Fame has drawbacks, says actress Theda Bara (1916)

Fame has drawbacks — even spoils recreation

by Theda Bara, Written especially for The Day Book

Is there any fame that hasn’t accompanying drawbacks, I wonder?

The drawback to my fame is different from that of the writer, lawyer or surgeon. I can hardly walk upon the street, lunch at my favorite hotels or go to the theater to see my fellow artists work. And to me it is not only a drawback, but a tragedy.

There can be no doubt about my identity, in my public’s mind. My personality is too pronounced, my type of face is too unusual for that. It is not a question of “maybe it is Theda Bara.” They know instantly it is Theda Bara, and they tell their neighbors.

theda-bara-1916They do not mean to be rude and I think that if they knew they are making it difficult for me to take my recreation at all, they would do all in their power to remedy matters. That is why I am writing of it — to let them know just how I feel about it.

Of course it is pleasant to be really known and I do not resent it, but what distresses me is that after I am recognized, I am not allowed to go on my way, undisturbed. I am followed, sometimes by crowds of little children, who pick me to pieces, audibly, and compare my screen-self and my real self with alarming frankness.

Then, again, little groups of whispering grown-ups dog my footsteps. And that is worse. Because I cannot hear what they are saying, and I imagine all sorts of discomforting things.

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I will tell you what happened the other day. I had just finished a very nerve-racking picture. Utterly worn in brain and body, I asked Mr Fox, my manager, if it were possible for me to take a little rest before I started to work on my next feature film. He urged me to go away for at least a week.

My maid and I motored to a seaside resort near New York, and I went immediately to my room. But the boom of the surf was too great a temptation and I ran down on the beach with my maid.

I hadn’t ventured 20 feet before I heard a very familiar sound; the click of a camera. I wheeled and there above me, leaning against the rail of the boardwalk was a camera squad, each member bent on squandering all their films on the wonderful opportunity of taking [photographs of] Theda Bara with their own little cameras.

The worst had happened. I had been recognized. All the beautiful dreams I had woven of seven free, restful days vanished into thin air, and I fled to my suite, where I remained for the rest of my stay.

Sometimes, when I am frightfully weary in body and mentally blue, I wonder whether the penalty isn’t too heavy; whether the fame of it is worth the sacrifice. Then my morning’s mail is brought to me — messages of cheer and praise and friendliness from the four quarters of the globe, and I know that it is worth it; that no matter what the forfeiture, the reward more than pays the debt.

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