Barbara’s decision to turn down the role of Doña Sol, the mistress opposite screen idol Rudolph Valentino, in Blood and Sand (1922) in order to appear in The Prisoner of Zenda (1922) was a risky one. Director Rex Ingram, in casting her in the supporting role of Antoinette De Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda, a story of ruses and doomed love affairs, was testing her acting abilities for a leading role as an evil seductress in his upcoming thriller, Trifling Women (formerly Black Orchids; 1922), slated to begin production after The Prisoner of Zenda. Realizing that her performance in The Prisoner of Zenda would either validate or refute Ingram’s faith in her, Barbara was determined to achieve film stardom.
Even alongside a distinguished cast including Lewis Stone, Alice Terry, and Ramon Novarro, Barbara shone in the role of Antoinette, an adventuress who helps vanquish a coup by betraying her traitorous lover. Period critics, enraptured by her whole-souled acting and beauty, declared that she alone was worth the film’s admission price. Long before The Prisoner of Zenda reached theaters, however, Ingram finalized his decision to star Barbara in Trifling Women—a film Barbara later credited with securing her launch to worldwide fame.
Hailed in its day as a sensational triumph and one of Ingram’s best, The Prisoner of Zenda—and Barbara’s acclaimed performance as Antoinette—may be viewed for free online here.
(Photo above: Barbara as Antoinette De Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda.)