Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom

Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom

Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom

Off-White Hollywood: American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom


Off-White Hollywood investigates how the 'ethnicity' of white European-American actresses has played a key role in the mythology of American identity and nation building. Negra focuses on key stars of the silent - Colleen Moore and Pola Negri - classical - Sonja Henie and Hedy Lamarr - and post-classical eras - Marisa Tomei and Cher - to demonstrate how each star illuminates aspects of ethnicity, gender, consumerism, and class at work in American culture.


Arriving in America from Berlin in 1922, with a $3,000-per-week Paramount contract, and long famed for her-coal-black hair, camellia-white complexion, and fiery temperament, she was Hollywood's first imported international star…

'Pola Negri,' Who's Who In Hollywood (1992)

Historically positioned as she was between the passive, pure ideal woman of the late 1800s and the 'New Woman' of the 1920s, the vamp of Hollywood silent film has ties to both stereotypes. In this chapter I briefly consider these relationships and then examine the career of Pola Negri - one of the actresses most associated with vamping - for the evidence it may provide about the images and understandings of transgressive ethnic femininity in early twentieth century American culture.

Negri's American career was not congruent with what might be called the 'golden era' of the vamp, (1915-1919), launched when Theda Bara appeared in A Fool There Was (1915). Although Negri was making films at that time (and principally ones in which she starred as an exotic, threatening woman), these films were made in Poland and Germany, and Negri did not come to be known to the American moviegoing public until the early 1920s. I want to critically consider the standard account that Pola Negri simply resuscitated Bara's persona in order to argue both that it was ideologically necessary to attempt to type Negri as vamp, and that her particular incarnation extended and complicated the type. Furthermore, given the failure of Negri's American career, I also want to look into the reasons why the actress was not successfully subsumed into operative Hollywood typologies of femininity and to argue that Negri's unincorporable status was largely a function of her resistant ethnicity. My assumption is that the production of Hollywood film stars (particularly in the case of 'imported' stars such as Negri) has much to do with celebrating the idea of American global power.

In an account of Pola Negri's career, Jeanine Basinger has written that, 'She had a real talent for front-page publicity, and she represented, as well, that

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