Alla Nazimova (Russian and Ukrainian: Алла Назимова; 3 June [O.S. 22 May] 1879 – July 13, 1945) was an American film and theater actress, a screenwriter, and film producer. She is perhaps best known as simply Nazimova, but also went under the name Alia Nasimoff. She emigrated to the US from the Russian Empire. In 1927, Nazimova became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
She was influential in the film industry in the silent era and continued to play character roles until the end of her life.
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. 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. 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 a considerable amount of 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 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’s play, were critical and commercial failures.
In 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 real marriage to Golovin secret from the press, her fans and even her friends. In 1923, she arranged to divorce Golovin without actually 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, now 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. 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. It is Nazimova who 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.
(source : Wikipedia)
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