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Vilma Bánky, Hollywood Silent Movie Star, Was Born 120 Years Ago Today

By Fanni Kaszás // 2018.01.09.

Hungarian actress Vilma Bánky, known as the ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’, who charmed Hollywood and audiences in her silent film roles, and who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the film industry, was born 120 years ago today, on January 9th.

1898 is widely considered as Bánky’s year of birth, although references give different dates ranging from 1898 to 1903. She first appeared in Hungarian, Austrian and French films in the early 1920’s.

In 1925, Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn discovered her in Budapest and signed her to a contract. She arrived in the USA later that year, and had her first big break in The Dark Angel, a role for which critics and the audience praised her talent and beauty. She was best known for her roles in The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik with Rudolph Valentino.

When Hollywood started to make ‘talkies’, movies with sound, she still appeared in a couple of films. Although many newspapers suggested she stop her acting career because audiences had difficulties understanding her accent, it is more likely that she retired because she began losing interest in films and wanted to settle down.

She made a total of 24 films during her acting career, including 21 silent films and three talkies. Today, however, only eight exist in their entirety.

She was married to actor Rod La Rocque for 42 years, until his death. Their wedding was one of the biggest, most expensive and extravagant Hollywood events of the 20s: Goldwyn gave the bride away, Cecil B. De Mille, often referred to as the ’founding father of the cinema of the United States’, was the best man, and 400 police officers were required to control fans.

Her post-Hollywood years were spent selling real estate with her husband and playing golf, her favorite sport. After his husband’s death, she established an educational fund, the Banky–La Rocque Foundation. She died of cardiopulmonary failure in 1991 in Los Angeles.