The rise and fall of the actress Alla Nazimova
The 1920s was the period of flappers, flamboyance, and the face of Alla Nazimova.
Back then, Alla Nazimova was the brilliant star of stage and film who had managed to gain critical and commercial success– as well as Hollywood power and influence.
But there was more to this Russian-born actress, whose personal and public faces were so different– then soon came together.
Alla Nazimova: From Russia to Broadway
Born 1879, Nazimova’s real name was Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon and she grew up in Yalta, Crimea (part of the Russian Empire then) where she first began her career in acting.
She created the name Alla Nazimova as a combination of Adelaida and Nadehzda Nazimova, from the Russian novel Children of the Streets.
She migrated to the States in 1905 and by 1906, she was starring in a Broadway production of Henry Miller where she first earned popular and critical success.
In Miller’s Hedda Gabler, she played the title role and was described by Dorothy Parker “as the finest Hedda Gabler she had ever seen.”
Because of her popularity on the stage, a theatre was named after her and she became one of the biggest stars of Broadway.
Her introduction to Hollywood was in the silent film version of her 35-minute play called War Brides.
While the film promoted peace, Nazimova became a strong voice for women and feminism. She soon began writing her own movies and starring in them.
The public and private faces of Alla Nazimova
With her successes, Nazimova was able to buy a property on Sunset Boulevard where she would hold wild, Great Gatsby-esque parties in a mansion that became known as ‘The Garden of Alla.’
Married to Charles Bryant, their marriage was a ruse– a “lavender marriage”– to hide her true inclination: women.
Alongside Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead, she was one of many actresses at that time who had relationships with other women.
In fact, she even coined the phrase “sewing circle” as code for lesbian or bisexual actresses.
Among them, she had relationships with Eva Le Gallienne, Mercedes Acosta, Dorothy Azner, and the niece of Oscar Wilde, Dolly Wilde.
Alla Nazimova’s Salomé
When her career started to wane, she became bolder about her true sexuality in her films and made them edgier.
She produced, wrote, and starred in the film Salomé, which was directed by Bryant. It was one of the first art films of America with its wild costumes, empty sets, and outlandish acting.
Based on Oscar’s Wilde’s play, Nazimova was said to have required an all-gay cast for the film. While the film was critically panned and a commercial failure at the time, it has become a film festival favorite for years.
Eventually, time took a toll on her. Losing a lot of money, she sold her mansion to a company that turned it into a hotel.
In 1945, Alla Nazimova died of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 66 in Villa 24, renting a place in the same mansion she had once owned.