A Fool There Was (1915 film)

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A Fool There Was
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Frank Powell
Produced by William Fox
Written by Roy L. McCardell (scenario)
Frank Powell (adaptation)
Based on A Fool There Was
by Porter Emerson Browne
Starring Theda Bara
Edward José
Cinematography George Schneiderman
Distributed by Box Office Attractions Company
Fox Film Corporation (1918 re-release)
Release date
  • January 12, 1915 (1915-01-12)
  • June 1918 (1918-06) (5-reels version)
Running time
67 minutes (1915 release)
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

A Fool There Was (1915) is an American silent film drama, produced by William Fox, and starring Theda Bara. The film was long considered controversial for such risqué intertitle cards as "Kiss me, my fool!" [1]

The film is one of the few movies with Theda Bara that still exist today. It popularised the term "vamp" (short for vampire),[2] referring to a femme fatale who causes the moral loss of those she seduced, and about how a vampire fascinates then exhausts its 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".[3]


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) who uses her charms to seduce men and leave after ruining their lives.

Completely under the influence of this woman, he loses his job and abandons his family. All attempts by his family to get him back on the right path fail. And the life of the "idiot" degrades more.


Theda Bara in a scene from the film

Broadway Origins[edit]

The film was based on a 1909 Broadway play titled A Fool There Was by Porter Emerson Browne, which in turn was based on Rudyard Kipling's poem The Vampire. On the 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[edit]

A Fool There Was
Theda Bara in the film

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.[4] 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, 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 marked the first on-screen appearance of the popular World War I-era film actress May Allison.

Although part of the film takes place in the United Kingdom, the film was not passed by the British Board of Film Censors under its policy of not passing films with illicit sexual relationships.[5] Although A Fool There Was never received a public showing in Great Britain, later Theda Bara films were allowed.

Though the film contains scenes set in England and Italy, the entire movie was filmed in St. Augustine, Florida.[6]

This is one of the few Theda Bara films in existence. The others are: The Unchastened Woman (1925), The Stain (1914), East Lynne (1916), and two short comedies she made for Hal Roach in the mid-1920s. This film showcases Bara's status as the original screen "vamp" (so named for her portrayal of a female vampire).

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

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


  • J. Gordon Melton ed. (1999). "Theda Bara". The Vampire Book (2nd ed.). New York: Visible Ink Press. 
  • J. Gordon Melton ed. (1999). "Vamp". The Vampire Book (2nd ed.). New York: Visible Ink Press. 

External links[edit]