On November 23, 1914 — just over 100 years ago — the first episode of the 20-episode silent film Zudora was released by motion picture studio Thanhouser. The film starred actress Marguerite Snow as protagonist Zudora.
Here’s a synopsis from late 1914:
Zudora is left an orphan at an early age. Her father is killed in a gold mine he has discovered. Half and hour after learning of the death of her husband, Zudora’s mother–a tight-rope walker with a circus–is stricken with vertigo, falls and is killed.
Zudora and the fortune from the mine, which grows to be worth $20,000,000, are left in the guardianship of Frank Keene, brother of Zudora’s mother. Zudora, giving promise of great beauty, reaches the age of 18. The uncle, who has set himself up as a Hindu mystic and is known as Hassam Ali, determines in his greed that Zudora must die before she can have a chance to come into her wealth, so that it will be left to him.
The 20 installments came out once a week until April 5, 1915.
While Thanhouser insisted that the serial was “a colossal success!” in ongoing advertisements, Zudora was not actually a hit with audiences. One reason for this was that Thanhouser had miscast James Cruze, the hero of their previous (and legitimately successful) serial The Million Dollar Mystery, as the villain in Zudora.
But the film did manage to make an impression on parents. Or at least the title did. The baby name Zudora shows up on the SSA’s baby name list for five consecutive years starting in 1914:
- 1919: unlisted
- 1918: 5 baby girls named Zudora
- 1917: 6 baby girls named Zudora
- 1916: 7 baby girls named Zudora
- 1915: 28 baby girls named Zudora (5 in Texas specifically)
- 1914: 5 baby girls named Zudora
- 1913: unlisted
Numbers from the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) are similar:
- 1919: 2 people named Zudora
- 1918: 4 people named Zudora
- 1917: 6 people named Zudora
- 1916: 5 people named Zudora
- 1915: 28 people named Zudora (plus one more with Zudora as a middle)
- 1914: 9 people named Zudora
- 1913: none
Interestingly, according to Moving Picture World, one of those 1914 Zudoras was the niece of the late Charles J. Hite, who had been the president of Thanhouser from 1912 until he died in an automobile accident in mid-1914.
The film may have also had an influence on poet Conrad Aiken, whose 1916 chapbook Turns and Movies includes a poem called “Zudora.”
So what does the name Zudora mean? The sources I checked claimed it meant “laborer,” but each gave a different origin (e.g., Arabic, Indian, Persian, Sanskrit, Urdu). Finally, on a random belly dancing site, I stumbled upon a plausible etymology:
Zudora a Variant Form of the Sanskrit Sudra, Meaning “Menial Laborer.” a Sudra Is a Member of the Fourth and Lowest Hindu Caste.
Shudra, also spelled Sudra, is indeed the lowest Hindu class — below the Brahmins, Kshatriya, and Vaishya, but above the Dalits (the untouchables). “The Shudra have classically lived lives of service. Slaves were often classified as Shudra, as were cobblers, blacksmiths, maids, cooks, and so forth.”
What’s your opinion of the name Zudora?
(And, if you’d like to check it out, here’s Zudora episode #2 “The Mystery of the Sleeping House.”)
- McGrath, Harold. “Zudora.” Evening Ledger Philadelphia 3 Dec. 1914: 11.
- “Notes of the Trade.” Moving Picture World. 19 Dec. 1914: 1705.
- What is a Shudra?
- Zudora (1914) – IMDb
- Zudora – Thanhouser Films: An Encyclopedia and History