Biography: Nita Naldi
© 2008 Jennifer Ann Redmond
She may have been born on April 1, but Anita Donna Dooley was no fool. Being born into working-class New York, circa 1897, will do that to a person. Her upbringing gifted her with a sharp mind, and her Irish-Italian heritage blessed her with smoldering good looks.
"God made showgirls and Paramount made actresses." ~ Nita Naldi
In her day, if a girl was beautiful and possessed a modicum of talent, she became a showgirl. Dooley, freshly rechristened Nita Naldi, danced her way up through the ranks to the legendary Ziegfeld Follies. She and her fellow performers shimmied, sparkled, and caught many an eye nightly. In 1919, one of those eyes proved lucky indeed: it belonged to John Barrymore, one of the greatest and most well-respected actors of the era. Dazzled, he insisted she play opposite him in his next picture, "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde". The 1920 film was a hit and a new star was born.
"On the vamp matter, I just don't happen to look like an ingenue..." ~ Nita Naldi
In fledgling Hollywood, much as it is now, actors were typed in to categories based on their appearance. The striking Naldi was quickly labeled a "vamp" an early forerunner to the femme fatale. Popularized by Theda Bara almost a decade before, the vamp was dark, exotic, and most of all, seductive. Naldi's ability to slink and slither to the hilt earned her the role of a lifetime: Dona Sol, Rudolph Valentino's dangerous temptress in 1922's "Blood and Sand". Their screen chemistry was explosive, the press labeling her the "female Valentino". Her career skyrocketed; by the mid-20s she appeared in DeMille's original (but no less epic) version of "The Ten Commandments", and was cast alongside the greatest stars of the day most notably Valentino, with whom she made three more pictures.
"They always hated me because I spoke English correctly." ~ Nita Naldi
After traveling abroad to make films in Europe, Naldi returned to an industry that had changed drastically. The vamp had become laughably out of fashion, and her gritty New York accent recorded badly in the new "talking pictures". She retired from the screen in 1929, occasionally appearing on Broadway and in television. She married the same year, a union that lasted until her husband's death in 1945. Nita Naldi, one of the silent screen's greatest vamps, died of a heart attack on February 17, 1961. She was 63 years old.