Pola, Poetry and Pianos
No doubt, you’ve read about some of the great women of Poland and America that I have written about from time to time. However, there is one lady that I am sure many of you probably do not know that she was Polish. Her stage name was POLA NEGRI — the well-known Hollywood actress of the 20’s — but her real name was Barbara Apolonia! That was the name given her at Baptism.
Barbara Apolonia was the daughter of a Hungarian violinist, George Chalupiec and Eleonora, nee Kielczewska. She was born in Warsaw where she also attended a ballet school attached to the Opera. Parallel with the ballet school, she attended a theatrical school and took private lessons from well-known actors Theodor Roland and Honorata Leszczynska. She made her stage debut in 1912, in Warsaw’s Teatr Maly (Little Theatre), in the role of Aniela in Alexander Fredro’s comedy “Sluby Panienskie” (Maidenly Vows). Shortly after, she obtained an engagement to play in Polish films. She appeared in “The Slave of Senses” (Niewolnica zmyslow), “The Beast,” “Yellow Passport,” “Arabella” and “Room No. 13”. Offered an engagement by the well-known German film producer Max Reinhardt, she moved to Berlin and soon became a star. She played in “Carmen,” “Madame Dubarry,” “The Carousel of Life,” “The Libertine,” and “Passion”.
Her acting, in the role of Madame Dubarry, attracted the attention of the famous American film company “Paramount” and she was offered a most lucrative contract. She accepted the offer and moved to Hollywood. In the United States she appeared in many films. The best-known silent films in which she starred were: “Shades of Paris,” “Forbidden Paradise,” “A Lady of the World,” and “The Love of An Actress”. She also appeared in a number of sound films including “On Woman’s Orders” and “Madame Bovary”.
In Hollywood, Pola Negri met Charlie Chaplin and an engagement followed, but they never married because Chaplin insisted that Pola give up her career and she refused. There was a similar affair with the French actor, Rod la Rocque, Later, Pola fell deeply in love with the legendary screen seducer, Rudolf Valentino. His death was a terrible shock to her, so much so that she even determined to abandon her film career. In this difficult time of her life, when the despairing actress was close to a complete nervous breakdown, she met Prince Serge Mdivani, of Georgian origin, whose father was a rich businessman in France. The kindness and understanding shown by Mdivani won her heart and the couple decided to get married. The wedding took place in 1927 at the Mdivani residence near Paris.
Pola Negri also played in European films — in England in 1929-30, France in 1934, also in Austria and Germany. She returned to the United States after the outbreak of World War II. In 1943, she appeared in her last film “Hi Diddle Diddle”.
This great star of silent films never forgot her Polish origin and always stressed that she came from Poland. She helped needy members of American Polonia with generous gifts and assistance. She also funded a Roman Catholic Church in Los Angeles.
Five other Polish women made emphatic historical inroads in the early 20th century aside from the famed and well-known list of Modjeska, Curie, Sembrich, Zakrzewska and the like. They were: Eliza Orzeszkowa, Maria Konopnicka, Olga Boznanska, Helena Rubenstein and Wanda Landowska. Here’s a short biography on them. . . .
ELIZA ORZESZKOWA (1841-1910) . . . A writer representing the 19th century trend of Polish Positivism, she used the novel as a forum for her ideas on political and social reform. She was a staunch proponent of women’s emancipation and demanded changes in the education of girls and reforms in marriage and divorce codes to secure the economic equality of men and women. She also advocated equal rights for the Jewish people in 19th century Poland.
MARIA KONOPNICKA (1842-1910) . . . Beginning her literary career in the 1870’s, she came to be regarded by many as the greatest poetess of modern Poland. She traveled widely in Western Europe and organized European opinion against the Germanizing policy of Prussia in the Poznan region. Influenced by Mickiewicz, Slowacki, Hugo, Byron and the Polish Positivist movement, her works are characterized by humanitarianism and a democratic outlook. She made children’s books enjoyable for your readers by freeing them from a heavy-handed didacticism and giving them new lyric and fable forms.
OLGA BOZNANSKA (1865-1940) . . . Born in Cracow, where she began her art studies, she spent the major part of her life in Paris. She first achieved international recognition at an exhibit in Vienna in 1893. She was primarily a portrait painter and her works decidedly reflect impressionist influences, although she consistently retained her own style. She belonged to the Society of Polish Artists, “Sztuka,” and the Societe Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris.
HELENA RUBENSTEIN (1871-1965) . . . The eldest of eight daughters of a Cracovian Jewish family, she briefly studied in Switzerland and then went to Australia around the turn of the century. There a demand for her homemade face cream led to the establishment of a profitable business. Returning to Europe around 1905, she soon opened salons in London, Paris, and New York City. She decided to remain in the United States and shortly thereafter inaugurated a nationwide chain of beauty salons that subsequently grew into the multi-million dollar cosmetic’s firm, Helena Rubenstein, Inc., of which she served as chief executive. At the time of her death, she was reputed to be one of the world’s wealthiest women.
WANDA LANDOWSKA (1877-1959) . . . A world renowned pianist and clavichordist, her concert playing and teaching activities contributed to a re-awakening of public interest in the clavichord and in old music in general. In 1925, she founded her own music school near Paris and in 1941, she came to the United States where she educated a roster of future virtuosos and composers. She transcribed and recorded many compositions of old music and authored books and articles on the subject.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING. . . .