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Mabel said the Alla Nazimova was one of dearest friends….




 from New York Morning Telegraph, September 11, 1921

                From the manner in which Nazimova's modernized "Camille" held the attention of the audience which viewed it, for the first time, in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, New York, the evening of Wednesday, September 7; from the applause the picture evoked and from outspoken commendation of it by professional personages there, Metro officials believe that in the screen version of the great Dumas play it has one of the most powerful box office attractions ever produced...

                Nazimova was present in person at the showing, as also were Rudolph Valentino, who played Armand, and Natacha Rambova, who designed the settings. Following the exhibition there was a reception in the Crystal Room. The production was directed by Ray C. Smallwood and the scenario written by June Mathis. The photoplay was viewed by an audience whose composite photograph might have been entitled "A Celebrity."

                Among the guests were...Miss Lillian Gish, Miss Dorothy Gish, Miss Norma Talmadge, Miss Constance Talmadge, Joseph M. Schenck, Richard Barthelmess, Adolph Zukor, D. W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Mabel Normand...




from Photoplay,  October 1924

                At last Hollywood has seen Douglas Fairbanks' "The Thief of Bagdad." No picture ever made has been awaited with such eager interest by the film colony itself, and the opening night at Grauman's Hollywood theater was one of those unforgettable occasions, marred only by the absence of Doug and Mary, who were somewhere on the high seas, bound for America.

                The scene was an amazing one, from the crowd that packed the streets outside, to the interior of the theater, transformed for the production of this picture into a veritable Arabian Nights palace, filled with incense and Oriental perfumes, magnificent tapestries and rich colors, dancing girls and throbbing Eastern music.

                In the audience were Norma Talmadge, Constance Talmadge, Madame Alla Nazimova, with the most fascinating new bob above a frock of gold and coral; Florence Vidor, in cream chiffon with orchids; Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Meighan, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Lloyd (Mildred wore the daintiest of Boue Souers frocks under a summer evening wrap of pale pink chiffona du marabou); Mr. and Mrs. Reginald Denny (Mrs. Denny in a smart taffeta frock of blended pastel colors); Mr. and Mrs. Earle Williams, the latter stunning in cloth of gold and flame net; Miss Jeannie MacPherson, wearing a gorgeous evening coat of green silk shot with gold and banded with gold embroidery; Mr. and Mrs. Walter Morosco (Corrine Griffith), Paul Bern, Mabel Normand, all in white satin trimmed with rhinestones under an evening wrap of ermine; Mr. and Mrs. George Archainbaud, Kathleen Clifford, in scalloped white chiffon ornamented with red silken roses; Mae Busch, black and silver; Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Allan Forrest (Lottie Pickford), Mr. and Mrs. Robert Leonard (Mae Murray--in some shimmering white and silver thing, with a coat of delicate canary yellow); Mr. and Mrs. Norman Kerry, Priscilla Dean, in autumn leaf brown, with a big picture hat of the same color; Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Nagel, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas MacLean, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Ray, George Fitzmaurice, Eugene O'Brien and Mr. and Mrs. Monta Bell.      


 * from Liberty, October 11, 1930



“…..(Mabel was writing about going to New York)….we finally drew up a five-year contract. I was to get fif­teen hundred dollars a week and ten percent of the gross re­ceipts. In the summer I was to make pictures for him. There was a sliding scale of salary and percentage increases and an interest in my picture comedies, until I was to be getting eight thousand a week during the last year of the contract.

                “But even after I signed, I was worried about my voice, so I went to see Alla Nazimova, one of my dearest friends, in her lovely home on Sunset Boulevard ( she lived at the Garden of Allah). She had a high wall about her estate and a great swimming pool, and when either of us was blue we'd telephone and I'd call on her and we'd have a fine time swimming and telling each other how good we were, and how misun­derstood, until we felt better with ourselves and the world.

                “Nazimova called herself Peter Winter, the name under which she wrote scenarios. Peter finally leased her grounds to a hotel company.

                “Peter told me not to worry about my voice, that it was soft and throaty and all right, and that I'd soon learn to pitch it properly across the footlights.

                “Poor Peter! She, too, walked in the shadows, Charles Bryant leaving her to marry another woman after she and Bryant had been companions for years, the world thinking them wed.

For more on Alla Nazimova, we recommend the book NAZIMOVA by Gavin Lambert, which can be found at this link to Amazon.com

Alla Nazimova, born Mariam Edez Adelaida Leventon, (May 22, 1879 - July 13, 1945) was an American theater and film actress, scriptwriter, and producer. She was sometimes called just Nazimova. Also she wrote under the name Peter Winter


Early life

Nazimova was one of three children of Yakov Leventon and Sonya Horowitz. The family was Jewish and lived in Yalta, Crimea, then part of the Russian Empire, now part of Ukraine. She grew up in a dysfunctional family and, after her parents' separation, was shuffled between 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 Moscow-based Academy of Acting before joining Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theater as "Alla Nazimova", and later just "Nazimova". She married Sergei Golovin, a fellow actor, in 1899, but the marriage soon fell apart.



