Pola Negri was born Barbara Apolonia Chalupiec in Janowa, Poland, into a comfortable lifestyle family until her father was arrested by the Russians and sent to a Siberian prison camp. Moving to Warsaw in 1902, she was to spend her formative years in dire poverty with her mother.
As a teenager, Pola auditioned for the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet, and was accepted. As a ballerina she showed great promise until she contracted tuberculosis and was forced to cut short her dance career. Devastated that her dreams would no longer be fulfilled and wanting to escape poverty, Pola auditioned for the Warsaw Imperial Academy of Dramatic Arts and became a stage actress.
By the time she was 17, Pola was a stage star in Warsaw, but World War I would soon change the theater scene. Without the theater, Pola and her mother were plunged into poverty again, so she turned to films. With her new career in pictures and her stage success in Sumurun, she went to Berlin and was teamed with German Director Ernst Lubitsch.
The Lubitsch-Negri combination was very successful and the roles that Pola played were earthy, exotic, strong women. One of her films, Madame DuBarry (1919) was optioned and retitled as Passion (1919) for exhibition in America.
The film was such a success that by 1922, Pola and Lubitsch were both given contracts to work in Hollywood. In 1923 she landed the role of Maritana in The Spanish Dancer. The film was popular with filmgoers and they equally liked the productions of Bella Donna and The Cheat that same year.
While her first few films showed some success, they were overshadowed by her reported romances. She was engaged to Charles Chaplin before she met and seduced Rudolph Valentino, and well before he met and married Paulette Goddard. After Rudolph Valentino's death, Negri claimed to have been engaged to marry him.
Forbidden Paradise (1924), made with Director Lubitsch, and Hotel Imperial (1927) were two of her more successful films. But three things conspired to end her career in Hollywood. The display that she put on at the funeral of Valentino in 1926, when she threw herself on his coffin, changed the public mood towards her. The Hays Office codes which would not allow filming the very traits that made her a sex-siren European star. And finally, her thick accent would not play in the sound pictures that were coming into vogue.
Pola returned to Europe and eventually made films for UFA, which was under Nazi management. She was Adolf Hitler's favorite actress and it was said that she was even his lover for a short while, despite the fact that she was part Jewish. But there is no evidence to support the claim she even met Hitler, and she sued for libel when a paper reported the two were having an affair.
However, she felt the Nazi regime would not allow her creativity so she returned to the US in 1941, penniless. She made the movie Hi Diddle Diddle in 1943 and became an American citizen in 1951. Her next and last movie was The Moon-Spinners (1964). Retiring to San Antonio, Texas, she died at the age of 93, of pneumonia.