Natacha Rambova

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Natacha Rambova
Side profile of a woman facing right, her hair in coiled braids around her ears
Rambova by Russell Ball, 1924
Born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy
(1897-01-19)January 19, 1897
Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
Died June 5, 1966(1966-06-05) (aged 69)
Pasadena, California, U.S.
Cause of death Heart attack
Other names
Winifred Hudnut
  • Winifred de Wolfe
  • Natacha Valentino
Occupation
  • Costume and set designer
  • dancer
  • actress
  • academic
Height 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)
Spouse(s) Rudolph Valentino (m. 1923; div. 1925)
Álvaro de Urzáiz (m. 1934; div. 1939)
Relatives Heber C. Kimball (great-grandfather)

Natacha Rambova (born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy; January 19, 1897 – June 5, 1966) was an American film costume and set designer, and occasional actress who was active in Hollywood in the 1920s. In her later life, she would abandon design to pursue other interests, specifically Egyptology, a subject on which she became a published scholar in the 1950s.

Born into a prominent Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Rambova was raised in San Francisco and educated in England before beginning her career as a dancer, performing under Russian ballet choreographer Theodore Kosloff in New York City. She relocated to Los Angeles at age nineteen, where she became an established costume designer for Hollywood film productions. It was there she became acquainted with actor Rudolph Valentino, with whom she had a two-year marriage from 1923 to 1925. Rambova's association with Valentino afforded her a widespread celebrity typically afforded to actors.[1] Although they shared many interests such as art, poetry and spiritualism, his colleagues felt that she exercised too much control over his work and blamed her for several expensive career flops.

After divorcing Valentino in 1925, Rambova operated her own clothing store in Manhattan before moving to Europe and marrying the aristocrat Álvaro de Urzáiz in 1934. It was during this time that she visited Egypt, and developed a fascination with the country that would remain for the rest of her life. Rambova spent her later years studying Egyptology, and earned two Mellon Grants to travel there and study Egyptian symbols and belief systems. She served as the editor of the first three volumes of Egyptian Religious Texts and Representations (1954–7) by Alexandre Piankoff, also contributing a chapter on symbology in the third volume. She died in 1966 in California of a heart attack while working on a manuscript examining patterns within the texts in the Pyramid of Unas.

Rambova has been noted by fashion and art historians for her unique costume designs that drew on and synthesized a variety of influences, as well as her dedication to historical accuracy in crafting them. Academics have also cited her interpretive contributions to the field of Egyptology as significant. In popular culture, Rambova has been depicted in several films and television series, figuring significantly in the Valentino biopics The Legend of Valentino (1975), in which she was portrayed by Yvette Mimieux, and Ken Russell's Valentino (1977), by Michelle Phillips. She was also featured in a fictionalized narrative in the network series American Horror Story: Hotel (2015).

Early life[edit]

Rambova was born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy on January 19, 1897 in Salt Lake City, Utah.[2] Her father, Michael Shaughnessy, was an Irish Catholic from New York City who fought for the Union during the American Civil War and then worked in the mining industry. Her mother, Winifred Shaughnessy (née Kimball),[3] was the granddaughter of Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball,[4] of English descent,[a] and was raised in a prominent Salt Lake City family.[6] At her father's wishes, Rambova was baptized a Roman Catholic at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City in June 1897,[7] though she would later be baptized a Latter-day Saint by her mother at age eight.[8]

A young woman facing a camera, staring toward the right
Rambova's 1916 passport photograph

Rambova's parents had a tumultuous relationship: Her father was an alcoholic, and often sold her mother's possessions to pay off gambling debts.[9] This led Winifred (senior) to divorce Shaughnessy in 1900 and relocate with Rambova to San Francisco.[10] There, she remarried to Edgar de Wolfe in 1907.[11] During her childhood, Rambova would spend summer vacations at the Villa Trianon in Le Chesnay, France with Edgar's sister, the French designer Elsie de Wolfe.[12][13] The marriage between Winifred (senior) and Edgar de Wolfe was short-lived, and she again remarried, this time to millionaire perfume mogul Richard Hudnut.[14] Rambova was adopted by her new stepfather, making her legal name Winifred Hudnut.[15] Rambova was given the nickname "Wink" by her aunt Teresa to distinguish her from her mother because of their shared name.[7] She also sometimes went by Winifred de Wolfe, after her former step-aunt Elsie, with whom she maintained a relationship after her mother's divorce from Edgar.[16]

