Biography

Prologue

“Do you know what I want to do?”

“No,” I said hesitantly, truly bewildered.  Visions of Ninon de l’Enclos would keep rising before my eyes.

“I want to do Pauline Frederick’s kind of work.  She is my ideal.”

Nita Naldi’s career as a movie star was a short one as film careers go, from  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1920 to her last film, Die Pratermizzi, released in 1927.  She had only one lead role (The Mountain Eagle, 1926) and is mainly remembered for her costarring roles with Rudolph Valentino.  She was typecast as a vamp, an archetype that was antique by the time she entered films.  Most of her films are now lost.  But in her short career, she worked with some of the finest directors in the business, both in Hollywood and Europe:  Cecil B. DeMille, Herbert Brenon, Victor Fleming, Allan Dwan, William deMille, Leonce Perret, and Alfred Hitchcock.  And unlike many actors who have (more or less) graced the silver screen, she landed one plum, signature role.  It was an opportunity she made the most of.

But as we discovered in the course of our research, Nita Naldi was more than just the sum of her parts. The more we looked at Nita Naldi, the more we found that we liked her.  Many biographers cannot say that.  Some find their subjects repellent; others find theirs dull.  Nita Naldi was neither.  Very few film divas lived up to their own publicity more flamboyantly—and few guarded their private life more carefully.  She was an inveterate spinner of tall tales, but she didn’t demand that you believe her.  She was cynical, irreverent, bawdy, often undisciplined, and far more intelligent than she let on.  She enjoyed the good times with great joie de vivre and accepted the bad times with grace and good humor, and she never took herself too seriously.  At the end of her life, her friends remembered her well.

All in all, she had a good run.

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