She was born Marem-Ides Leventon (Russian name Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon) in Yalta, Crimea, Russian Empire. She was the youngest of three children of Jewish parents Yakov Abramovich Leventon, a pharmacist, and Sofia (Sara) Lvovna Horowitz, who moved to Yalta in 1870 from Kishinev. She grew up in a dysfunctional family; her parents divorced when she was 8. 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," and later just "Nazimova". (Her stage name 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).
Alla Nazimova was an American film and theater actress, a screenwriter, and film producer. Nazimova is confirmed to have been romantically involved with actress Eva Le Gallienne, director Dorothy Arzner, writer Mercedes de Acosta, and Oscar Wilde's niece, Dolly Wilde, painter Bridget Bate Tichenor (an intimate of George Platt Lynes, she married Jonathan Tichenor, brother of Platt Lynes’ lover George, who was killed during the WWII). Nazimova lived with Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death in 1945 at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard near the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.
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, 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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 Nazimova 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 the critic Pauline Kael later 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.
n 1899 she married Sergei Golovin, a fellow actor. While still in Russia and before coming to America in 1905, Nazimova may have given birth to a child. The father has been speculated to be either her husband Golovin or her lover Orlenev.
From 1912 to 1925 Nazimova maintained a "lavender marriage" with Charles Bryant (1879–1948), a British-born actor. In order 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.
Between the years of 1917 and 1922 Nazimova wielded considerable influence and power in Hollywood. 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. For instance, after meeting a young Patsy Ruth Miller at a Hollywood party, Nazimova assisted in getting Miller's career launched. (Miller got her first break with a small role in Camille.) Another noteworthy example was Anna May Wong, whose first film role at age 14 was as an extra in The Red Lantern.
Nazimova 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, it is debated 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.
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. Bridget Bate Tichenor, a Magic Realist artist and Surrealist painter, was also rumored to be one of Nazimova's favored lovers in Hollywood during the World War II years of 1940 to 1942. 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. However, the fact that Tichenor was pregnant most of 1940, giving birth to her son on Dec. 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.
Nazimova lived with Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death in 1945.
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.
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. She was also the aunt of American film producer Val Lewton.
On July 13, 1945 Nazimova died of a coronary thrombosis, age 66, in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. 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 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. She will be featured in two upcoming silent films about Hollywood's silent movie era: Return to Babylon in which she is played by Laura Harring and Silent Life (Vlad Kozlov, Isabella Rossellini et al.) based on the life of Rudolph Valentino, where she is played by Galina Jovovich.
The character of Nazimova also appears in Dominick 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.
Actress Romy Nordlinger 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.
Glesca Marshall (September 19, 1906 – August 21, 1987) was an actress and theatrical benefactor who was known primarily as the most enduring lover of Alla Nazimova (June 3, 1879 – July 13, 1945), silent screen actress and a legend of her time. Glesca met Nazimova when both were cast in a production at the Civic Repertory Theater.
Glesca later lived with Nazimova at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard near the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. In the silent film era, the hotel had been an estate that was Nazimova's home. Glesca lived there with in a villa on the grounds until Nazimova's death in 1945.
Glesca was also the longtime companion of Emily Woodruff (February 19, 1913 – February 21, 1994), theatrical benefactor and main patron of the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. Emily was married to Hume Cronyn, though they never lived together and Emily insisted the marriage remain a secret. Glesca and Emily are both buried at Parkhill Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia, in the Magnolia Garden.
Glesca Marshall lived with Alla Nazimova at the Garden of Allah Hotel on Sunset Boulevard near the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. In the silent film era, the hotel had been an estate that was Nazimova's home. Glesca lived there with in a villa on the grounds until Nazimova's death in 1945. Glesca was also the longtime companion of Emily Woodruff, theatrical benefactor and main patron of the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. Glesca and Emily are both buried at Parkhill Cemetery, Columbus, Georgia, in the Magnolia Garden.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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