A rebellious teenager, Rambova was sent by her mother to Leatherhead Court, a boarding school in Surrey, England.[17][18][19] In her schooling, she became fascinated by Greek mythology,[6] and also proved especially gifted at ballet.[18] After seeing Anna Pavlova in a production of Swan Lake in Paris with her former step-aunt Elsie, Rambova decided she wanted to pursue a career as a ballerina.[20] Her family had encouraged her to study ballet purely as a social grace, and were appalled when she chose it as her career. Her aunt Teresa, however, was supportive, and took Rambova to New York City, where she studied under the Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Theodore Kosloff in his Imperial Russian Ballet Company.[21] While dancing under Kosloff, she adopted the Russian-inspired stage name Natacha Rambova.[22] Standing at 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 m), Rambova was too tall to be a classical ballerina, and instead was given leading parts by the then-thirty-two-year-old Kosloff, who soon became her lover.[22][23] Rambova’s mother was outraged upon discovering the affair as Rambova was only seventeen years old at the time, and she tried to have Kosloff deported on statutory rape charges.[24][25] Rambova retaliated against her mother by fleeing abroad, and her mother ultimately agreed to her continuing to perform with the company.[22]

Career[edit]

Design in film[edit]

Illustration of woman in ornate costume
Costume concept for Forbidden Fruit (1921), designed and drawn by Rambova

Around 1917, Kosloff was hired by Cecil B. DeMille as a performer and costume designer for DeMille's Hollywood films, and the couple relocated from New York to Los Angeles.[26] Rambova carried out much of the creative work as well as the historical research for Kosloff, and he would then steal her sketches and claim credit for them as his own.[25] When Kosloff started work for fellow-Russian film producer Alla Nazimova at Metro Pictures Corporation (later MGM) in 1919, he sent Rambova to present some designs. Nazimova requested some alterations, and was most impressed when Rambova was able to make these changes immediately in her own hand. Nazimova offered Rambova a position on her production staff as an art director and costume designer, proposing a wage of up to USD$5,000 per picture (equivalent to $59,776 in 2016).[27] Rambova immediately began working for Nazimova on the comedy film Billions (1920), for which she supplied the costumes and served as art director.[28] She also designed the costumes for two Cecil DeMille films in 1920: Why Change Your Wife? and Something to Think About.[29] She also worked as a set designer on DeMille's Forbidden Fruit (1921), in which she designed (alongside Mitchell Leisen) an elaborate costumes for a Cinderella-inspired fantasy sequence.[29]

While working on her second project for Nazimova—Aphrodite, which was ultimately never filmed[30]—Rambova revealed to Kosloff that she planned on leaving him. During the ensuing argument, he attempted to kill her,[31] shooting at her with a shotgun.[32] The gun fired into Rambova's leg, and the bullet lodged above her knee.[33] Rambova fled the Hollywood apartment she shared with Kosloff to the set of Aphrodite, where a cameraman helped her remove the birdshot from her leg.[33] Despite the nature of the incident, she continued to live with Kosloff for some time[31]

Stylistically, Rambova favored designers such as Paul Poiret,[25] Léon Bakst,[34] and Aubrey Beardsley.[25] She specialized in "exotic" and "foreign" effects in both costume and stage design. For costumes she favored bright colors, baubles, bangles, shimmering draped fabrics, sparkles, and feathers.[21] She also strived for historical accuracy in her costume and set designs. As noted in The Moving Picture World's review of 1917's The Woman God Forgot (Rambova's first film project): "To the student of history the accuracy of the exteriors, interiors, costumes, and accessories... [the film] will make strong appeal."[35]

Relationship with Rudolph Valentino[edit]

Man and woman standing together, looking into the camera
Rambova with Valentino in 1925

In 1921, Rambova was introduced to actor Rudolph Valentino on the set of Nazimova's Uncharted Seas (1921).[25] She and Valentino subsequently worked together on Camille (1921),[36] a film which was a financial failure and resulted in Metro Pictures terminating their contract with Nazimova.[37] While making the film, however, Rambova and Valentino became romantically involved. Although Valentino was still married to American film actress Jean Acker, he and Rambova moved in together within a year, having formed a relationship based more on friendship and shared interests than on emotional or professional rapport. They then had to pretend to separate until Valentino’s divorce was finalized, and married on May 13, 1922 in Mexicali, Mexico, an event described by Rambova as "wonderful...even though it did cause many worries and heartaches later."[38] However, the law required a year to pass before remarriage, and Valentino was jailed for bigamy, having to be bailed out by friends.[39] They legally remarried on March 14, 1923 in Crown Point, Indiana.[40]

