Alla Nazimova

Alla Nazimova (Russian: Алла Назимова, born Marem-Ides Leventon (Russian: Марем-Идес Левентон; June 3 [O.S. May 22] , 1879  July 13, 1945) was a Russian-American actress.

Alla Nazimova
Nazimova in 1913
Marem-Ides (Adelaida Yakovlevna) Leventon[1]

(1879-06-03)June 3, 1879 [O.S. May 22]
DiedJuly 13, 1945(1945-07-13) (aged 66)[2]
Other namesNazimova
Alia Nasimoff
OccupationActress, screenwriter, producer
Years active19031944
Sergei Golovin
(m. 1899; div. 1923)
Partner(s)Charles Bryant (1912–1925)
Glesca Marshall (1929–1945, her death)

On Broadway, she was noted for her work in the classic plays of Ibsen, Chekhov and Turgenev. Her efforts at silent film production were less successful, but a few sound-film performances survive as a record of her art.

Nazimova openly conducted relationships with women, and her mansion on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard was believed to be the scene of outlandish parties. She is credited with having originated the phrase "sewing circle" as a discreet code for lesbian or bisexual actresses.

Early life

She was born Marem-Ides Leventon (Russian name Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon) in Yalta, Crimea, Russian Empire. Although her accepted birth year is 1879, that is far from certain since there are different sources that indicate 1878 or even 1876.[3][4] Her stage name Alla Nazimova was a combination of Alla (a diminutive of Adelaida) and the surname of Nadezhda Nazimova, the heroine of the Russian novel Children of the Streets.[5] She was widely known as just Nazimova. Her name was sometimes transcribed as Alia Nasimoff.[6]

The youngest of three children born to Jewish parents Yakov Abramovich Leventon, a pharmacist, and Sarah Leivievna Gorowitz (later known as Sofia Lvovna Gorovitz or Horovitz), who moved to Yalta in 1870 from Kishinev,[7] she grew up in a dysfunctional family. Her parents divorced when she was eight. After her parents separated, she was shuffled among boarding schools, foster homes and relatives. As a teenager she began to pursue an interest in the theatre and took acting lessons at the Academy of Acting in Moscow. She joined Constantin Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre using the name of Alla Nazimova for the first time.


Nazimova's theater career blossomed early, and by 1903 she was a major star in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. She toured Europe, including London and Berlin, with her boyfriend Pavel Orlenev,[5] a flamboyant actor and producer. In 1905 they moved to New York City and founded a Russian-language theater on the Lower East Side. The venture was unsuccessful; and Orlenev returned to Russia while Nazimova stayed in New York.

She was signed up by the American producer Henry Miller and made her Broadway debut in New York City in 1906 to critical and popular success. Her English-language premiere in November 1906 was in the title role of Hedda Gabler.[8] She quickly became extremely popular (a theater was named after her) and remained a major Broadway star for years, often acting in the plays of Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov.[9] Dorothy Parker described her as the finest Hedda Gabler she had ever seen.

Due to her notoriety in a 35-minute 1915 play entitled War Brides, Nazimova made her silent film debut in 1916 in the filmed version of the play, which was produced by Lewis J. Selznick. She was paid $1,000 a day and the film was a success.[10] A young actor with a bit part in the movie was Richard Barthelmess, whose mother taught Nazimova English. Nazimova had encouraged him to try out for movies and he later became a star.[11] In 1917, she negotiated a contract with Metro Pictures, a precursor to MGM, that included a weekly salary of $13,000. She moved from New York to Hollywood, where she made a number of highly successful films for Metro that earned her considerable money. In 1927, she became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Nazimova soon felt confident enough in her abilities to begin producing and writing films in which she also starred. In her film adaptations of works by such notable writers as Oscar Wilde and Ibsen, she developed her own filmmaking techniques, which were considered daring at the time. Her projects, including A Doll's House (1922), based on Ibsen, and Salomé (1923), based on Wilde's play, were critical and commercial failures. By 1925, she could no longer afford to invest in more films and financial backers withdrew their support.

Left with few options, she gave up on the film industry, returning to perform on Broadway, notably starring as Natalya Petrovna in Rouben Mamoulian's 1930 New York production of Turgenev's A Month in the Country and an acclaimed performance as Mrs. Alving in Ibsen's Ghosts, which critic Pauline Kael described as the greatest performance she had ever seen on the American stage. In the early 1940s, she appeared in a few more films, playing Robert Taylor's mother in Escape (1940) and Tyrone Power's mother in Blood and Sand (1941). This late return to motion pictures fortunately preserves Nazimova and her art on sound film.

Private life

This 1922 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton[1] shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.
  1. ^ "When the Five O'Clock Whistle Blows in Hollywood". Vanity Fair. September 1922. Retrieved June 27, 2017.


In 1899 she married Sergei Golovin, a fellow actor.[5] From 1912 to 1925 Nazimova maintained a "lavender marriage" with Charles Bryant (1879–1948),[12] a British-born actor.[5][13] To bolster this arrangement with Bryant, Nazimova kept her marriage to Golovin secret from the press, her fans and even her friends. In 1923, she arranged to divorce Golovin without traveling to the Soviet Union. Her divorce papers, which arrived in the United States that summer, stated that on May 11, 1923, the marriage of "citizeness Leventon Alla Alexandrovna" and Sergius Arkadyevitch Golovin, "consummated between them in the City Church of Boruysk June 20, 1899", had been officially dissolved. A little over two years later, on November 16, 1925, Charles Bryant, then 43, surprised the press, Nazimova's fans and Nazimova herself by marrying Marjorie Gilhooley, 23, in Connecticut. When the press uncovered the fact that Charles had listed his current marital status as "single" on his marriage license, the revelation that the marriage between Alla and Charles had been a sham from the beginning embroiled Nazimova in a scandal that damaged her career.[14]:265–66; 285

Relationships with women

From 1917-22, Nazimova wielded considerable influence and power in Hollywood.[5] She helped start the careers of both of Rudolph Valentino's wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova. Although she was involved in an affair with Acker,[15] it is debatable as to whether her connection with Rambova ever developed into a sexual affair.

Nevertheless, there were rumors that Nazimova and Rambova were involved in a lesbian affair (they are discussed at length in Dark Lover, Emily Leider's biography of Rudolph Valentino) but those rumors have never been definitely confirmed. She was very impressed by Rambova's skills as an art director, and Rambova designed the innovative sets for Nazimova's film productions of Camille and Salomé.[16] Of those, Nazimova is confirmed to have been involved with romantically, the list includes actress Eva Le Gallienne, film director Dorothy Arzner, writer Mercedes de Acosta, and Oscar Wilde's niece, Dolly Wilde.[17]

Bridget Bate Tichenor, a Magic Realist artist and Surrealist painter, was rumored to be one of Nazimova's favored lovers in Hollywood during the World War II years of 1940-42.[18] The two had been introduced by the poet and art collector Edward James, and according to Tichenor, their intimate relationship angered Nazimova's longtime companion, Glesca Marshall.[18] However, the fact that Tichenor was pregnant most of 1940, giving birth to her son on December 21, 1940, along with the 40-year age gap between the two women, casts some doubt on this rumor.

It is believed that Nazimova coined the phrase "sewing circle" as code to refer to lesbian or bisexual actresses of her day who concealed their true sexuality.[17][19]

Nazimova lived together with Glesca Marshall from 1929 until Nazimova's death in 1945.[14]:289

Garden of Alla

Nazimova's private lifestyle gave rise to widespread rumors of outlandish and allegedly debauched parties at her mansion on Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood, California, known as "The Garden of Alla," which she leased in 1918 and bought outright the next year. Facing near-bankruptcy in 1926, she converted the 2.5 acre estate into a hotel by building 25 villas on the property. The Garden of Alla Hotel opened in January 1927. But Nazimova was ill-equipped to run a hotel and eventually sold it and returned to Broadway and theatrical tours. By 1930 the hotel had been purchased by Central Holding Corporation which changed the name to the Garden of Allah Hotel. When Nazimova moved back to Hollywood in 1938, she rented Villa 24 at the hotel and lived there until she died.[14]

Friends and relations

Edith Luckett, a stage actress and the mother of future U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan, was a friend of Nazimova, having acted with her onstage. Edith married Kenneth Seymour Robbins, and following the birth of their daughter Nancy in 1921, Nazimova became her godmother. Nazimova continued to be friends with Edith and her second husband, neurosurgeon Loyal Davis until her death.[20] She was also the aunt of American film producer Val Lewton.[13]

Death and memorials

On July 13, 1945 Nazimova died of a coronary thrombosis, age 66,[2] in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.[13] Her ashes were interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[21] Her contributions to the film industry have been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Nazimova has been depicted a number of times in film and onstage. The first two were biographical films about Rudolph Valentino: The Legend of Valentino (1975), in which she was portrayed by Alicia Bond; and Valentino (1977), in which she was portrayed by Leslie Caron. She was featured in two 2013 silent films about Hollywood's silent movie era: Return to Babylon in which she was played by Laura Harring[22] and Silent Life (Vlad Kozlov, Isabella Rossellini et al.) based on the life of Rudolph Valentino, where she was played by Sherilyn Fenn.[23]

The character of Nazimova also appears in Dominick Argento's opera Dream of Valentino,[24] in which she also played the violin. Nazimova was also featured in make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin's 2004 book Face Forward, in which he made up Isabella Rossellini to resemble her, particularly as posed in a certain photograph.[25]

Actress Romy Nordlinger first portrayed Alla Nazimova in The Society for the Preservation of Theatrical History production of Stage Struck: From Kemble to Kate staged at the Snapple Theater Center in New York City in December 2013.[26][27] In Fall 2016, PLACES, a multimedia solo show about Alla Nazimova, supported by the League of Professional Theatre Women's Heritage Program, written and performed by Romy Nordlinger debuted at Playhouse Theatre for a limited run.[28]

Romy Nordlinger will once again portray Alla Nazimova in PLACES, the multi-media solo show, as part of the East to Edinburgh series at 59E59 Theaters in New York City in late July 2017 before moving to Edinburgh, Scotland for the 2017 Fringe Festival.[29][30]

Nazimova also appears in Medusa's Web,[31] a novel by fantasy-fiction writer Tim Powers.


Year Film Role Notes
1916 War Brides Joan Lost film
1918 Revelation Joline
Toys of Fate Zorah/Hagah
A Woman of France
Eye for Eye Hassouna Also producer and co-director
1919 Out of the Fog Faith & Eve Lost film
The Red Lantern Mahlee & Blanche Sackville
The Brat The Brat Also producer and writer, Lost film
1920 Stronger Than Death Sigrid Fersen Also producer
The Heart of a Child Sally Snape Also producer, Lost film
Madame Peacock Jane Gloring/Gloria Cromwell Also producer and writer (adaptation)
Billions Princess Triloff Also writer (titles) and editor, Lost film
1921 Camille Marguerite Gautier/Manon Lescaut in Daydream
1922 A Doll's House Nora Helmer Also producer and writer, Lost film
1923 Salomé Salomé Also producer
1924 Madonna of the Streets Mary Carlson/Mary Ainsleigh
1925 The Redeeming Sin Joan Lost film
My Son Ana Silva Lost film
1940 Escape Emmy Ritter
1941 Blood and Sand Señora Augustias Gallardo
1944 In Our Time Zofya Orvid
The Bridge of San Luis Rey Doña Maria – The Marquesa
Since You Went Away Zofia Koslowska

See also


  1. Banham, Martin (1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. p. 782.
  2. "Alla Nazimova". Retrieved September 27, 2006. Her death on July 13, 1945, was attributed to coronary thrombosis.
  3. October 1905 passenger list. "". Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  4. "Short bio in Moscow Theatre (in Russian)". Retrieved February 13, 2019.
  5. Mavromatis, Kally; Pringle, Glen (1999). "Alla Nazimova – Silent Star". Archived from the original on September 20, 2006. Retrieved September 27, 2006.
  6. "Alla Nazimova" (in German). Archived from the original on May 14, 2006. Retrieved September 27, 2006. auch: Alia Nasimoff (also: Alia Nasimoff)
  7. "Алла Назимова — Звезда Голливуда Из Ялты". Old Yalta. Retrieved July 29, 2015.
  8. Untitled article, p. SMA2, New York Times, 1906-11-11. Accessed online 2015-08-04.
  9. Horowitz, Joseph (2008). "Delayed Reaction: Stanislavsky, Total Theater, and Broadway". Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth-Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts (1st ed.). New York: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-06-074846-3.
  10. Terry Ramsaye (January 1925). "The Romantic History of the Motion Picture". Photoplay. p. 120.
  11. Blum, Daniel (c. 1953). A Pictorial History of the Silent Screen p. 111
  12. Harbin, Billy J.; Marra, Kim; Schanke, Robert A. (2005). The Gay and Lesbian Theatrical Legacy. University of Michigan Press. p. 299. ISBN 0-472-09858-6.
  13. "Alla Nazimova Dies at 66". 1945. Archived from the original (JPG) on February 11, 2007. Retrieved September 27, 2006.
  14. Lambert, Gavin (1997). Nazimova: A Biography. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN 0-679-40721-9.
  15. Fleming, E.J. (2004). The Fixers – Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, and the MGM Publicity Machine. McFarland & Company. p. 56. ISBN 0-7864-2027-8.
  16. "Natacha Rambova – Women Film Pioneers Project". Retrieved November 1, 2017.
  17. Theophano, Teresa (2002). "Film Actors: Lesbian". Archived from the original on December 15, 2007. Retrieved December 14, 2007.
  18. "Bridget Bate Tichenor". Archived from the original on May 4, 2014. Retrieved October 12, 2018.
  19. Harbin, Billy J.; Marra, Kim; Schanke, Robert A., eds. (2005). The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy. University of Michigan. p. 297. ISBN 0-472-09858-6. Munson was a member of 'the sewing circle,' a term originated by Alla Nazimova for a clique of lesbians and bisexuals who socialized in Hollywood.
  20. "First Lady Biography – Nancy Reagan". The National First Ladies Library. 2005. Retrieved September 27, 2006. Her godmother was the famous actress Alla Nazimova
  21. Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 34235-34236). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition
  22. Canawati, Alex Monty (August 11, 2013), Return to Babylon, Jennifer Tilly, Maria Conchita Alonso, Tippi Hedren, retrieved November 1, 2017
  23. Kozlov, Vladislav (May 6, 2018), Silent Life, Isabella Rossellini, Franco Nero, Terry Moore, retrieved November 1, 2017
  24. Davis, Peter G. (February 7, 1994). "Radical Sheik". New York Magazine: 68–69. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  25. "Look-alike makeups - stars, starlets & actresses - the 1920s - various portrayals".
  26. BWW News Desk. "STAGE STRUCK: FROM KEMBLE TO KATE Plays Tonight at the Snapple Theater Center".
  27. Nazimova Excerpts - Romy Nordlinger from on Vimeo.
  28. "PLACES Solo Show About Alla Nazimova Set for Penthouse One". September 16, 2016. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  29. "Romy Nordlinger's PLACES to Make World Premiere at 59E59 Before Edinburgh Fringe". June 15, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  30. "PLACES: Romy Nordlinger on becoming Alla Nazimova". June 7, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  31. "'Medusa's Web' Tangles The Occult And Old Hollywood". Retrieved November 12, 2017.

Further reading

  • Golden, Eve (2001). Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-0834-0.
  • Lambert, Gavin (1997). Nazimova: A Biography, Knopf, ISBN 0-679-40721-9.
  • Lewton, Lucy Olga (1988). Alla Nazimova, My Aunt, Tragedienne: A Personal Memoir. Minuteman Press.
  • Smith, Frederick James (September 1918). "Those Nazimova Eyes!" in Picture Play.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.