From the Archives: Vilma Banky; Silent Screen Star Died in 1991
Vilma Banky, known as the “Hungarian Rhapsody,” and the leading lady of silent screen stars Rudolph Valentino and Ronald Colman, has died. She was believed to be 94, although reports of her age varied from 89 to 94.
Embittered because none of her friends visited her during her later years of poor health, she specified that no notice be made of her death. She died in a Los Angeles nursing home of cardiorespiratory arrest March 18, 1991.
Rumors and stories about Miss Banky’s demise began appearing in various publications during the fall. This week, her attorney and executor, Robert Vossler, confirmed the death in response to news inquiries.
The star of European and Hollywood silent pictures, the Budapest-born Miss Banky could not overcome her Hungarian accent to make the transition to talkies.
She was married for 42 years to the late actor Rod La Rocque in what was regarded as one of Hollywood’s happiest marriages.
Their 1927 wedding was produced much like a movie by her boss Samuel Goldwyn, and included several film executives and top stars as participants and guests.
Goldwyn gave the bride away, Cecil B. De Mille was the best man, and Hollywood columnist Louella O. Parsons was matron of honor. There were so many fans in front of the church that 400 police officers were required to control them. Western star Tom Mix arrived in a coach drawn by four horses.
“And then we lived happily ever after,” Miss Banky said 50 years later. “Or at least until 1969 when Rod died in his sleep.
“Since then,” she said, “I have not really been unhappy, but I still miss him a great deal. He was such an interesting man. We always had things to talk about.”
The couple made their only joint professional appearance in 1930 and 1931 in a tour of the play “The Cherries Are Ripe.”
Miss Banky appeared in only one more film, “The Rebel,” made in Austria in 1932. She then announced that her permanent credit should be “Mrs. Rod La Rocque.”
La Rocque invested successfully in Ventura County real estate, and Miss Banky, unlike many silent screen stars, left a sizable estate.
She and her husband endowed a foundation, now worth more than $1 million, to educate children. She also left $600,000 to two nieces in Hungary, and her attorney is trying to deliver the bequest.
As a widow, Miss Banky left her Beverly Hills house for the Rossmore Apartments in Hancock Park overlooking the Wilshire Country Club, where she frequently played golf. She was women’s golfing champion at the club in 1950 and 1951.
Born Jan. 9, 1898, (references vary from 1898 until 1903), she made 13 feature films in Europe before her arrival in Hollywood. She was introduced to American audiences in “The Dark Angel” in 1925 with Colman.
Miss Banky was hailed not only as the “Hungarian Rhapsody,” but also as “Europe’s Mary Pickford.”
She went on to play opposite Valentino in his final two pictures, “The Eagle” in 1925 and “Son of the Sheik” in 1926.
Reunited with Colman, she starred in “The Winning of Barbara Worth,” “The Night of Love” and “The Magic Flame,” all in 1927, and “Two Lovers” in 1928.
She charmed Hollywood with her “Bankyisms,” or self-deprecating attempts to pronounce the English language.
“I spik no Engleesh—but, oh, thees beautiful air of Angelees!” she was quoted on arrival in Los Angeles.
Miss Banky made a handful of pictures with sound, winning polite encouragement from critics. But she never felt comfortable in the new medium, and retired happily to private—almost reclusive—life.
Coaxed to attend the Thalians’ annual Rudolph Valentino Awards in 1984, Miss Banky quickly tired of the camera lights and chatter.
“I’m getting to the point,” she said pointedly, “that I think sooner or later I should be going home to Budapest!”
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