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A Look Back:

Newport Bay: a set fit for a pharaoh

Her movie had no sound, but historical Times article of 1917 captures one actress’ thoughts on the city.

March 28, 2009|By Brianna Bailey

Silent film legend Theda Bara once rowed on Newport Bay and read by moonlight atop a rocky crag on a local beach. A panoramic barge scene from Bara’s 1917 film “Cleopatra” was filmed in Upper Newport Bay.

Bara, who played the famed Egyptian queen, was filmed on a barge on Upper Newport Bay, which was supposed to be the Nile in the film. She was followed by 29 ships, each manned by 60 oarsman. About 700 actors playing Roman soldiers ran down the west banks of the bay for the filming.

The Newport News called the filming “the most magnificent and spectacular scene ever taken on water” at the time.

Bara spent her time in Newport Beach exploring the local beaches and Newport Harbor during the filming.

“I enjoyed Balboa hugely,” Bara told the Los Angeles Times in an article dated Aug. 16, 1917. “And used to delight in hiring a rowboat by night and skimming the bay.”

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Bara’s boat was almost capsized by another small boat with a couple of small boys in it, she told the Times. One of the boys recognized her by the light of his lantern from the filming of Cleopatra that had drawn large crowds in Newport Beach.

“ ‘Look out there, you,’” Bara recalled the boy calling out to his friend, who was steering the craft. “ ‘Don’t you dare spill Mrs. Cleopatra!’”

The boy was apologetic about the near miss, Bara reported.

“I’m awful sorry, miss,” he told her.

Another night Bara visited a rocky point in Newport to read.

“Before I knew it, the strip of beach on which I had come over was covered with water. I had to climb a nearly perpendicular rock to reach the mainland, and even then I was very nearly marooned. In another hour I should have been entirely cut off from land,” Bara said.


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