A Fool There Was
As overwrought and overacted as it appears today, this melodrama took America by storm in 1915. Its history actually goes a bit deeper than the poem The Vampire by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling's poem, in fact, had been inspired by a scandalous 1897 painting by Philip Burne-Jones, which showed a woman in a white nightgown grinning triumphantly over a man's lifeless form. A play, entitled A Fool There Was, was made from the poem in 1909 by Porter Emerson Browne and it promptly became a smash (although it was vilified by critics). Producer William Fox bought its screen rights, but he didn't film it until 1914. By the time he cast Theda Bara in the role, she had already transformed herself from Ohio-born Theodosia Goodman into unsuccessful stage actress Theodosia de Coppett. Clearly another name change was in order, and Bara -- short from Baranger, her maternal grandfather's last name -- was chosen (Theda was one of her nicknames). Over the next several years, Bara would make literally dozens and dozens of films for Fox; only a few are known to still exist and this is one of them. Wealthy diplomat John Schuyler, "the Fool" (Edward Jose), loves his wife (Mabel Frenyer) and daughter (Runa Hodges), but his life goes awry when he leaves without them on an important foreign mission. On the ship he meets the Vampire (Bara). By the time Schuyler reaches Italy, he has forgotten about everything but this wicked vamp. His wife, his work, and even his child are replaced in his heart by this evil woman. He lives for her every whim, oblivious to the rest of the world. She keeps him under control through the use of drink and drugs and his fortune slips away. Finally his health does too, and he dies at the vampire's feet. She scatters rose petals on his inert form and gloats. Even though this melodramatic style of vamp was out of fashion by the 1920s (a subtler, more stylish version had developed), this film was remade in 1922 with Estelle Taylor in the lead. Predictably, the picture bombed.