think of it as Miss Negri telling you what she wants you to know and nothing more and for that reason it’s interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. She defends her “engagements” to Chaplin and Valentino as if she thought that would be what more people want to read about. I think the biggest flaw is her failure to even mention most of her movies and for barely even mentioning what happened to her after her film career faded away.
3. “Pola Negri: Hollywood’s First Femme Fatale” by Mariusz Kotowski. Disclaimer: I hate this book, but as a primer and “homage” on Miss Negri it’s worth a look. But let’s not call it a biography, because it isn’t. Kotowski, a Pole, obviously reveres Miss Negri, his countrywoman, and it indeed shows in his writing, but he fails to even give her a single wart and glosses over her many bad decisions and seems only interested in the highlights. I ripped this book in a review for Amazon–you can read it if you want–and while I feel what I said is deserved, I would apologize for calling it “deplorable.” Nah. I wouldn’t.
4. “Silent Film Stars” by Jeanne Basinger. Pola gets her own chapter in film historian Basinger’s book and it’s extremely entertaining, although it’s a bit lazy in content. S920’s personality and less of an actress. She also compares Pola to Gloria Swanson–Gloria wasn’t even half the actress, although she got better material for her pictures–with the usual outcome about how Gloria was more successful in her career. True, but Pola was more fascinating personally and professionally.
5. “Classics of the Silent Screen” by Joe Franklin. Franklin briefly writes of Miss Negri and pretty much wonders what the fuss about her was all about. He disdains her pictures and pretty much takes the position of a lot of Pola haters that a star like Norma Talmadge–one of the most boring names in silent films–was a better actresses. Balderdash! The only thing I agreed with Mr. Franklin about is that the name “Pola Negri” just about says “silent movie queen” more than any other name in the era.
5. “Sex Goddesses of the Silent Screen” by Norman Zierold. READ THIS ONE!! It’s outlandish, over-the-top, and mostly WRONG. It’s too much a slave to gossip and publicity and can’t even get Pola’s filmography right. It’s highly stereotypical of silent movie stars in general, but Zierold’s writing has such a zest to it that I was willing to overlook the fact that it’s not authoritative on anything.
6. “The Movie Stars” by Richard Griffith. A well-written tome on movie stars from the beginning of the movies to about 1970 or so. Griffith’s essay on Pola is a rarity in that he actually thinks highly of her and writes about her on-screen sexuality–she was hot stuff according to him. He also offers reasons for her popularity and decline, eschewing the usual oft-repeated BS, and delivers a fair appraisal of her talent and image. Start here.