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 alleged 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 theather was named after her) and remained a major Broadwar star for years, often acting in Henrik Ibsen's and Anton Chekhov's plays.

Nazimova made her silent film debut in 1916. Over the next few years she made a number of highly successful films that earned her a considerable amount of money.

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 adaptations of works by such notable playwrights as Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen she developed her own filmmaking techniques, which were considered daring at the time. Her projects, however, 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 until the early 1940s when she appeared in a few more films, presumably in need of money.


Private Life

Her private lifestyle gave rise to widespread rumors of outlandish and allegedly debauched parties with mostly other women, many notable actresses of the time, at her large mansion on Sunset Boulevard known as the Garden of Allah. Some sources claim that the parties consisted of outlandish all-female orgies. Her studio had to squelch rumors of her lesbianism and affairs with other Hollywood female personalities such as writer/poet Mercedes de Acosta, and a reportedly unstable and volatile affair with actress Eva Le Gallienne, for whom Nazimova was alleged to have been extremely jealous and possessive.

By this time (between the years of 1917 and 1921), Nazimova wielded considerable influence 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 sexually.

She helped start the careers of both of Rudolph Valentino's wives, Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova; she was involved with Acker sexually and may also have had an affair with Rambova. 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 Salome. After meeting a young Patsy Ruth Miller at a Hollywood party, Nazimova assisted in getting Miller's career launched. Nazimova was briefly involved with actress June Marlowe, whom she later introduced to producer/director Lloyd Hamilton. She also helped the career of young actress Tallulah Bankhead after a brief affair. Nazimova was named by Charlie Chaplin in his 1920 divorce decree as his wife Mildred Harris' lesbian lover.

It was not only young talent Nazimova concentrated on. She also was involved in a brief fling with established actress Maude Adams, who allegedly broke off the affair due to her extreme sexual tastes. However, not all rumors regarding Nazimova are factual. For example, the rumor that she had an affair with Mata Hari has never been substantiated, and it has never been proven that the two women even met.

Although primarily a lesbian, Nazimova also had some affairs with men, for example cameraman Paul Ivano perhaps best known for his work with Erich Von Stroheim.

In order to cover up her sexuality, her studio insisted she live in a partnership of mutual convenience with Charles Bryant, a gay actor, for more than a dozen years. A friend of actress Edith Luckett and her extremely conservative husband, Dr. Loyal Davis, Nazimova was made godmother to former first lady Nancy Reagan, Luckett's daughter from a previous marriage, in 1921.

A breast cancer survivor, Nazimova died of coronary thrombosis at the age of 66 on July 13, 1945, in Los Angeles, California, and was 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 owned and lived in the famous Garden of Allah apartment complex in West Hollywood, California.

She was lesbian, and was involved romantically with many of Hollywood's elite women of the time.

Aunt of American film director Val Lewton.



Lucy Olga Lewton. Alla Nazimova, My Aunt, Tragedienne: A Personal Memoir, Minuteman Press, 1988.

Gavin Lambert. Nazimova: A Biography, Knopf, 1997, 420pp, ISBN 0679407219

Eve Golden. Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars, Jefferson, North Carolina, McFarland & Company, 2001, ISBN 0786408340


External links

Alla Nazimova at The Internet Movie Database


Gavin Lambert

"She realized later in life that her whole silent film career had been a great mistake."

interviewed by Ron Hogan


Buy it from

Read the
2000 interview

Gavin Lambert is the author of the classic Hollywood insider novel Inside Daisy Clover, first published in 1963, as well as the screenplay of its 1965 adaptation starring Natalie Wood and Robert Redford. He's also an accomplished biographer who's written about George Cukor and Norma Shearer. In his most recent project, Lambert presents the first full-scale biography of Alla Nazimova, one of silent film's greatest stars and one of early Hollywood's most controversial personalities, a woman who maintained unprecedented control over her productions and lived a lifestyle as sexually flamboyant as she could get away with (she was the first of the great "Hollywood lesbians," all the while maintaining a fictitious marriage with her business partner, Charles Bryant). The Garden of Allah, the hotel where many of Hollywood's greats took up residence, was originally the Garden of Alla, a spacious mansion all her own at the start of what would become the Sunset Strip. I met Lambert at a coffee shop not far from the Garden's former location (now occupied by one of the thousands of mini-malls found at nearly every LA intersection) to discuss the legendary actress.

RH: What led you to write about Alla Nazimova?

GL: Victoria A. Nelson, my editor at Knopf asked if I'd be interested in writing a life of Nazimova, and I said, "I'm sure she's fascinating, but does anybody really know anything about her?" I'd heard rumors about her, but not enough to base a full-scale life on. Victoria told me there was an archive of her papers in, of all places, Columbus, Georgia. I went to look and was totally fascinated. Without that material, particularly Nazimova's memoirs I simply could not have written this book.

