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04 September 2013

Vilma Bánky

Hungarian-born silent film star Vilma Bánky (1901-1991) filmed in Budapest, France, Austria, and Germany, before Sam Goldwyn took her to Hollywood. There she starred opposite silent stars like Rudolph Valentino and Ronald Colman. She became Goldwyn's biggest money maker till sound finished her career.

Vilma Banky
British postcard in the 'Famous Cinema Star' series by J. Beagles & Co, LTD., London, no. 235 G. Photo: Allied Artists Pictures. Publicity still for The Eagle (1925).

Blonde And Violet-Eyed


Vilma Bánky was born Vilma Konsics Bánky to János Konsics Bánky and Katalin Ulbert in Nagydorog, Austria-Hungary, in 1901. (Although reference books give dates ranging from 1898 to 1903).

Her father was a bureau chief under Franz Joseph's Austro-Hungarian Empire. Shortly after her birth, her father 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 took courses to work as a stenographer, but then she was offered a role in a film. Her debut was in the now lost German film Im Letzten Augenblick/The Last Moment (Carl Boese, 1919).

The violet-eyed, blonde beauty was soon asked for Hungarian, Austrian, and French films. To her European productions belong Galathea (Béla Balogh, 1921), A Halott szerelma/The Eye of the Death (Carl Boese, 1922), Das Bildnis/The Picture (Jacques Feyder, 1923), Das verbotene Land/The Forbidden Country (Friedrich Feher, 1924), and Soll man heiraten?/Do You Have to Marry? (Manfred Noa, 1925).

Vilma Banky
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 428. Photo: Vilma Banky in The Winning of Barbara Worth (Henry King, 1926), also with Ronald Colman and a young Gary Cooper, who debuted in this film.

Vilma Banky & Ronald Colman
French postcard by Editions Cinémagazine, no. 433, with Ronald Colman.

Ronald Colman, Vilma Banky
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3375/3, 1928-1929. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still for Two Lovers (Fred Niblo, 1928), with Ronald Colman.

Vilma Banky, Ronald Colman
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3375/1, 1928-1929. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still for Two Lovers (Fred Niblo, 1928), with Ronald Colman.

Vilma Banky & Ronald Colman
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 2082/3, 1927-1928. Photo: United Artists, with Ronald Colman.

The Hungarian Rhapsody


On a trip to Budapest in 1925, Hollywood film producer Samuel Goldwyn discovered and signed Vilma Bánky 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’.

Bánky was an immediate hit with American audiences with her first American film, The Dark Angel (George Fitzmaurice, 1925). The New York Times review praised her acting and called her "so exquisite that one is not in the least surprised that she is never forgotten" by her co-star.

This would be the first of five fantastic love stories in which she co-starred with Ronald Colman, including the very popular The Winning of Barbara Worth (Henry King, 1926).

Opposite Rudolph Valentino, she appeared as the daughter of a Russian aristocrat in The Eagle (Clarence Brown, 1925), and as an Arab dancer in his last film The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice, 1926).

Vilma Banky, Rudolph Valentino, Son of the Sheik
French postcard in a series by Shampoing Butywave. Photo: Allied Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (1926), with Rudolph Valentino. The woman portrayed is not Vilma Banky, but Agnes Ayres.

Vilma Banky, Rudolph Valentino, Son of the Sheik
French postcard in a series by Shampoing Butywave. Photo: Allied Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (1926), with Rudolph Valentino.

Vilma Banky, Rudolph Valentino
French postcard by Europa, no. 235. Photo: United Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (1926), with Rudolph Valentino.

Vilma Banky, Rudolph Valentino, Son of the Sheik
French postcard in a series by Shampoing Butywave. Photo: Allied Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (1926), with Rudolph Valentino.

Vilma Banky, Rudolph Valentino, Son of the Sheik
French postcard in a series by Shampoing Butywave. Photo: Allied Artists. Publicity still for The Son of the Sheik (1926), with Rudolph Valentino.

Extravagant Wedding


In 1927 Vilma Bánky married another star, Rod La Rocque, during an extravagant wedding, paid by Sam Goldwyn. Cecil B. DeMille was best man and the ushers included Ronald Colman and Harold Lloyd.

In 1928, Bánky participated in the first public demonstration of the way films could be transmitted over telephone wires. Film of her arrival by train in Chicago was shown at a newsreel theatre in New York nine hours later; the process was hailed as a technological breakthrough.

It is commonly believed that her thick Hungarian accent cut her career short with the advent of sound, however she also began losing interest in films and wanted to settle down with her new husband. Her first talking movie was This Is Heaven (Alfred Santell, 1929). It proved to be an awful experience for the almost inaudible Hungarian actress. A Lady To Love (Victor Sjöström, 1930) with Edward G. Robinson would be Bánky's final American film and her second attempt at a talkie.

 According to IMDb reviewer drednm "it's a very good film indeed. (...) I was struck throughout this film at what a nice voice she had and how much her accent resembled that of Greta Garbo in Anna Christie that same year.". She also made an alternate-language version in German, Die Sehnsucht jeder Frau/Every Woman's Desire (Victor Sjöström, 1930).

Bánky went with Rod La Rocque to Germany to make a final film, Der Rebell/The Rebel (Edwin H. Knopf, Luis Trenker, 1932), starring Luis Trenker. Vilma remained with Rod till his death in 1969. Her post Hollywood years were spent selling real estate with her husband and playing golf, her favourite sport.

In 1981, Bánky established an educational fund called the Banky - La Rocque Foundation, which is still in operation. Vilma Bánky died in 1991, from cardiopulmonary failure, aged 90. Today, of her twenty-four films, seven exist in their entirety and three only in fragments.

Vilma Banky
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 975. Photo: Halasz, Budapest.

Vilma Banky
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 577/1. Photo: Fanamet Film.

Vilma Banky
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 695/3. Photo: Halasz, Budapest / Fanamet-Film.

Vilma Banky
Austrian postcard by Iris Verlag, no. 577-2. Sent by mail in Serbia in 1930.

Vilma Banky
British postcard by Real Photograph in the Picturegoer series, no. 272.

Vilma Banky
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1689/1, 1927-1928. Photo: United Artists.

Vilma Banky
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 1540/3, 1927-1928. Photo: United Artists.

Vilma Banky
French postcard by Cinémagazine-Edition, Paris, no. 407.


Vilma Banky and Rudolph Valentino in a scene from The Eagle (1925). Source: (YouTube).

Sources: Ed Stephan (IMDb), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), New York Times, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Linda said...

What a beauty, and a fascinating life story--took courage to leave home for Hollywood. Will have to look for her few films on Netflix or TCM.