In the Galleries: Alla Nazimova and Her Garden of Allah
BY Christopher Harrity
October 04 2013 6:00 AM ET
Rick Castro's Antebellum Gallery right off of the slipperiest part of Hollywood Blvd. hosts some of the most audacious and explicit exhibits in town. So a lecture and visual tour of the long-gone Garden of Allah Hotel might seem to be a little off their well-beaten path. But no. Nazimova's cred as a superstar of the Russian theater, the Broadway stage, and the silent screen coupled with her steamy lesbian love life makes her a perfect subject for Antebellum's off beat exhibits.
For those of you uninitiated in the history of the ultimate silent screen vamp, here is a little background on Nazimova (who was also included in our recent story 22 Russians Who We Won't Let Vladimir Putin Forget Were Gay).
The revered Russian actress made it from the Russian theater of Chekov to the Great White Way, where she was discovered by Hollywood and became the prototype of the exotic screen vamp. After two husbands — one a “lavender” marriage — she converted her West Hollywood compound into a playground for the rich, famous, and sexually promiscuous. From then on it was women only. She bedded the famous, the powerful, and merely mercenary — including a rumored affair with Valentino’s wife.
She was born Miriam Edez Adelaida Leventon, but like many people with a hard-scrabble childhood, she reinvented herself many times over before she became a leading silent film star in Hollywood. With her first husband, flamboyant actor and producer Pavel Orlenev, she opened a Russian language theater on the lower east side of New York. 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.
Brought to Hollywood by Lewis Selznik, she became extremely successful, earning $13,000 per week by 1917. She began writing and producing her own extremely stylized and often daring films. Most notable was her production of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé with art direction and costumes by Valentino’s wife Natacha Rambova, with whom she is presumed to have had an affair. She had already bedded Valentino’s first wife Jean Acker.
Nazimova’s mansion, the Garden of Allah, was a hot spot on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights that hosted many of the wilder parties for the 1920s film folk. There were a series of villas and cabins, and it is said that once inside the “Garden” all lips were sealed as to who spent the night in whose bed. It was converted to apartments and a hotel in 1927, and Nazimova continued to live there in one of the villas.
Of those others Nazimova is confirmed to have been involved with romantically, the list includes actress Eva Le Gallienne, director Dorothy Arzner, writer Mercedes de Acosta, Oscar Wilde's niece Dolly Wilde, and actress Anna May Wong. Nazimova lived with her very patient, long-time companion Glesca Marshall from 1929 until her death in 1945.
Allah Nazimova and her Garden of Allah
A lecture by Martin Turnbull with visual installation.
October 4, 7 p.m.
$15 day of the salon
1643 N Las Palmas, Los Angeles, California 90028
Antebellum's Facebook page
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