See biography by G. Lambert (1997).
Alla Nazimova (Алла Назимова), born Mariam Edez Adelaida Leventon (Мириам Эдес Аделаида Левентон; May 22, 1879 – July 13, 1945) was a Russian/American theater and film actress, scriptwriter, and producer. She is often known as just Nazimova, and was also known as Alia Nasimoff.
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 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.
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).
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. A noteworthy example was Anna May Wong, whose first film role was in The Red Lantern as an extra at age fourteen. 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, 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.
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. She was the aunt of American film producer Val Lewton.
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, California, 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.
The character of Nazimova appears in Dominic Argento's opera Dream of Valentino in which she also plays the violin.
|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|
|1924||Madonna of the Streets||Mary Carlson/Mary Ainsleigh|
|1925||The Redeeming Sin||Joan|
|My Son||Ana Silva|
|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|
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