RH: The archive's existence immediately brings up what for me is one of the most fascinating aspects of her story, in that it was maintained by Glesca Marshall, her longtime companion. And because Glesca was closeted, it's simultaneously a celebration of Nazimova's life and a major case of spin doctoring.

GL: Absolutely. That was one of the biggest problems I had in writing the book, finding out what was true and what was cover-up. That involved quite a bit of work, as you can imagine, digging around and talking to people. I was amazed at how many people were still alive who had knew her or had worked with her, considering that she had died in 1945 at the age of sixty-six. There were about twenty or twenty-five people who'd worked with her on stage or in films, or who had seen her act in some of the famous things, like Ghosts. And then there was this fascinating 100 year-old lady who'd seen everybody from Eleonora Duse to Nazimova to Eva Le Gallienne and could compare them all as actresses.

RH: Nazimova's stage career is amazing, not only in terms of her individual performances, but the lasting influence it had on American theatre.

GL: This is the woman who inspired Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill to write plays. And she was offered plays by other writers, too, including Noel Coward and Clifford Odets. And she was in the background of the Russian theatre before that. I found out that she had exaggerated her importance to the Moscow Arts Theatre; she was an apprentice who had a few walk-ons. But she was there at the start. She watched Stanislavsky rehearsh and learned a lot from it. She really led an epic life -- from Moscow to New York, the Broadway of the '20s, to Hollywood.

RH: Her transition from Broadway to Hollywood is interesting in that for all her success, there were also several missed opportunities.

GL: She realized later in life that her whole silent film career had been a great mistake. She was typecast as a foreign vamp, and the problem was that she was so good at it, so popular, that she came to believe in it. She fell for her own image, aided and abetted by her dreadful pseudo-husband, Charles Bryant.

RH: She also accumulated a lot of power behind the scenes.

GL: That's amazing, and one of the reasons why the establishment started to hate her and insist that she had to be taken out. No other woman had produced, directed, written and starred in her own movies and been successful. She was too much ahead of her time for the people here then. But she also cut herself off from many talented people, directors like von Stroheim and Vidor, who in any event might have been deterred by the stories about her: that she was impossible to work with, that she demanded total control and so on. Had she not missed opportunities like that, she might have been as extraordinary in silent film as she had been in theatre, even revolutionary. Instead she settled for the image of success.

The amazing thing is that, after she was washed up in Hollywood, she went back to Broadway and had a series of successes as great as her first run in theatre. When she did The Cherry Orchard, Mourning Becomes Electra, A Month in the Country, and Ghosts, all within five years... When she went back to the stage, though, she made an effort to be more cooperative. The only trouble she had during that period, from 1928 to about the late '30s, was that for an actress of her age (because she was in her fifties by then) with a slight foreign accent, the parts were limited. Her roles either had to be classics, or something special like Mourning Becomes Electra, in which O'Neill wrote around her accent. Her accent was actually quite charming, really, and no heavier than, say, Garbo's, but then Garbo had problems in movies as well.

And then, at the height of her success in Ghosts, she had the breast cancer and the mastectomy. That was a very serious blow to her in every way. Traumatic to begin with, and doubly so when it happens just as you're back on the crest of the wave and the doctor says you can't work for at least a year. It's amazing that she did as much as she did given the mistakes that she made and the bad luck that she had, but even after all that she managed to get back to Hollywood for some last roles onscreen.

RH: And for a while, although she was discreet, she was also fairly matter-of-fact about her sexuality.

GL: Only until she realized that she'd taken it too far. She'd put out all these teasers when she was a silent movie star, saying things like, "Some of my friends call me Peter and some call me Mimi," but it was used against her when the films started not to make money. She became not only a failed artist but a dyke who had to be kicked out before she created a scandal that made the industry look bad.

RH: Let's talk about one of Nazimova's most famous lovers, Mercedes de Acosta.

GL: Mercedes de Acosta was the greatest starfucker ever, very stylish and unmistakably lesbian. She had affairs with Isadora Duncan, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo. But before that, when she was twenty-two, she saw Nazimova on stage and was determined to meet her, so she went to Nazimova's dressing room after a performance at Madison Square Garden and there was an obvious instant click between the two. De Acosta eventually wrote an autobiography in the '60s called Here Lies the Heart ("and lies and lies," one of her friends quipped), in which she names names, although she talks about what they did in coded terms. Earlier drafts among her unpublished papers go into more detail about the weeks that she and Nazimova spent together after that initial meeting.

RH: In the second half of the book, when you're recounting some of the legendary rumors about Nazimova's Hollywood sex life, I was intrigued that many of those stories come from the director George Cukor.

GL: Well, he was the great source. He was extraordinary. He knew everybody, really, and had known Nazimova since the late 1920s. George was always incredibly discreet about people who were living, but in his later years, if he knew you well, he would talk to you about anybody who was not still around. I believed him because I knew that George was a first-rate gossip and his stuff was really good. He didn't tell the sort of rumors that Kenneth Anger would give you; he had the real thing.





































































































































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