A Fool There Was (1915 film)  

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"From her first leading role as "the Vampire" in the 1915 movie A Fool There Was, Theda Bara had been typecast as a vamp or femme fatale who seduced and ruined innocent men.

These roles did not portray the undead vampires featured in later vampire films. The term "vampire" for a seductive woman was derived from the 1897 painting by Jones and poem by Kipling of the same title." --Sholem Stein

"Early cinema was quick to embrace [the femme fatale] image in films such as A Fool There Was (1915), Les Vampires (1915) and The Blue Angel (1930)." --Darwin's Screens (2009) by Barbara Creed

Oh, the years we waste and the tears we waste,
And the work of our head and hand
Belong to the woman who did not know
(And now we know that she never could know)
And did not understand!

--"The Vampire" by Rudyard Kipling

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A Fool There Was is an American silent film drama produced by William Fox, directed by Frank Powell, and starring Theda Bara. Released in 1915, the film was long considered controversial for such risqué intertitle cards as "Kiss me, my fool!"

A Fool There Was is one of the few extant films featuring Theda Bara. It popularised the word vamp (short for vampire), which describes a femme fatale who causes the moral degradation of those she seduces, first fascinating and then exhausting her victims.

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Theda Bara skeleton publicity shot

"An actress called Theda Bara was starred in a film called A Fool There Was, from the Kipling poem. ... They photographed her squatting cross-legged behind a skeleton." --World Review of Reviews (1940) by Vernon Bartlett

Only a few shots from that shoot survive. When I checked in 2020, I have been able to identify four. The most famous one is where Bara is sitting with her knees pulled up to her torso (for this pose see Study (Flandrin)).


John Schuyler (Edward José), a rich Wall Street lawyer and diplomat, is a husband and a devoted family man. He is sent to England on a diplomatic mission without his wife and daughter. On the ship he meets the "Vampire woman" (Theda Bara)-a psychic vampire described as "a woman of the vampire species"-who uses her charms to seduce men, only to leave after ruining their lives. Schuyler is yet another one of her victims who falls completely under her control. In the process of succumbing to her will, he abandons his family, loses his job, his social standing, and becomes a raving drunkard. All attempts by his family to get him to return fail and the hapless "fool" plunges ever deeper into physical and mental degradation.



The film is based on the 1909 Broadway production A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne, who in turn based his play on Rudyard Kipling's poem The Vampire.

On stage, Bara's part was played by actress Katharine Kaelred and was simply referred to as "The Woman". The star of the play was actually a male, Victorian matinee idol Robert C. Hilliard, whose name featured prominently in some advertisements for the movie though he had no connection with the film.

Production and legacy

The producers were keen to pay tribute to their literary source, having a real actor read the full poem to the audience before each initial showing, and presenting passages of the poem throughout the film in intertitles. Bara's official credit is even "The Vampire", and for this reason the film is sometimes cited as the first "vampire" movie. However, in the film as in Kipling's poem, the term is used metaphorically as the character is not literally a vampire.

The film was also a watershed in early film publicity. At a press conference in January 1915, the studio gave an elaborate fictional biography of Theda Bara, making her an exotic Arabian actress, and presented her in a flamboyant fur outfit. Then they made an intentional leak to the press that the whole thing was a hoax. This may have been one of Hollywood's first publicity stunts.

The film was the first on-screen appearance of World War I-era film actress May Allison (1890–1989).

Although part of the film takes place in the United Kingdom, the film was not approved by the British Board of Film Censors, per its policy of rejecting films with illicit sexual relationships. Although A Fool There Was never received a public showing in Great Britain, later Theda Bara films were allowed.

While the film contains scenes ostensibly set in England and Italy, the entire movie was actually filmed in St. Augustine, Florida.

This is one of the few Theda Bara films in existence. The others are: The Stain (1914), East Lynne (1916), The Unchastened Woman (1925), and two short comedies that she made for Hal Roach in the mid-1920s.

In 1938, Tex Avery released a cartoon called A Feud There Was.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Intertitle transcription

A Fool There Was 1 A fool there was and he made his

   (Even as you and I)

To a rag and a bone and a hank

       of hair
   (We called her the woman who
       did not care)

But the fool, he called her his

      Lady Fair
   Even as you and I

2 We called her the woman

who did not care,

But the fool, he called her

 his lady fair
 (Even as you and I.)

