Trois Femmes Fatales: Mata Hari, Theda Bara and Miss Vikki Dougan

“I have a present for you.” 
He raised his eye brows. “I don’t like your surprises.” 
“You’ll like this one. Close your eyes.”
 


― Mav Skye, Wanted: Single Rose

What a glee to have you here, please feel welcomed to my latest segment of content; Trois Femmes Fatales. Make yourself at home while I introduce you, in brief prose, to three magnificent and outstanding women; their enigmatic lives, their charm and perspicacity. Just for you: my trois femmes fatales du jour.

 

Mata Hari

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There is no other possible way to begin this collection than with her, the stunningly dangerous Mata Hari. Although her character is well distinguished, it was her talent in overcoming nearly all the adversities that a selfish and cruel society placed above her shoulders which made me wish to place her here; with an honorary mention. 

Judged for espionage in 1917, the dancer and courtesan Mata Hari was described by those who executed her as "the best spy of the century". These words were far from magnifying the truth, for her seductive charm and bewitching charisma are alleged to have taken the lives of over 50,000 soldiers.

Hari was born in Holland on August 7, 1876 under the name of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. At the age of eighteen, by destiny or misfortune, she married Captain Rudolf MacLeod. An alcoholic and vehement man.

Margaretha and Rudolf lost every child they conceived. The boy, Norman-John, died with two years of age. The girl, Louise-Jeanne, at 21.

‘’I was not content at home. . . I wanted to live like a colorful butterfly in the sun.’’

In order to liberate her mind from the unchanging abuses of her merciless husband, Margaretha retreated herself into Indonesian traditional dance and adopted the name of Mata Hari.

It was the year 1902 when she moved away to Paris and began a fresh new life as model, circus performer and exotic dancer. Three years later, Mata Hari was a world-class star, dancing in every corner of Europe; famous for taking her audience to hypnotic levels of ecstasy induced by her "extreme and feline femininity" and her "thousands of curves and movements". 

''My dance is a sacred poem in which each movement is a word and whose every word is underlined by music. The temple in which I dance can be vague or faithfully reproduced, for I am the temple.''

Being the lover of countless politicians, generals, successful businessmen along with other powerful men lead the French and British authorities to believe she was a German spy. Today, 101 years after her death, this accusation remains unconfirmed. The lack of evidence indicating she provided military information to any side point out the possibility of Mata being a simple courtesan with taste for men in both parties of the WWI battlefront. 

However one of those men was the last German crown Prince Wilhelm of Prussia. And this is when the story becomes opaque and ambiguous; the best known version describes this romance as Mata Hari’s last mission, which she disastrously failed and, as consequence, the German government defamed her as a deficient double spy. Truth or not, Mata Hari was sentenced to die and executed on October 15, 1917. 

''I have encountered in this world riff-raff and good people. I lose. I win. I defend myself when I am attacked. I take when someone has taken from me. But I beg you to believe me; I have never done an act of espionage against France. Never. Never.''

She refused to have her eyes bandaged or her hands tied. Seconds before the firing squad shot her, Mata Hari blew a flirtatious kiss to her assassins, dying with both her allure and seductivenesss intact

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Theda Bara

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''You say I have the most wicked face of any woman. You say my hair is like the serpent locks of Medusa, that my eyes have the cruel cunning of Borgia, that my mouth is the mouth of the sinister scheming Delilah, that my hands are like the talons of a Circe or the blood-bathing Elizabeth Bathory. And then you ask me of my soul—you wish to know if it is reflected in my face.''

-Theda Bara

Theodosia Burr Goodman was born on July 22, 1890 in Ohio, daughter of a French actress and an Italian Jewish tailor. Aside of her big brown eyes there was nothing quite remarkable on her appearance or temper; what stood her above the crowds was her fierce ambitions to become an actress. Theodosia moved to New York City at the age of 18 - into a world so far away from what it is today; the Silent-Cinema had changed people’s mentality and it had opened a grand new universe of perception and expression which ripped a clear end to the Victorian era and sprouted peoples hearts with excitement and desire.

She fought for her dreams in a continuance of eleven years behind the shadow of hundred other big-eyed girls. Until one day, in 1915 she starred in a film titled ‘’A Fool There Was’’ where she played an enigmatic vampire who charmed an innocent men into destruction.

Purely out of the blue, Theodosia erupted as the biggest sex symbol of the world. 

Those eleven years of striving, profoundly changed her. She had given herself a new name: Theda Bara (Anagram for Arab Death), and dived into an immaculate character; an elaborate and exotic, absolutely irresistible, amalgam of the sensual and the sinister.

Her past was reshaped by Hollywood which convinced people she was born in Egypt, product of a French artist’s extravagant and scandalous illicit love affair with a Middle-eastern mistress, Courtesan who gave birth to Theda underneath the shadow of the sphinx.

The mysterious vampire conquered the obscure appetite of the audience, receiving appellations such as The Wickedest Woman in the World, The Devil’s Handmaiden,  The Priestess of Sin and The Queen of Vampires. Theodosia was so popular even a verb was created around her: to pull a “ThedaBara” meaning “to seduce and destroy.”

Her flamboyant stardom lasted three years, ending as abruptly as it began in 1919, after having appeared in nearly forty films. 

The speed with which the film industry and general culture transformed was voluptuous and unreachable. The same public that brought her to the top turned their back at her, demanding a cleaner version of female sexuality, Fox Studios refused to raise her salary and canceled her contract after thirty-six short months of limelight.

Theodosia died on April 7, 1955, after finding a new home in Broadway and living a peaceful marriage with director Charles Brabin. Having never appeared in a sound film. 

 

“Isn’t it strange that I’m so in love with life and everybody alive and yet I’m only able to incarnate myself on the screen as an embodiment of hate and evil?” 

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Vikki Dougan

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Miss Vikki Dougan’s character is nearly forgotten; her fine derrrière, her gorgeous lean back and the exorbitantly provocative backless dresses she used to slip in to glorify it (dresses for which I’d give everything to wear)

Her nickname was “The Back” and although 1950’s Hollywood worshiped her, little is know of who she is or where she came from, only that she used to appear at parties in custom made exquisite dresses, anchoring the notice of photographers and artists. The apex of her fame came on 1957 when she posed for the praised cameras of Playboy.  

She had a baby and as she cared of her, Vikki dated Frank Sinatra, man whose reputation she defended with claws and fangs.

She appeared in a couple of movies, but by 1959, Dougan and her stunning back had vanished from the scene, incapable to be casted for any role ’’The Back’’ became imperceptible, fading into the long list of men and women yearning for a piece of Hollywood.

Her current whereabout is unknown. What might it be of here today? Where is she? What does she do? 

Perhaps one day we’ll know, perhaps we never will.

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“ -Remember, curiosity killed the cat.
She was wrong of course. Curiosity could never kill this cat. But yes, a pair of beautiful brown eyes could.” 


― Saurbh Katyal, The Invisible Woman

Ava