I have been waiting long weeks for this. It has been ninety-two years since this European superstar arrived in America. On September 12, 1922, Pola Negri arrived in New York, ready to become one of the finest ladies to grace the screen of American silent cinema. This is something that I should remember about Pola because she means so much to me. This date matters a great deal. From here, she started making highly successful movie pictures and was courted by all the actor big shots.
From her Memoirs:
When the New York skyline slowly emerged out of the mist, Lena began to cry. She clutched at me terrified and sobbed, “What holds them up? Don’t they fall down? I want to go home.”
I smiled and said, “I don’t.” It was everything I had expected it would be.
To my joy and astonishment, I heard a familiar melody mingling with the harbor sirens. I thought it was my imagination until it grew louder. It was unmistakably the Polish National Anthem. I rushed to the
side of the ship and looked down. Along with our escort of tugs, there was a tiny boat gaily decorated with bunting of the national colors of both Poland and the United States and a huge banner reading, “Polish Americans Welcome Pola Negri.”
It was my greeting from the Polish American community of New York. As we sailed into the harbor the little vessel followed, and the orchestra on its deck serenaded us with the folk songs of my native country. I waved and wept and sang along. There have undoubtedly been more spectacular receptions tended to foreign visitors, but there has never been a more touching one.
When the ship stopped at Ellis Island the American press swarmed aboard. It was my first experience with them. I was accustomed to the interviews of Europe where one question is submitted at a time. It was different here. This pushing, shouting, asking a thousand questions at once, absolutely threw me into a panic. In my confusion I momentarily forgot every word of English I knew. I could do no more than bow and smile as the cameras clicked away. The next day I read the papers and found it made no difference whether I spoke or not. They had not only come prepared with questions but with my answers too.
Ben became so exhilarated by this reception that when the customs man asked if he had anything to declare, he shouted, “Yes! Pola Negri!”
The journalists literally cheered at this marvelously quotable quip. On the pier, I was finally rescued by a man who introduced himself as Jesse Lasky. “Oh,” I said with relief, “Mr. Famous Players Lasky. I am happy to meet you.” This was also greeted with elation and attributed to my wit. They were actually the only words of English that occurred to me.
Mr. Lasky rushed us into a waiting limousine, and we sped away. A most delightful experience followed. A police escort, mounted on motorcycles, roared ahead of us with screaming sirens all the way from the docks to the Hotel St. Regis on Fifth Avenue. It was a thrilling ride, with everybody along the way stopping to stare. The advance reportage must have been extraordinary, for they all knew who I was and waved, shouting out my
name. I felt like royalty. It was the first time that I truly understood the meaning of the term “movie queen.”
I elatedly cried out in halting English, “What a wonderful way to travel!” American ingenuity was obviously boundless. They found better ways to do everything, even drive in an automobile.
This was Pola at a great milestone in her life. All humans here were fixated on her because they actually knew who she was and swarmed about her just because she was so differently exotic and beautiful. She here was realizing she had reached her American dream; which was to become a great actress in a place where she could belong. She was such a sensation back then and is now tragically forgotten. She spoke of how other foreigners had not been welcomed like this. Of course. Pola was the first European export to go to the States. Anything had to be special for her. She was fortuitous enough to receive the special treatment she so wanted. A year later, she got engaged to Chaplin and was declared a success in her profession. She had made it. All of this with hard work. It doesn’t matter that she is forgotten now; she was artistically recognized and got the fame she deserved. She was a different person with an intense personality. Pola Negri left a remarkable legacy that we must attempt to preserve. This is an important day, people! She is to always matter!