Both Rambova and Valentino were spiritualists, and they frequently visited psychics and took part in séances and automatic writing.[41] Valentino wrote a book of poetry Daydreams with many poems about Rambova.[42] When it came to domestic life, Valentino and Rambova turned out to hold very different views. Valentino cherished old world ideals of a woman being a housewife and mother, while Rambova was intent on maintaining a career and had no intention of being a housewife.[43] Valentino was known as an excellent cook, while actress Patsy Ruth Miller suspected Rambova didn't know "how to make burnt fudge," although the truth was she did occasionally bake and was an excellent seamstress.[44] Valentino wanted children, but Rambova did not.[45][46]

He knew what I was when I married him. I have been working since I was seventeen. Homes and babies are all very nice, but you can't have them and a career as well. I intended, and intend, to have a career and Valentino knew it. If he wants a housewife, he'll have to look again.
–Rambova on Valentino during the dissolution of their marriage.[47]

While her association with Valentino lent Rambova a celebrity typically afforded to actors, their professional collaborations showed-up their differences more than their similarities, and she did not contribute to any of his successful films in spite of serving as his manager.[48] In The Young Rajah (1922)[49] she designed authentic Indian costumes that tended to compromise his Latin lover image, and the film was a major flop.[49] She also supported his one-man strike against Famous Players-Lasky, which left him temporarily banned from movie work.[50] In the interval, they performed a promotional dance-tour for Mineralava Beauty Products, to keep his name in the spotlight, though when they reached her hometown of Salt Lake City, and she was billed as 'The Little Pigtailed Shaughnessy Girl', Rambova was deeply insulted.[51] In 1923, Rambova helped design the costumes for friend Alla Nazimova in Salomé, which were inspired by the work of Aubrey Beardsley.[52] Beginning in February 1924, she accompanied Valentino on a trip abroad that was profiled in twenty-six installments published Movie Weekly over a course of six months.[53]

Rambova's later work with Valentino was characterised by elaborate and costly preparations for films that either flopped or never manifested. These included Monsieur Beaucaire, The Sainted Devil, and The Hooded Falcon (a film which Rambova co-wrote, but was never realized).[54] By this time, critics and the press were beginning to blame Rambova’s excessive control for these failures.[55][56] United Artists went so far as to offer Valentino an exclusive contract with the stipulation that Rambova had no negotiating power, and was disallowed from even visiting the sets of his films.[50] After this, Rambova was offered $30,000 to create a film of her choosing, which resulted in the production of What Price Beauty?, a drama which she co-produced and co-wrote.[57] In 1925, Rambova and Valentino separated, and an acrimonious divorce ensued in which she purportedly belittled and cheated on him, resulting in Valentino becoming suicidal.[57]

After the divorce proceedings began, Rambova moved on to other ventures: On March 2, 1926, she patented a doll she had designed with a "combined coverlet,"[58][59] and also produced and starred in her own picture, Do Clothes Make the Woman? with Clive Brook (now lost).[57] However, the distributor took the opportunity to bill her as 'Mrs. Valentino' and changed the title to When Love Grows Cold; Rambova was horrified by the title change.[57] The film did garner press due to it being Rambova's first screen credit, however. An Oregon newspaper teased before a screening: "Natacha Rambova (Mrs. Rudolph Valentino)... So much has been written of this remarkable lady who won and lost the heart of the great Valentino that everyone wants to see her. Tonight is your opportunity to do so."[60] The film, however, was not well-received by critics; a review in Picture Play deemed the film "the poorest picture of the month, or of almost any month, for that matter," adding: "The interiors are bad, the costumes atrocious. Miss Rambova is not well dressed, nor does she film well, in the slightest degree."[61] After its release, Rambova never worked in film, on or offscreen, again.[57] Three months later, Valentino died unexpectedly of peritonitis, leaving Rambova inconsolable,[46] and she purportedly locked herself in her bedroom for three days.[62] Though she did not attend his funeral, she sent a telegram to Valentino's business manager George Ullman, requesting he be buried in her family crypt at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (a request Ullman denied).[62]

Writing and fashion design[edit]

