Alla Nazimova Biography

Alla Nazimova, a Russian-American actress, gained fame on Broadway for her exceptional performances in the classic plays of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Turgenev. Despite a troubled childhood spent in boarding schools and foster homes, she persevered and at the age of 24, she had already established herself as a celebrated actress, changing her name to Alla Nazimova. Moving to the USA at 26, she mastered English and made a successful debut on Broadway, receiving critical acclaim for her portrayals of leading characters. Additionally, she ventured into silent films, appearing in 17 productions before returning to the stage. Sadly, she passed away at the age of 66, leaving behind a remarkable legacy in the world of theater and film.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Marem-Ides Leventon
  • Died At Age: 66
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Sergei Golovin (m. 1899 – div. 1923)
    • Father: Yakov Leventon
    • Mother: Sonya Horowitz
    • Partner: Charles Bryant (1912–1925), Glesca Marshall (1929–1945)
  • Born Country: Russia
  • Lesbians
  • Jewish Actresses
  • Height: 5’3″ (160 cm), 5’3″ Females
  • Died on: July 13, 1945
  • Place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States
  • Notable Alumni: Moscow Art Theatre
  • Cause of Death: Coronary Thrombosis
  • More Facts
  • Education: Moscow Art Theatre

Childhood & Early Life

Alla Nazimova was born as Marem-Ides Adelaida Leventon on June 3, 1879, in Yalta, a city located in the Crimean peninsula. Her father, Yakov Abramovich Leventon, was a well-to-do pharmacist. Her mother’s name was Sarah Leivievna Gorowitz.

Born youngest of her three siblings, she was raised in a dysfunctional home. In 1887, her parents divorced. Thereafter, her mother moved to Odessa while her father remarried and had three more children with his second wife.

While some sources maintain that she had her early education at home, others maintain that from 1885 to 1890 she studied at a Catholic private school in Montreux, Switzerland. From 1886, she also started taking violin lessons.

In 1890, she was enrolled at Yalta Girls’ Gymnasium, where she studied for two years. Thereafter, she moved to Odessa to live with her maternal relatives, where she continued her education at a local gymnasium, concurrently, taking violin lesson at the local branch of Imperial Russian Musical Society.

Around in 1895, she moved to Moscow, where she started taking acting lessons at Academy of Acting, ignoring her father’s vehement objection. When he failed to convince her to quit acting, he insisted that she change her name. Hearing this, she changed her name to Alla Nazimova.

Early Career

In 1898, Alla Nazimova began her career at Moscow Art Theatre, appearing in multiple roles, learning ‘method style’ from its cofounder Konstantin Stanislavski. During this period, she also sang, played piano and violin, and even sewed her own costume.

From 1900, she started acting in repertory companies first in Kostroma, and then in Kerson, and Vilnius. She met Pavel Orlenev, joined his company and by 1903 had become the leading actress at Nemetti Theatre, St. Petersburg.

In November 1904, Alla Nazimova and Orlenev traveled to Berlin, successfully performing at the magnificent Theater der Westens. Thereafter in January 1905, they moved to London, where they appeared in plays like ‘The Chosen People’.

In March 1905, they reached New York, where they appeared in numerous plays, including ‘The Chosen People’, establishing a Russian language theatre in the city. Although their venture was unsuccessful, her acting caught the attention of the well-known Shubert Brothers.

In 1906, Lee Shubert hired Nazimova on a five-year contract with the condition that she must learn English within six months. On June 20, she began studying English and mastered the language within five months.

A Broadway Star

On November 13, 1906, Alla Nazimova made her Broadway debut, appearing in the title role in Henrik Ibsen’s play, ‘Hedda Gabler’. Her magnificent performance was both critically and popularly acclaimed, instantly making her a star.

By 1909, she had appeared in leading roles in numerous plays like ‘A Doll’s House’, ‘Hedda Gabler’, ‘Comtesse Coquette’, ‘The Master Builder’ and ‘The Comet’. They made her so popular that Shubert brothers built a theatre especially for her. Called Nazimova Theatre, it opened its door on April 18, 1910.

Continuing to act with great acclaim, she appeared in ‘Bella Dona’ in late 1912. Although the theatre goers found her lurid acting electrifying, it also dented her image and so to change it she broke her contract in 1915 and accepted a role in the anti-war drama, ‘War Brides’.

In ‘War Bride’, she appeared in the role of a young mother, whose husband and brother had died in the war. Opening in January 1915 in New York City, it later toured the country for seven months. Her acting influenced producer Lewis J. Selznick to adapt it into a film.

Film Career

In 1916, Alla Nazimova debuted on screen with ‘War Bride’, a silent film, in which she appeared in the lead role. It was such a success that in the following year, she was able to negotiate a contract with Metro Picture, eventually moving to Hollywood with a weekly salary of $13,000.

In 1918, along with acting in lead roles, she also emerged as producer, producing ‘Eye for Eye’. Two years later, she debuted as a writer, writing the subtitle for ‘Billions’. However, the year also brought in three consecutive flops.

In 1921, she tried to revive her career with ‘Camille’; producing and starring in it. But it too failed at the box office, wiping out her creditability and savings.

Despite repeated failure, she managed to produce ‘A Doll’s House’ in 1922 and ‘Salome’ in 1923; also starring in them. But when they failed to turn the tide, her financial backer withdrew. Finally, in 1928, she returned to the stage with Eva Le Gallienne’s production of ‘The Cherry Orchard’.

After spending a decade on the stage, she returned to the screen in early 1940s, appearing in five sound films. They were ‘Escape’ (1940), ‘Blood and Sand’ (1941), ‘In Our Time’ (1944), ‘The Bridge of San Luis Rey’ (1944) and ‘Since You Went Away’ (1944).

Major Works

Alla Nazimova is best remembered for her role of Natalya Petrovna in the 1930 stage production of ‘A Month in the Country’ and also for portraying the role of Mrs. Alving in the 1935 stage production of Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’.

Family & Personal Life

On June 20, 1899, Alla Nazimova married actor Sergei Golovin. In 1923, she managed to have this marriage dissolved through postal service.

On 5 December, 1912, she married fellow actor, Charles Bryant; but it was never consummated. It came to an end when Charles had a second marriage in 1925, revealing that their marriage was just a pretense.

It is believed that Alla Nazimova also had affairs with numerous women including Bridget Bate Tichenor, Eva Le Gallienne, Dorothy Arzner, Mercedes de Acosta, and Dolly Wilde. Her mansion, known as The Garden of Alla, was rumored to be the venue of numerous outlandish parties. On July 13, 1945, Alla Nazimova died of a coronary thrombosis in Los Angeles. Her mortal remains were cremated and the ashes were interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

On February 8, 1960, she was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.


She is believed to have started the phrase “sewing circle” as a code for lesbian actresses.

Leave a Comment