Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Negri, Pola (1894 Janowa, Poland-1987 San Antonio, TX)
From Encyclopedic Dictionary of Women in Early American Films: 1895-1930, An

Courtesy of Silents Are Golden at <>

Pola Negri, one of the first European stars to be brought to America, was born into poverty in Poland after her father was sent to a Siberian prison camp. In her early teens she auditioned for acceptance into the training program at the Imperial Ballet. A bout with tuberculosis necessitated that she stop dancing, so she transferred her energies to the theater.

She became one of the most popular actors on the European stage, renown for her talent and fiery temperament. When the first of her German films opened in New York in 1920, an estimated 40,000 people vied to attend the initial showing in a theater that seated only 5,500 people. A riot ensued and the police were called to restore order. For the remainder of its ran, the film broke all attendance records to that time.

After the successful reception of her films Passion and Gypsy Blood, Adolph Zukor decided to bring the star to the United States in an effort to funnel some of the huge profits from her films into his studio. Upon her arrival in the United States, Negri, complete with a ninety-eight carat emerald bracelet from ”an admirer,“ was promoted wildly and her wildest promoter was herself.

She refused to ride in a regular car and instead had a stretch Rolls Royce designed for her in white and ivory with solid gold handles and trims. Her car was driven by a chauffeur dressed in white when it was sunny and in black on rainy days. Her traveling companions were a white lap dog and two white Russian wolfhounds. She also made sure everyone knew that in Europe she was Countess Domski though her early marriage had not been a happy one, she retained her title.

When her extravagant lifestyle couldn't keep her in the fan magazines, the ”magnificent wildcat“ could always fall back on her supposed feud with Paramount's other top female star, Gloria Swanson. Both stars were known for their flamboyance and excess in all areas…be it multiple mansions, cars, or men. Although there was no ”feud“ as such, both women were dedicated to their careers and to maintaining their position before the public.

Negri's most tempestuous and well-publicized affair was with Rudolph Valentino, the silent film's greatest screen lover. Their relationship was tempestuous enough to be the basis of a soap opera… there were fights, reconciliations, fiery recriminations, and abject apologies. The public loved the drama and seemed not to notice that they were engaged before he had divorced his second wife. Rumors abounded of a secret wedding followed closely by rumors of a permanent breakup. Sadly, before any wedding could take place, Valentino died in 1926. Negri suffered a complete breakdown; while some cynics thought her affliction was convenient, others noted that Valentino had never said they would marry…only Negri. At any rate, her hysterics turned many fans from her.

Although supposedly devastated, Negri returned to work and within a year married another European aristocrat, Russian Prince Serge Mdivani, who like his brothers, was known for marrying well. The prince was penniless and had no standing in Communist Russia but did supposedly come from one of the oldest royal lines in Europe. After completing her contractual obligations, Negri and her prince moved to Europe where they lived grandly. The stock market crash of 1929 decimated what was left of her original $5 million estate.

Negri made some films in England before divorcing the possessive prince in 1931 and announcing her return to Hollywood. When film offers did not materialize, Negri returned to Europe with a film contract and became a European film sensation.

Negri burst forth in American papers in the mid-1930s when it was rumored that she was Adolph Hitler's mistress. When the rumors became less beneficial to her career and it was later rumored that Hitler had put her in a concentration camp after an argument, Negri sued saying that she had never met Hitler. Although they had indeed never met, Hitler was a fan of her movies…after it was ”proved“ that Negri was of Aryan stock.

With the advent of World War II, Negri lost her newly acquired fortune; when she fled to the United States in 1941, she was virtually penniless. Her thick European accent did not play well in the United States about to go to war, so she made only one film in 1943. She became an American citizen in 1951.

During the 1950s Negri began a career in real estate in San Antonio, Texas, which allowed her to live comfortably until she inherited a friend's large estate. However, she always wanted to return to films; she was given her chance when she appeared in the 1964 Disney production of The Moon-Spinners as the ruthless Egyptian millionaire Madame Habib. She wrote her autobiography, Memoirs of a Star, in 1970.

Film Credits (United States)
1914 Love and Passion
1918 The Eyes of the Mummy; The Devil's Pawn; Love's Surrogates
1919 Intoxication
1920 One Arabian Night; Camille
1921 Wildcat; Sappho; Vendetta
1922 The Last Payment
1923 Bella Donna; The Cheat; The Spanish Dancer; Mad Love; Hollywood; Montmartre; Passion
1924 Men; Lily of the Dust; Forbidden Paradise; Shadows of Paris
1925 East of Suez; Flower of Night; A Woman of the World; The Charmer
1926 The Crown of Lies; Good and Naughty
1927 Hotel Imperial; Barbed Wire; The Woman on Trial
1928 The Secret Hour; Three Sinners; Loves of an Actress; The Woman from Moscow
1929 The Way of Lost Souls; The Woman He Scorned
1932 A Woman Commands
1934 Fanatisme
1935 Mazurka
1937 Madame Bovary
1943 Hi Diddle Diddle
1964 The Moon-Spinners
© 2005 by Denise Lowe

Related Articles

Full text Article Negri, Pola (1894 - 1987)
The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women

She had a blind and uncritical admiration of her own genius in the blaze of which her sense of humour evaporated like a...

See more from Credo