Nita Naldi

Nita Naldi

Born Nonna Dooley
March , 1895(1895-03-00)
New York City, New York,
United States Died February 17, 1961 (aged 65)
New York City, New York,
United States Occupation Actress Years active 1920–1929 Spouse J. Searle Barclay (1928–1945)

Nita Naldi (March 1895 – February 17, 1961) was an American silent film actress. One of the most successful actresses in Hollywood during the “Roaring Twenties“, she was often cast in the role of the “femme fatale“/”vamp“, a persona first popularized by actress Theda Bara.


Born Nonna Dooley in New York City into a working class Irish family. She was named for her great aunt, Mary Nonna Dunphy, who founded Academy of the Holy Angels in Ft. Lee, New Jersey. She would attend the school in 1910.Her father left the family in 1910, and her mother died in 1915. Left with the care of two teenage siblings Naldi began to seek work. She took odd jobs including artist modeling and cloak model. Eventually she entered vaudeville with her brother Frank. By 1918 she debuted on Broadway as a chorus girl at the Winter Garden in “The Passing Show of 1918”. This led to more stage jobs and soon Naldi found herself in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919. At this time she changed her name to Nita Naldi. Naldi was a homage to a childhood friend Florence Rinaldi.Naldi continued working on Broadway and after a well received performance in “The Bonehead” was offered a stint with well known producer William A. Brady. Brady cast her in his play “Opportunity” in 1920.

Naldi was asked to perform in a short film with Scottish comedian Johnny Dooley (no relation). Naldi quit after realizing he had romantic intentions with another woman. She was then offered a role in “A Divorce of Convenience” with Owen Moore. She had small roles in several independent films before being engaged for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with John Barrymore. The role would give Naldi prestige. Barrymore and Naldi were friends for many years, with Barrymore lovingly calling her the Dumb Duse.Naldi was selected by author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez for the role of Dona Sol in his film Blood and Sand. Naldi was signed with Famous Players-Lasky for the role. It was her first pairing with screen idol Rudolph Valentino and the film was a major success. It gave Naldi the image of a vamp which would follow her for the rest of her life. Naldi and Valentino were never romantic, and she would be one of the few to befriend his wife Natacha Rambova though that friendship would sour when the Valentinos divorced.During this time, she posed for famous pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, who painted Naldi topless next to the bust of an imp.While Valentino went on his one-man strike (preventing him from appearing in film) Naldi took on several Famous Players-Lasky roles with growing importance including The Ten Commandments (1923), directed by Cecil B. DeMille. When Valentino returned and fixed his contract woes she joined him for his final Famous Players-Lasky film, the now lost A Sainted Devil (1924). Naldi would leave the company as well soon after.In 1924 the Valentinos and Naldi traveled to France to research for their film The Hooded Falcon. The film was never made but after returning to California they did make Cobra. Neither film was well received and Cobra would be the last time Naldi and Valentino starred together.The Valentinos marriage was ending around this time. After Valentino signed a contract with United Artists, he banned Rambova from the set. She was given her own film as a consolation. Naldi starred in Rambova’s production What Price Beauty?. The film suffered distribution problems and was barely noted at the time. It is noteworthy for being actress Myrna Loy‘s first screen appearance.After finishing the Dorothy Gish film Clothes Make the Pirate, Naldi left for France for a short vacation. She married J. Searle Barclay during this time. Despite rumors she had retired, Naldi began work on several films, including Alfred Hitchcock‘s second directorial effort, 1926’s The Mountain Eagle. She is often credited, mistakenly, as appearing in Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden.She made two films in France and one in Italy before retiring. Despite an acceptable voice, Naldi never made a talkie.

Naldi filed bankruptcy in 1932. She went back to the stage with “Queer People” and “The Firebird” in 1933. The press had been critical of her weight since 1924, but reviews were especially harsh this time. So harsh that Naldi filed suit against one paper in 1934 for $500,000. The suit was dismissed in 1938.In 1942 Naldi was considered for “For Whom the Bell Tolls” but did not receive the part. She never made another film. That same year she began appearing in a revue in New York with Mae Murray reciting the 1897 poem “A Fool There Was” in full kitsch.In 1952 she had a notable role in the play In Any Language, co-starring the legendary stage actress Uta Hagen. In 1956 she coached Carol Channing how to vamp, for Channing’s new musical “Vamp!”. Channing would be nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for that role.Naldi spent her final years in New York City. She died of a heart attack in her apartment just short of her 66th birthday, and was buried in the family plot at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens County, New York, United States.For her contribution to the film industry, Nita Naldi was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6316 Hollywood Blvd.

In 1923, after the success of Blood and Sand, Naldi was named as a party in the divorce of then 54-year-old millionaire J. Searle Barclay from his wife of 16 years. Barclay and Naldi had met in 1919 during her stage days and had lived together with her sister in New York since 1920. The pair would marry in 1927 on a visit to France. Naldi returned to the United States in 1931, alone, and filed bankruptcy soon after. Naldi did not speak of Barclay until after his death in 1945. He died penniless.Despite rumors, Naldi claimed to have never been romantic with either Valentino or Barrymore. In 1956 she was rumored to be engaged to a Park Avenue man named Larry Hall, but no union took place. Naldi never had any children.

  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
  • Life (1920)
  • Common Sin (1920)
  • Last Door (1921)
  • Experience (1921)
  • Divorce of Convenience (1921)
  • Snitching Hour (1922)
  • Repor
    d Missing
  • The Man from Beyond (1922)
  • For Your Daughter’s Sake (1922 reissue of Common Sin)
  • Channing of the Northwest (1922)
  • Blood and Sand (1922)
  • Anna Ascends (1922)
  • You Can’t Fool Your Wife (1923)
  • The Ten Commandments (1923)
  • Lawful Larceny (1923)
  • Hollywood (1923) cameo
  • The Glimpses of the Moon (1923)
  • A Sainted Devil (1924)
  • Don’t Call It Love (1924)
  • The Breaking Point (1924)
  • The Mountain Eagle (1925)
  • Marriage Whirl (1925)
  • Lady Who Lied (1925)
  • Cobra (1925)
  • Clothes Make the Pirate (1925)
  • The Unfair Sex (1926)
  • The Miracle of Life (1926)
  • La Femme Nue (1926)
  • What Price Beauty? (1928)
  • La Femme Nue/The Model From Montmartre (1928)
  • Die Pratermizzi (1928)
  • La Maschera d’Oro/The Golden Mask (1929)

3.1900 United States Federal Census, Manhattan, New York, New York, June 1, 1900, Enumeration District 930, Sheet 2A.4.1910 United States Federal Census, Manhattan Ward 19, New York, New York, April 15-16, 1910, Enumeration District 1043, Sheet 3B.


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