Lya Mara

Lya Mara (1 August 1897 1 March 1960) was one of the biggest stars of the German silent cinema.

Lya Mara
Lya Mara, ca. 1927
Aleksandra Gudowicz

(1897-08-01)August 1, 1897
DiedMarch 1, 1960
Other namesMia Mara
Spouse(s)Frederic Zelnik (1885–1950)


Lya Mara was born Aleksandra Gudowicz in a Polish family in Riga, Livonia. As a young girl she wanted to become a chemist, as then famous Maria Skłodowska-Curie. Just before World War I, in 1913 Lya Mara moved with her family to Warsaw, as Poland and Latvia were part of the Russian Empire. She began her acting career as a dancer.

In Warsaw, Lya Mara played her first small part in a short fiction silent film under a characteristically simplified title We want husband (1916, as Mia Mara) and soon after in another film Bestia (The Beast, premiere on January 5, 1917) directed by a Polish director of older generation Alexander Hertz. Another Polish actress Pola Negri, who later made an extraordinary career in Germany and in America, was the star of this film. Soon after that film Pola Negri left for Berlin and Lya Mara followed her steps. This occurred during World War I and after Poland was occupied in 1915 by the Germans, it became a part of the German Empire.

Lya Mara's first film in Germany was Halkas Gelöbnis (1918) directed by an Austrian director Alfred Halm, who also scripted her another film Jadwiga. Both films were produced by young and energetic director-producer Frederic Zelnik. Lya Mara married him in 1918.

Zelnik promoted Lya Mara to a major star in Germany as she played mainly in films he directed and produced. Since 1920 Zelnik's film production company was named Zelnik-Mara-Film GmbH. Lya Mara played important parts as Charlotte Corday, Anna Karenina (1919) and Manon, attracting audience with her charm and youthful appeal. Lya Mara and her husband Frederic Zelnik became real celebrities, receiving at their home many known artists. Her popularity has been further cemented by hundreds of her photographs issued as postcards, chocolate and cigarettes trade cards.

A serious car accident at the end of the 1920s interrupted her career.

Somehow Lya Mara could not adapt her acting to the new artistic conditions after the introduction of sound in cinema in 1929, while Zelnik became the first director in Germany who postsynchronized foreign films. Lya Mara's only film from the sound era is Everyone Asks for Erika (1931) directed by her husband.

When Hitler took power in Germany (1933), Lya Mara left with Zelnik for London. There is no record of her acting there, in none of her husband's films produced until 1939 in England and The Netherlands.

Frederic Zelnik died in London on November 29, 1950. Mara spent last years of her life in Switzerland and died there on 1 March 1960.


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