A Fool There Was (1915 film)

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A Fool There Was
Theatrical release poster
Directed byFrank Powell
Produced byWilliam Fox
Written byRoy L. McCardell (scenario)
Frank Powell (adaptation)
Based onA Fool There Was
by Porter Emerson Browne
StarringTheda Bara
Edward José
CinematographyGeorge Schneiderman
Distributed byBox 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)
CountryUnited States

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

A Fool There Was is one of the few extant films featuring Theda Bara. It popularised the word vamp (short for vampire),[2] 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".[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)-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.

Completely under the influence of this woman, Schuyler loses his job and abandons his family. All attempts by his family to get him back on the right path fail and the "fool" plunges ever deeper into degradation.


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 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 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.[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 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:



  1. ^ "Silent Era : Progressive Silent Film List". www.silentera.com.
  2. ^ "vamp | Origin and meaning of vamp by Online Etymology Dictionary". www.etymonline.com.
  3. ^ Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  4. ^ "A Fool There Was – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB".
  5. ^ Robertson, James C. (1989). The Hidden Cinema: British Film Censorship in Action 1913-1972. Routledge. pp. 7–8. ISBN 0-415-09034-2.
  6. ^ http://www.normanstudios.org/silent-sundays-features-a-fool-there-was/
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 19, 2016.


  • J. Gordon Melton ed. (1999). "Theda Bara". The Vampire Book (2nd ed.). New York: Visible Ink Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • J. Gordon Melton ed. (1999). "Vamp". The Vampire Book (2nd ed.). New York: Visible Ink Press.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

External links[edit]