Alla Nazimova - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Yalta, Russia (now Ukraine), 4 June 1879; became U.S. citizen, 1927. Education: Attended private Catholic school, Montreux, Switzerland; studied music at Philharmonic Music Academy, Yalta; Academy of Acting, Moscow. Family: Married Paul Orleneff, 1904; lived with the actor Charles Bryant. Career: Apprenticeship at Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre; then acted in repertory companies in Kostroma, Kerson, and Vilna; 1903—leading actress at Nemetti Theatre, St. Petersburg; 1904–05—toured Berlin and London with the play The Chosen People , banned in Russia; 1905—presented The Chosen People in Russian in New York, followed by other successful plays in Russian; 1906—studied English with the mother of Richard Barthelmess; debut in first English-speaking role in Hedda Gabler ; her fame in New York became so great that a theater was named for her (later renamed the 39th Street Playhouse); 1912—presented Bella Donna in New York and on a year-long tour; 1916—film debut in War Brides ; contract with Metro Company, and made several films written by June Mathis; 1922—made the film A Doll's House with her own money for release by United Artists; 1928—joined Eva Le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Company, New York, and later the Theatre Guild, 1929. Died: In Los Angeles 13 July 1945.

Films as Actress:


War Brides (Brenon) (as Joan)


Revelation (Baker) (as Joline); Toys of Fate (Baker) (as Hagar and Azah); An Eye for an Eye (Capellani) (as Hassouna)


Out of the Fog (Capellani) (as Faith and Eve); The Red Lantern (Capellani) (as Mahlee and Blanche Sackville); The Brat (Blaché)


Stronger Than Death (Blaché) (as Sigrid Fersen); The Heart of a Child (Smallwood) (as Sally Snape); Madame Peacock (Smallwood) (as mother and daughter) (+ sc); Billions (Smallwood) (as Princess Tirloff)


Camille (Smallwood) (as Marguerite Gauthier, + pr)


A Doll's House (Bryant) (as Nora, + pr, sc)


Salome (Bryant) (title role, + pr, sc)


Madonna of the Streets (Carewe)


The Redeeming Sin (Blackton); My Son (Carewe) (as Ana Silva)


Escape (LeRoy) (as Emmy Ritter)


Blood and Sand (Mamoulian)


The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Lee) (as Marquesa de Montmayor); In Our Time (Sherman) (as Zofya Orvid); Since You Went Away (Cromwell) (as Koslowska)

Film as Consultant and Research Adviser:


Zaza (Cukor)


By NAZIMOVA: articles—

Hall, Gladys, and Adele Fletcher, "We Interview Camille," in Motion Picture Magazine , January 1922.

"I Come Full Circle," in Theatre (New York), April 1929.

On NAZIMOVA: book—

Blum, Daniel, Great Stars of the American Stage: A Pictorial Record , New York, 1952.

On NAZIMOVA: articles—

Dale, Alan, "Nazimova and Some Others," in Cosmopolitan (New York), April 1907.

Montanye, Lillian, "A Half Hour with Nazimova," in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), July 1917.

Fredericks, Edwin, "The Real Nazimova," in Photoplay (New York), February 1920.

Howe, Herbert, "Nazimova Speaks," in Picture Play , September 1920.

Mullett, Mary, "How a Dull, Fat Little Girl Became a Great Actress," in American Magazine , April 1922.

Service, Faith, "Memoirs of Madame," in Motion Picture Classic (Brooklyn), November 1922.

Brush, Katherine, "Nazimova—Player of Roles," in National Magazine (New York), July 1923.

Thompson, E. R., "The Art of Alla Nazimova," in Pictures and Picturegoer , January 1925.

St. Johns, Adela Rogers, "Temperament? Certainly Says Nazimova," in Photoplay (New York), October 1926.

Barnes, Djuna, "Alla Nazimova, One of the Greatest of Living Actresses, Talks of Her Art," in Theatre Guild Magazine , June 1930.

Eustis, Morton, "The Actor Attacks His Part: Nazimova," in Theatre Arts (New York), December 1936.

Kirkland, Alexander, "The Woman from Yalta," in Theatre Arts (New York), December 1949.

Ashby, Clifford, "Alla Nazimova and the Advent of the New Acting in America," in Quarterly Journal of Speech , April 1954.

Bodeen, DeWitt, "Nazimova," in Films in Review (New York), December 1972.

"Alla Nazimova," in Rebellin in Hollywood: 13 Porträts des Eigensinns , Frankfurt, 1986.

Kanin, Garson, "Memoir: Garson Kanin: Tales from the Garden of Allah," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.

Film Dope (Nottingham), March 1991.

Golden, Eve, "Alla Nazimova: Mother Russia Goes to Hollywood," in Classic Images (Muscatine), February 1995.

Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), March 1995.

* * *

Alla Nazimova, one of the most exotic actresses of the late 1910s and 1920s, had an exotic Russian background to begin with. Born of Jewish parents in Yalta, and educated in a Swiss Catholic convent, she took up the violin and in her school orchestra played under Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Her acting aspirations led her to Moscow and an apprenticeship with Stanislavsky's Art Theatre. She found leading roles in the provinces and settled in St. Petersburg where she married her theater partner Paul Orleneff. Eventually the pair took the Zionist play The Chosen People on a European tour, and to America in 1905.

She decided to remain in the United States while her husband and the company returned home. Success on the New York stage, after she had learned English, led to a film version of her stage triumph War Brides under the direction of Herbert Brenon. (In the film she introduced Richard Barthelmess, the son of her English coach.) Diminutive, but with a dynamic personality, she struck a new note in American films. The Irish actor Michael MacLiammĂłir described her quality as "agonized ecstasy."

Her next film, Revelation , confirmed her talent, and she soared to stardom. Charles Bryant, her lover and leading man in many of her films, helped her to set up a palatial establishment in Hollywood known as the Garden of Allah. She was now known simply as Nazimova, in the way one would speak of Bernhardt or Duse. Three films directed by the talented Paul Capellani, An Eye for an Eye , Out of the Fog , and The Red Lantern , featured some of her finest work, the last being outstanding.

From this point on, her work takes on an eclectic virtuosity. An association with the designer Natacha Rambova led to highly stylized productions of Camille (with Valentino) and Salome with designs based on Beardsley. Salome was made with no concessions whatever to popular taste, and was poorly received, though it is actually a courageous experiment aesthetically, and remains remarkable for Nazimova's catlike grace.

In the mid-1920s she returned to her first love, the theater, and had a most distinguished career in classic Russian plays at the New York Civic Repertory Company. She played in a few sound films, always in small character parts though they were impeccably done. Her last years were restless and not particularly happy, though she lived to see her nephew Val Lewton make his name in films. Those who remember her stage performance speak of her with respect and love.

—Liam O'Leary

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