The First Polish Celebrity
He was a renowned actor, a star in film and theatre, and legend of the 1930’s entertainment. With his career spanning for two decades, he proved his talent on many fields, and came to amass a great fortune. His promising life came to meet a very tragic end, in the circumstances that were hidden for many years after his death. Meet Eugeniusz Bodo, the first polish celebrity.
To this day it is unclear, which was the actual birthplace of “Bodo”. Son to a Swiss father, and a Polish mother, Bohdan Eugene Eunod was born in 1899, either in the Swiss city of Geneva, or in Poznań. It was in the latter, where he spent his early years, often participating in small theatrical spectacles, organized by his father. Although he had a profound interest in acting, his parents hoped that he would pursue the career of a doctor, which seemed to be far more profitable. As a 18 year old, Bodo escaped from his family home, and began working in the Apollo Theatre. His difficult financial situation prevented the young actor from creating his own plays, forcing him to play spectacles written by other authors. Despite that, Bodo’s talent came to attention, and in 1919, he moved from his home town to Warsaw, where he debuted in the Swiss Valley, a popular artistic center in the capital. In the following years he starred in various popular cabarets like “Qui Pro Quo” and “Morskie Oko”. It was then that he created his famous nickname “Bodo”, by taking the first vowels from “Bohdan” and “Dorota”, his, and his mother’s first names. During this period, he began to craft his unique style, and moved from traditional theatrical plays, to revue, that is a form of entertainment which combined music, dance, and sketches. Aware of the increasing popularity of cinema, Bodo gave it a try in 1925, when for the first time he starred on the silver screen. He found himself comfortable in the new medium, and with invention of the sound-film in the end of the decade, he became one of the highest grossing actors in the country. Films like “Paweł I Gaweł” and “Piętro Wyżej” became widely known for the humorous rhymes sung by Bodo. As the most notable can be given the scene in which Bodo, dressed as the American actress Mae West, performed his own version of the “Sex Appeal” song. Despite spending most of his on-screen appearances as an entertainer, he sometimes starred as a film villain, something that was still uncommon at the time. In 1938, in the film “Za Grzechy Niepopełnione” which he also directed, he played an evil worker, who ruined his partner’s life.
During his career, Bodo was known for having affairs with various women, and was hence given the nickname “the greatest lover of the Polish cinema”. While devoting his life to cinema and theatre, he was able to build his personal brand, by co-creating the B.W.B Film Studio, and establishing the luxury Café-Bodo in Warsaw in 1939. When the war broke out in the same year, Bodo seemed to be at the peak of his fame. After German invasion of Poland, he left for the East, to Lwów, which was soon captured by the Soviets. Together with Mieczysław Fogg, and other polish artists, he organized spectacles in the occupied city. Finding himself in a gruesome reality, he attempted to leave the Soviet Union, seeking advice in the Swiss embassy. Although he hoped that a foreign citizenship would help him, it eventually backfired, as he was arrested in 1941, on the grounds of spying, and imprisoned in Moscow. In the following two years, he was subjected to inhumane treatment, and in his last photo taken from the prison, he can be seen in a disastrous state.
Despite the attempts of Polish diplomats in exile, Bodo was never released, and he died in 1943, while being transported to a Gulag in Kotlas. Until the end of communism in Poland, authorities stated that he died from the hands of Germans in Lwów.
Eugeniusz Bodo, through his talent, and sense of humour, went down in history as one of the most distinct actors of his time. He had a vital role in defining the spirit of the polish cinema, and today, he can serve as a symbol of a colorful, yet bygone era.
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Bodo’s famous “Sex Appeal" song, where he parodied Mae West: