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Alla Nazimova in the 1911 play The Marionettes

'Alla Nazimova (born Miriam Edez Adelaida Leventon; May 22, 1879July 13, 1945) was a Russian/American theater and film actress, screenwriter, and producer. She is often known as just Nazimova, and was also known as Alia Nasimoff.[1]

Early life[]

Nazimova was one of three children of Yakov Leventon and Sonya Horowitz. The family was Jewish and lived in Yalta, Crimea, then part of the Russian Empire (part of Ukraine since 1954). She grew up in a dysfunctional family and, after her parents' separation, was shuffled between boarding schools, foster homes, and relatives. Her emotional distress caused her to rebel against authority as a way of gaining attention. A precocious child, she played the violin by age seven. As a teenager she began to pursue an interest in the theatre and took acting lessons at the Moscow-based Academy of Acting before joining Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater as "Alla Nazimova," and later just "Nazimova." Her stage name was taken from her middle name Adelaida, combined with the surname of Nadezhda Nazimova (the heroine of the Russian novelChildren of the Streets), whom she admired.[2] She married Sergei Golovin, a fellow actor, in 1899; the marriage was "in name only," and the two never legally divorced.[2]


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,[2] 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 1906 to critical and popular success. 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.

Nazimova made her silent film debut in 1916, due to her notoriety in a 35-minute 1915 play entitled War Brides. This brought her to the attention of Lewis J. Selznick. Over the next few years, she made a number of highly successful films that earned her a considerable amount of money. By 1917, she was earning as much as $30,000 per film, with a $1,000 per day bonus for every day of filming. She was also given a $13,000 per week contract. At the time, actress Mary Pickford was on a $3,000 per week contract.[2]

In 1918, at age 39, Nazimova felt confident enough in her abilities that she began 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 film making 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, met with little popular success and lost a great deal of money.

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 (including starring as Natalya Petrovna in Rouben Mamoulian's 1930 New York production of Turgenev's A Month in the Country), until the early 1940s when she appeared in a few more films, presumably in need of money. Two of her best known roles today is that of Robert Taylor's mother in Escape (1940) and as Tyrone Power's mother in the film Blood and Sand (1941).

Private life[]

Her private lifestyle gave rise to widespread rumors of outlandish and allegedly debauched parties at her mansion on Sunset Boulevard known as The Garden of Alla, built in 1919, which in 1927 became the Garden of Allah apartment-hotel complex. In later years, she continued to live in one of the villas there.[3] She lived in a lavender marriage with Charles Bryant (1879-1948),[4] a New York actor, from 1912 to 1925.[2][5]

Template:Hollywood1921 Between the years of 1917 and 1922, Nazimova wielded considerable influence and power in Hollywood.[2] By all accounts she was extremely generous to young actresses in whom she saw talent and became involved with at least some of them romantically. A noteworthy example was Anna May Wong, whose first film role was in The Red Lantern as an extra at age 14. She helped start the careers of both of Rudolph Valentino's wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova. Nazimova was involved in an affair with Acker,[6] but it is debated as to whether her connection with Rambova ever developed into a sexual affair. 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 productions of Camille and Salomé. Of those Nazimova is confirmed to have been involved with romantically, the list includes actress Eva Le Gallienne, director Dorothy Arzner, writer Mercedes de Acosta, and Oscar Wilde's niece, Dolly Wilde.[7] It was, allegedly, Nazimova who coined the phrase "Sewing circles", used to describe actresses of her day who concealed their true sexuality. [1]

After meeting a young Patsy Ruth Miller at a Hollywood party, Nazimova assisted in getting Miller's career launched. She became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1927. Nazimova lived with Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death in 1945. A friend of actress Edith Luckett and her husband, Dr. Loyal Davis, Nazimova was made godmother to future first lady Nancy Davis Reagan, Luckett's daughter from a previous marriage, in 1921.[8] She was the aunt of American film producer Val Lewton.[5]

A breast cancer survivor,Template:Fact Nazimova died of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 66 on July 13, 1945,[9] in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, California,[5] and her ashes were interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. Her contributions to the film industry have been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Nazimova may have given birth to a child while still in Russia and before coming to America in 1905. Likely candidates as to the father are speculatively her husband Golovin or her lover Orlenev.


Nazimova has been portrayed in film three times. The first two were biographical films about Rudolph Valentino, 1975's The Legend of Valentino, in which she was portrayed by Alicia Bond, and 1977's Valentino, in which she was portrayed by Leslie Caron. The most recent was 2004's Return to Babylon, a film about Hollywood's silent movie era, in which she was portrayed by Laura Harring.

The character of Nazimova appears in Dominic Argento's opera Dream of Valentino in which she also plays 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.[10]


Year Film Role Notes
1915 War Brides Joan
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
The Red Lantern Mahlee & Blanche Sackville
The Brat The Brat Also producer and writer
1920 Stronger Than Death Sigrid Fersen Also producer
The Heart of a Child Sally Snape Also producer
Madame Peacock Jane Gloring/Gloria Cromwell Also producer and writer (adaptation)
Billions Princess Triloff Also writer (titles) and editor
1921 Camille Marguerite Gautier/Manon Lescaut in Daydream
1922 A Doll's House Nora Helmer Also producer and writer
1923 Salomé Salomé Also producer
1924 Madonna of the Streets Mary Carlson/Mary Ainsleigh
1925 The Redeeming Sin Joan
My Son Ana Silva
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



  1. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5
  2. Alla Nazimova - Silent Star of February 1999 by Kally Mavromatis
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  4. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Template:Cite news
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  7. Look-alike makeups | stars, starlets & actresses | the 1920s | various portrayals | themakeupgallery at


  • The First Female Stars: Women of the Silent Era by David W. Menefee. Connecticut: Praeger, 2004. ISBN 0-275-98259-9.
  • Lucy Olga Lewton. Alla Nazimova, My Aunt, Tragedienne: A Personal Memoir, Minuteman Press, 1988.
  • Gavin Lambert. Nazimova: A Biography, Knopf, 1997, 420pp, ISBN 0-679-40721-9
  • Eve Golden. Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 2001, ISBN 0-7864-0834-0
  • Those Nazimova Eyes! By Frederick James Smith in Picture Play, September, 1918.


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