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Alla Nazimova (Russian and ), born Miriam Edez Adelaida Leventon ( , ; May 22, 1879 – July 13, 1945) was a Russian/Americanmarker theater and film actress, screenwriter, and producer. She is perhaps best known as simply Nazimova, but also went under the name Alia Nasimoff.

Early life

Nazimova was one of three children of Yakov Leventon and Sonya Horowitz. The family was Jewish and lived in Yaltamarker, Crimeamarker, then part of the Russian Empiremarker (now belonging to Ukrainemarker since 1954). She grew up in a dysfunctional family and after her parents' separation was shuffled among 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 was playing the violin by age seven.

As a teenager she began to pursue an interest in the theatre and took acting lessons at the Academy of Acting in Moscowmarker before joining Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatremarker as "Alla Nazimova," and later just "Nazimova." (Her stage name was a combination of her middle name Adelaida and the surname of Nadezhda Nazimova, the heroine of the Russian novel Children of the Streets, whom she admired.


Nazimova in the 1911 Broadway play The Marionettes
Nazimova's theater career blossomed early; and by 1903 she was a major star in Moscow and Saint Petersburgmarker. She toured Europe, including Londonmarker and Berlinmarker, with her boyfriend Pavel Orlenev, a flamboyant actor and producer. In 1905 they moved to New York Citymarker and founded a Russian-language theater on the Lower East Sidemarker. 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 Broadwaymarker 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.

Due to her notoriety in a 35-minute 1915 play entitled War Brides, Nazimova made her silent film debut in 1916. This appearance 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 her contract was earning her $13,000 per week.

In 1918 the 39-year-old 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 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. In the early 1940s — presumably in need of money — she appeared in a few more films. Two of her film roles from that time are best known today: the role of Robert Taylor's mother in Escape (1940); and the role of Tyrone Power's mother in Blood and Sand (1941).

Private life

Marriages and children

In 1899 she married Sergei Golovin, a fellow actor. However, the marriage was "in name only"; and the two never legally divorced.

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 lived in a lavender marriage with Charles Bryant (1879-1948), a New York actor.

Alla Nazimova

Relationships with women

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. It was allegedly Nazimova who coined the phrase "Sewing circles" as code to refer to lesbian or bisexual actresses of her day who concealed their true sexuality.[90713]

Nazimova lived with Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death in 1945.

Life in the United States

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. This mansion in 1927 became the Garden of Allahmarker apartment-hotel complex. In later years, she continued to live in one of the villas there.

A friend of actress Edith Luckett and her husband, Dr. Loyal Davis, Nazimova in 1921 was made godmother to future first lady Nancy Davis Reagan, Luckett's daughter from a previous marriage. She was the aunt of Americanmarker film producer Val Lewton.

Nazimova became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1927.

Death and memorials

A breast cancer survivor, Nazimova died of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 66 on July 13, 1945, in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, Californiamarker; and her ashes were interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemeterymarker in Glendale, Californiamarker. Her contributions to the film industry have been recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker.

Iconic legacy in the arts

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 film portrayal was in Return to Babylon of 2004, a film about Hollywood's silent movie era, in which Laura Harring played Nazimova.

The character of Nazimova appears also 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.


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. Alla Nazimova - Silent Star of February 1999 by Kally Mavromatis
  3. 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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