Alla Nazimova had already established herself as a successful theatrical star in Russia when she emigrated to the United States in 1905, and she soon became one of the most popular actresses of the American stage.
Nazimova's first film, "War Brides," was based on a one-act dramatic sketch with a powerful anti-war theme that she had performed in a tour across America in 1915. In 1918 Nazimova began playing lead roles in a series of films for Metro studios that featured her as an exotic, independent woman beset by anguish and personal struggle.
In "Revelation," Nazimova played a prostitute who is reformed through art and a religious miracle. In "Toys of Fate" Nazimova played two roles: As a woman who commits suicide after being deserted by the father of her illigitimate daughter; and as the grown daughter, comitted to avenge her mother's death. And in "The Red Lantern," Nazimova played dual roles, as two half-sisters caught up in the Boxer Rebellion.
Although her exotic film roles brought her considerable fame, Nazimova continued her theatre career, focusing on "serious" stage roles to avoid becoming typecast. As her fame grew, Nazimova began to take a greater role in her cinema projects, and by 1920 she was producing as well as starring in her films. Unfortunately, her production sense was dictated more by personal interests than by financial reality, and her self-produced films, while sylistically bold and experimental, were also box-office failures.
The best-known of these films, "Salome," was adapted from the Oscar Wilde play, with sets designed after Aubrey Beardsley's 1894 illustrations. The film has something of a scandalous reputation, but is (in its available, and apparently somewhat-truncated, form) a fairly literal adaptation of Wilde's play. As a staged play, the film has the usual set-bound static quality, but this is frequently transcended by the power of the film's visuals, and by the sheer dynamism of Nazimova's performance.
In 1925 Nazimova retired form filmmaking to focus on the stage, starring in Broadway productions of "The Cherry Orchard" in 1928, and "A Month in the Country" in 1930. In 1931, she originated the role of Christine in Eugene O'Neil's "Mourning Becomes Electra."
In the 1940's, for financial reasons, Nazimova returned to Hollywood, where she played supporting roles in a handful of films through 1944.
Born Adelaide Leventon, Yalta, June 4, 1879. Died July 13, 1945 in Los Angeles (coronary thrombosis).
Alla Nazimova filmography.
Back to Silent Era Personalities Page.