Movies have always defined "types." For example, we all know stars who fit into the types of the all-American, the sexpot, the sweetheart, the hero or the rogue. One of my favorite "types" is the Exotic; women - and sometimes men - who usually come from a foreign land (but a few were home grown), are frighteningly beautiful and have an air of mystery about them. These creatures were mostly, but not always, dark, had heavy eyelids and smoked. They all seem only to be able to thrive in a hot-house environment, like a beautiful orchid. While the Exotic was definitely a type that was more popular in the past, there are a few out there today who might be able to carry the mantle of mysterious heart breaker from parts unknown.
Enter the Hot-House and View the Orchids
(but don't touch)
Theda was certainly a totally manufactured Exotic. It is well known that she was, in reality, the modest and demure Theodosia Goodman from Cincinnati, Ohio. However, it's not where a vamp begins, but where she does her damage! Theda exploded upon the screen in 1915's "A Fool There Was" and vamped her way into the movie-goer's consciousness. She was the stiff drink antidote to Mary Pickford's Sasparilla.
Still the gold standard for the male foreign heart throb. Valentino's image was sealed as the exotic sheik of the desert. His most popular films showcased him in those larger than life romantic roles that still have the ability to hit the female audience in their weak spot. Oh Rudy, if only we could have more!
The first female foreign film Exotic and one who showed all the other gals how to behave like a star. Not only did her early Hollywood films show off this Polish diva's femme fatale qualities, but she was also a fashion trend setter who showed American ladies how to dress (red painted toenails and turbans, anyone?). Her chief rival at Paramount Studios was the very American Gloria Swanson and the press had a field day with their supposed "feud." But even the great Swanson could not top Pola's antics at former lover Valentino's funeral (an over-the-top outpouring of grief that stole the show from poor Rudy). A real diva if there ever was one.
While Swedes are not normally thought of as hot-house flowers, there was something of the tropical passion about her. The icy landscape of Sweden may have been her home, but, at least on screen, she was equally at home in a tropical environment. In fact, she did her best silent seductions in a warm climate ("The Torrent," "The Temptress," "Wild Orchids"). Sound robbed her of a tiny bit of the exotic factor. Without even trying, she was probably the sexiest of them all.
Dolores Del Rio
A genuine Exotic, this actress was described as orchidaceous, as she was rumored to eat orchid petals and sleep 16 hours per day. Long considered one of the most beautiful women in films, Del Rio was a wealthy woman whose beauty makes her dramatic ability almost impossible to assess. She was exotic to the max and (shades of "Sunset Boulevard") even brought her pet monkey on the set with her
An interesting blend of all American good health and foreign glamor, Hayworth could project the allure of the Exotic. "Gilda" is appropriately set in Argentina, as all of that steam could only be handled in the tropics!
The French don't usually transplant too well in Hollywood, but Boyer became the romantic Frenchman and Exotic male for American moviegoers. Under his lazy gaze, he smoldered, he pouted, and even if he didn't actually say it, women who fell under his continental spell would have gladly come wiz him to ze Casbah.
A beautiful and exotic actress who may have been too intelligent in real life for the roles she was offered in Hollywood. Her talent is a little static, and because many of her films were made during a time when Exotics were a bit out of favor (WWII), her true potential never came through. She was, however, stunningly beautiful and somewhat other-worldly. Maybe, at the peak of her career, she was just a little too exotic for Hollywood. She did get to lure Boyer from that Casbah in "Algiers," and, after seeing her in that film, the rest of the world was ready to follow.
The Latin Lover rival to Valentino, Ramon Novarro was a very sexy Exotic. He was a great success (and greatly under-dressed) in "Ben-Hur" and later silents and early talking films. Certainly not your all American boy-next-door, he was more heroic than Valentino, but he could smolder with the best of them.
This American lady always seemed to me to have the touch of the Exotic about her. In fact, in several films she was called upon to play just that ("The Shanghai Gesture," "China Girl," "Sundown"). Gene had some of that seething passion just below the surface that is the mark of the Exotic and her lush beauty made her seem at home in that hot-house environment.
She says she's German, but really - she must be from some exotic galaxy where all women sip champagne in furs and diamonds by day and drive men wild by night. There can be no other explanation. Although not at all like Garbo, she has that same Continental/Exotic glamor and effortless sophistication that can't be equaled.
The Technicolor Queen of such exotic adventures as "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," "Arabian Nights," and "Cobra Woman," Maria Montez was a tongue-in-cheek Exotic. She was as beautiful and vivid as any of them, and those wonderfully fun adventures showcased an impossibly beautiful woman who starred in the dreams of many viewers during her reign.
Ouch - but we know Vampires are exotic and sexy. Notice how the recent ones all hang around in hot climates?
An English Rose with an exotic cast. Although she tried to be prim and proper on the outside, she was hot and luscious on the inside (and it always showed just enough to make her mysterious). Hollywood knew how to best bring this side of her to light. And after all, didn't this lady do her best work in Georgia and New Orleans? London was just not hot enough for her brand of exoticism.
This American Exotic hailed from New Orleans, so the tropical seductions came naturally. She seemed at home in a sarong with a flower in her hair in films like "The Hurricane," "Her Jungle Love," and "The Jungle Princess," until she joined Crosby and Hope on a few road trips and changed her image. But she was a fun Exotic while it lasted.
Angelina certainly qualifies as a modern Exotic. She has all of the qualities (she looks like Gene Tierney to me in some photos) and she certainly is a mystery!
I'm sure I missed a few, but I always welcome the screen presence of an Exotic - they're just so - well - exotic!