Today is the 115th birthday of the silent film actress Vilma Bánky. Her life is the classic Hollywood story and I love it. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Vilma Bánky
BIRTHDATE: January 9, 1901
BIRTHPLACE: Nagydorog, Tolna County, Austria-Hungary (present-day Nagydorog, Republic of Hungary)
DATE OF DEATH: March 18, 1991
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California, U.S.
BEST KNOWN FOR: Vilma Bánky was a Hungarian-born American silent film actress, although the early part of her acting career began in Budapest, spreading to France, Austria, and Germany. Banky was best known for her roles in The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik with Rudolph Valentino and several romantic teamings with Ronald Colman.
Her father was a bureau chief in Franz Joseph’s Austro-Hungarian Empire. Shortly after her birth, her father as a police sergeant was transferred to Budapest, and the family relocated. She had two siblings – an older brother, Gyula (who would later go on to work in Berlin as a writer and cinematographer), and a younger sister, Gisella. After graduation from secondary school, Bánky (as she would later be known) took courses to work as a stenographer, but was offered a role in a film.
Her first film appearance was in the now lost film, Im Letzten Augenblick (In the last moment), directed by Carl Boese in Germany in 1919. On a trip to Budapest in 1925, Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn discovered and signed her to a contract. Both her mother and father were vehemently against Bánky’s acting career as was her fiancé; nonetheless she left for the United States in March 1925, arriving to a great deal of fanfare.
She was hailed as “The Hungarian Rhapsody” and was an immediate hit with American audiences. The New York Times remarked in its review of her first American film, The Dark Angel, that she “is a young person of rare beauty … so exquisite that one is not in the least surprised that she is never forgotten by Hillary Trent” (the movie’s leading male character who decides to allow his family and fiancee to believe him dead rather than place what he perceives as the burden on them of a life caring for a blinded war veteran).
She appeared opposite silent great Rudolph Valentino in The Eagle (1925) and The Son of the Sheik (1926) It is said that Valentino was fascinated by Vilma, and it was he who chose her as the first lady in the films and Ronald Colman in a series of love stories, including The Dark Angel and The Winning of Barbara Worth. It is commonly believed that her thick Hungarian accent cut her career short with the advent of sound; however, she began losing interest in films and wanted to settle down with Rod La Rocque and simply be his wife. By 1928, she had begun announcing her intention to retire in a few years.
Of her twenty-four films, eight exist in their entirety (Hotel Potemkin, Der Zirkuskönig [aka The King of the Circus with Max Linder], The Son of the Sheik, The Eagle, The Winning of Barbara Worth, The Night of Love, A Lady to Love, and The Rebel), and three exist in fragments (Tavaszi szerelem in scattered bits, the first five reels of The Magic Flame, and an incomplete copy of Two Lovers).
Her post Hollywood years were spent selling real estate with her husband and playing golf, her favorite sport. In 1981, Bánky established an educational fund, The Banky–La Rocque Foundation, which was still in operation as of 2012.
She married actor Rod La Rocque in 1927; they remained married until his death in 1969. They had no children.
Vilma Bánky died on March 18, 1991, from cardiopulmonary failure, aged 90, but notice of her death was not made public until the following year. She was reportedly upset that no one had come to visit her in her last years, and directed her lawyer to make no mention of her death. Her ashes were scattered at sea where her husband’s had been consigned.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Vilma Bánky has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7021 Hollywood Blvd.