THE SAD STORY OF VILMA BANKY: BEAUTIFUL SILENT FILM STAR

 

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This vintage real photo postcard features beautiful and sensuous actress Miss Vilma Banky (1901-1991). She was born in Hungary but was an American silent film actress. She began her acting career in Budapest and later France, Austria, and Germany. In 1925, Banky was plucked from Europe by Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn. American audiences fell in love with her and she earned the moniker of “The Hungarian Rhapsody”. In a review of her first film, “The Dark Angel” (1925), the New York Times (1925) described Banky as “a young person of rare beauty”. In the mid and late 1920’s she was Goldwyn’s biggest money maker. Some of her most famous roles were in the films “The Eagle” (1925) and the “The Son of the Sheik” (1926). She played romantic roles opposite Ronald Coleman and Rudolph Valentino. The advent of sound films is believed to have short circuited her acting career. Apparently her thick Hungarian accent was unacceptable. However, around the time of the introduction of sound films, it is thought that she had lost her enthusiasm about films and was more interested in settling down with actor Rod La Rocque (1898-1969), whom she married in 1927. Goldwyn gave the bride away and Cecil B. DeMille was the best man. By 1928, she was talking of retirement. In all, she made 24 films of which only eight remain in existence in their complete form. Her filmography begins in 1919 and ends in 1933. After leaving filmdom, she and her husband had a career in real estate and she pursued the sport of golf. The Chicago Tribue (1993) entitled Banky’s obituary “Silent Film Star Makes Dramatic Exit”. It is interesting to note that the article appeared nearly two years after her death. It seems that the press and Hollywood watchers never noticed her death. Apparently she lay sick in bed for the last ten years of her life, at home, and later in a nursing facility, without any visitors. The author of the article asserts “She died the nightmare death of every elderly person, alone, her life unremembered, her passing unlamented”. Banky was upset and angry about being abandoned, that she instructed her attorney to inform no one, including the newspapers, upon her passing. The attorney followed her instructions but when the press eventually learned of her death, the lawyer stated to reporters that Banky had no visitors because none of her friends or family still survived. She left a $600,000 trust fund to her sister’s two children in Hungary. After a difficult search the attorney found the two nieces in rural Hungary “living in peasant squalor”. The women had never met their Aunt and the last letter exchanged with Banky had been thirty years earlier. Banky’s lawyer had his hands full because a German heir hunting company had found them first and got them to sign over twenty percent of their inheritance for a finding-fee. At the time of the articles publication, the lawyer planned to pay off the company with a smaller fee and set up distant banking for the nieces who lived in an area that had no banks. Although after her death, the lawyer turned out to be a committed and wonderful friend to Vilma Banky and her family. This vintage postcard was produced by the Iris Verlag company. Iris Verlag was the most important Austrian publisher of film star postcards. It operated from Vienna during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The postcard is part of a series (no.695/3). The photographer of this portrait of Banky is Halasz of Budapest. The postcard was made for Fanamet-film which was a Austrian film distribution company.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you again for a wonderful post and for all the very interesting research you do. That research and your articulation leads to an even more interesting piece

  2. As a longtime fan of silent films, I can highly recommend “The Eagle”–this film survives in a very good print and can still be found on DVD. Both Miss Banky and Valentino give marvelous performances in this film, which has everything going for it–romance, adventure and moments of light comedy in which Valentino basically kids his own legend, ably abetted by Miss Banky. As lovely as she is in this photo, try to see her on film–she had a luminous presence on camera.

    • Thank you for the recommendation and movie review. I definitely will arrange to see the film. Thanks again.

      • Try to get hold of the edition produced by David Gill & Kevin Brownlow in association with Thames Television, it is the finest version out there. Other versions are decidedly inferior in picture/musical score and may disappoint.


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