Friday, November 1, 2013

Valeska Suratt: the poor man's Theda Bara

Surviving portraits of silent screen vamp Valeska Suratt usually depict a zaftig woman wearing outrageous outfits but recently I came across one that actually show a handsome woman if a bit long in the tooth to be portraying man eaters. 


I actually have a sentimental fondness for Madame Suratt although none of her films seems to have survived: of all the bios I submitted while employed by the All Movie Guide, more than 2000, this one brought me the greatest headache. For reasons known only to the powers-at-be at AMG, while the on site editors left movie reviews pretty much alone they just couldn't help meddling with personal bios. Not by catching misspellings, mind you, or grammatical errors, which certainly would have been welcomed, but by changing words apparently just, well, because they could. I finally put my foot down, figuratively speaking, when Valeska Suratt came out as a completely garbled mess complete with non sequiturs and, yes, misspellings. I demanded that my byline be removed, end of story. The senior editor agreed, and, lo and behold, they kept their grubby little paws off my work for the duration. Below is the published version of my Suratt bio. Still not word perfect but close enough.

"Ridiculous looking by modern standards, silent screen femme fatale Valeska Suratt arrived with some fanfare in 1915 as producer Jesse J. Lasky's The Immigrant. An obvious imitator of Theda Bara, Surratt (who actually hailed from Terre Haute, IN) was quickly corralled by Bara's employer William Fox. Although this suggests a move to keep Bara in line, it may have been an effort to corner the vamp market altogether. After all, Fox also had the equally devastating Virginia Pearson in his stable. Suratt did her bodice-ripping best in films with titles such as The Siren and The Slave (both 1917), but the vamp craze was already waning and there was really only one Bara anyway. Suratt later claimed to have written a screenplay about Mary Magdalene which she misguidedly handed over to Will H. Hays, of the notorious Hays Code. Hays, Suratt stated, passed it on to director Cecil B. DeMille, who of course would go on to create The King of Kings (1927), featuring Jacqueline Logan as the biblical femme fatale. When no royalties were forthcoming, Suratt sued Hays, DeMille, and screenwriter Jeanie MacPherson. She lost, left show business altogether, and reportedly, later became something of a religious zealot and a recluse."

1 comment:

  1. I don't think she looks "long in the tooth". Possibly 35ish was a rather mature for vamping those days!