3 The Child, .......

  .. Miss Runa Hodges

4 The Wife,........

   Miss Mabel Frenyear

5 The Husband .....

  ...... Edward José

6 The Wife's Sister,...

  ... Miss May Allison

7 The Friend,.......

   .. Mr. Clifford Bruce

8 The Vampire,.....

  ... Miss Theda Bara

One of her victims,..

  ... Mr. Victor Benoit


  "Some day you will re-

gret that."

10 The Doctor,.......

  ... Mr. Frank Powell

The Doctor's Fiancee,

  ... Miss Minna Gale

11 The sunset of happiness.

12 The next day.


  "Certainly baby and I

can go with you! And tomorrow you must sail?"

14 Innocence breakfasts.

15 The next morning.


 "My dear John, I cannot

leave sister; you must go to London alone. It will only be a month."


 "You have ruined me,

you devil, and now you discard me!"


"It was but a ruse to test

your love. Why should I sail abroad and leave you?"


  "Tom, you bring them to 

the boat. I have an hour's work in the city before I can go abroad!"


  "Storm and darkness! Is

it an omen?"


   "Cheer up, Kate, the

storm and darkness are passing now!"


  "She leave you. She go

Europe. Catch man, plenty money."


    "See what you made of

me, and still you prosper, you hell cat!"


       "I might have known

you'd follow her, Parmalee! Our predecessor, Van Dam, rots in prison through her! Look what she has done for me-- Look what she is do- ing to you!"

25 "Kiss me, my Fool!"


  "Only a boy he was, Sir,

and she standing there and laughing like a devil."


 "It was just some ship

noise. Come on deck now, --Jack may be here any moment."

28 Two months later.

29 Oh, the years we waste and the

       tears we waste

And the work of our head and


Belong to the woman who did not

   (And now we know that she
       never could know)

And did not understand.


 "Why are your thoughts

in America, when you say your heart is in Italy?"

31 "There's John Schuyler!"


 Owing to Schuyler's dis-

graceful conduct, the Doc- tor's wife refuses to stay at the same hotel.

33 (And now we know that she

  never knew why,
 And did not understand.)


      "You men shield each

other's shameful sins. But were it a woman at fault, how quickly you'd be to ex- pose and condemn her."


  "Mamma, is a cross a

sign for love?"


   "Yes, dear; and love

often means a cross."

37 A Fool there was and his

  goods he spent,

Honor and faith and a sure



"The time has come, Kate,

when you must know the dreadful truth. I will no longer be silent. You, too, have guessed at something. And have sorrowed in si- lence!"

39 Oh, the toil we lost and the

   spoil we lost,

And the excellent things

   we planned.

40 Their return.

41 "That woman is with him!"


 The housekeeper at the

Schuyler's townhouse re- ceives the new mistress.


 "This lady will be your


44 "Papa, dear, I want you!"


 "Why did you act afraid

and ashamed? You should have bowed and smiled, as I did."

46 The following week.


  "Kate, I have sent for our

lawyer; you must tell him all, and be divorced!"


 "Tom, you were the best man

for Jack at our wedding. What do you say?"


 "Your promise was 'till

death do us part.' Stick, Kate, stick!"

50 Six months afterwards.


 "Mr. Schuyler, in view

of the circumstances, I hereby tender my resig- nation as your Secretary."


   "I am not surprised,

rats always desert a sink- ing ship."


 "He is worse than ever,

but it is true the woman has left him."


"If he is as you say, then

my place is with him."


 "His friend and secre-

tary were at the house. The friend is going to bring his wife to him."


 "Stop me if you dare! I

will scream, and the town shall ring with more scan- dal about John Schuyler!"

57 The following week.


 ".... and bless mamma

and, dear God, p-please s- send m-my p-papa home to m-me!"


 "We must watch Kate. I

fear she will do something rash!"

60 The next day.


 "As a last appeal I will

take his child to him!"

62 "Is papa home, mamma?"

63 The Fool was stripped to

his foolish hide.

64 So some of him lived, but

 the most of him died.

65 (Even as you and I.)


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