Saturday, March 27, 2010

Miss Alla Nazimova

Oh, Nazimova! When I first saw a picture of her, I was taken aback by how outlandish she came off, even in a photograph. I read a biography about her and learned to respect her as an actress and as a person. She was who she was, and didn't apologize for it.

She was born Miriam Edez Adelaida Leventon on May 22, 1879 in Yalta, Crimea. She was one of three children born to Yakov and Sonya Leventon. Her parents eventually separated and the household became quite dysfunctional. She pulled through it though, and even began playing violin by age 7.

When she was a teenager, she began acting on the stage. She changed her name to Alla Nazimova, Alla being her nickname, and Nazimova from a Russian author. She eventually just went by Nazimova, or even Madame Nazimova.

By 1903, she was star in Russia. In 1905, she and her boyfriend moved to New York City. The two opened a Russian language theater, but it was not successful. The boyfriend moved back to Russia, but Nazimova stayed in the States. Henry Miller signed her and she made her Broadway debut and became a star of the stage, mostly in Chekov and Ibsen plays. She even had a theatre named after her. (Not bad!)

She made her film debut in 1916 in the film War Brides. After awhile, she became a well known face on the screen and was earning quite a lot of money. She began to feel comfortable with the new medium, and got into writing and producing her films. Her 1923 film Salome is famous for its all gay cast, and for not being a popular adaptation. (It really is quite odd, but interesting).

Putting all her money into these films eventually led her to leave the movie industry and go back to the stage. She made a few talkies, including a remake of Blood and Sand in 1941, playing Tyrone Power's mother.

There has been much said about Nazimova's private life, mostly about her bisexuality. She only married once, to actor Sergei Golovin, in 1899. It was a marriage in name only, although the two never legally divorced. From 1912 to 1925, she lived in a "lavender marriage" with actor Charles Bryant. Bryant was gay, and Nazimova was a bisexual, hence the title of lavender marriage.

Nazimova was known in Hollywood as being very helpful in getting young starlets their start in the movie business. Such actresses she helped were Patsy Ruth Miller, Anna May Wong, and both of Rudolph Valentino's wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova. Nazimova did have an affair with Acker, but it is unknown if she did with Rambova, although the two were very close. (I'm thinking they probably did but, that's just my opinion). She was also romantically linked to Dorothy Arzner, Eva Le Gallienne, Mercedes de Costa, and Daisy Wilde, niece of Oscar Wilde. Her finally female partner was Glesca Marshall. The two lived together from 1929 until Nazimova's death.

Speaking of women...the thing I have always found interesting is that Nazimova is the godmother of Nancy Reagan, former first lady. She had been a friend of Nancy's mother Edith.

Not surprising that this over the top woman had an over the top home. "The Garden of Alla" was the mansion she lived in on Sunset Blvd that became famous for the lavish parties that were held there. Due to financial reasons, the mansion was later turned into an apartment complex, although she continued to live in one of the villas until her death.

Alla Nazimova died on July 13, 1945 of coronary thrombosis in Los Angeles, California. She was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.

My favorite film of hers is Camille, which she starred in with her friend Rudolph Valentino. Her hair and her clothes and her expressions are just beautiful in that film. Pair that with Valentino, and you have a great work of silent film.

Nazimova and Valentino