After Valentino's death, Rambova relocated to New York City. There, she immersed herself in several endeavors, appearing in vaudeville at the Palace Theatre[63] and writing a semi-fictional play entitled All that Glitters, which detailed her relationship with Valentino, and concluded in a fictionalized happy reconciliation.[64] She also published the 1926 memoir, Rudy: An Intimate Portrait by His Wife Natacha Rambova, which contains memories of her life with him. The following year, a second memoir was published entitled Rudolph Valentino Recollections (a variation of Rudy: An Intimate Portrait), in which she prefaces an addended final chapter by writing that only those "ready to accept the truth" read forward; what follows is a detailed letter supposedly communicated by Valentino's spirit from an astral plane, which Rambova claimed to have received during an automatic writing session.[65] While residing in New York, she frequently arranged séances with medium George Wehner, and claimed to have made contact with Valentino's spirit on several occasions.[66][67][68][69] Rambova also appeared in supporting parts in two original 1927 Broadway productions: Set a Thief, a drama written by Edward E. Paramore, Jr., and Creoles, a comedy written by Kenneth Perkins and Samuel Shipman.[70]

Illustrations of a man and woman in ornate costumes
Costume designs by Rambova published in Photoplay in December 1922, which show her unique design sensibilities

In June 1928, she opened an elite couture shop on Fifth Avenue and West 55th street in Manhattan,[46] which sold Russian-inspired clothing that Rambova herself designed.[71] Her clientele included Broadway and Hollywood actresses such as Beulah Bondi and Mae Murray.[72] On opening the shop, she commented: "I’m in business, not exactly because I need the money, but because it enables me to give vent to an artistic urge."[72] In addition to clothing, the shop also carried jewelry, although it is unknown if it was designed by Rambova or imported.[73] By late 1931, Rambova had grown uneasy about the economic situation of the United States during the Great Depression, and feared the country would experience a drastic revolution.[74] This led her close her shop and formally retire from commercial fashion design, leaving the United States to live in Juan-les-Pins, France in 1932.[74] In Europe, she met her second husband Álvaro de Urzáiz, a British-educated Spanish aristocrat, whom she married in 1932.[74] They lived together on the island of Mallorca, and restored abandoned Spanish villas for tourists, a venture financed by Rambova's inheritance from her stepfather.[64]

It was during her marriage to Urzáiz that Rambova first toured Egypt in January 1936, visiting the ancient monuments in Memphis, Luxor, and Thebes.[75] While there, she met archeologist Howard Carter, and became fascinated by the country and its history, which had a profound effect on her.[76][77] "I felt as if I had at last returned home," she said. "The first few days I was there I couldn't stop the tears streaming from my eyes. It was not sadness, but some emotional impact from the past–a returning to a place once loved after too long a time."[47] Upon returning to Spain, Urzáiz became a naval commander for the pro-fascist nationalist side during the Spanish Civil War. Rambova fled the country to a familial château in Nice, where she suffered a heart attack at age forty.[64] Soon after, she and Urzáiz divorced.[64] Rambova remained in France until the Nazi invasion in June 1940, upon which she returned to New York.[78]

Egyptology and scholarly work[edit]

Rambova's interest in the metaphysical evolved significantly during the 1940s, and she became an avid supporter of the Bollingen Foundation, through which she believed she could see a past life in Egypt.[64] Rambova was also follower of Helena Blavatsky and George Gurdjieff,[64] and conducted classes in her Manhattan apartment about myths, symbolism and comparative religion.[79] She also began publishing articles on healing, astrology, yoga, post-war rehabilitation, and numerous other topics,[77][80] some of which appeared in American Astrology and Harper's Bazaar.[6] In 1945, the Old Dominion (a predecessor to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) awarded Rambova a grant-in-aid of USD$500 for "making a collection of essential cosmological symbols for a proposed archive of comparative universal symbolism."[81] Rambova intended to use her research to generate a book, which she wanted Ananda Coomaraswamy to write, with the principal themes derived from astrology, theosophy, and Atlantis.[81] In an undated letter to Mary Mellon, she wrote:

It is so necessary that gradually people be given the realization of a universal pattern of purpose and human growth, which the knowledge of the mysteries of initiation of the Atlantean past, as the source of our symbols of the Unconscious, gives... Just as you said, knowledge of the meaning of the destruction of Atlantis and the present cycle of recurrence would give people an understanding of the present situation.[81]

Page from a book which reads Mythological Papyri in large text
Title page of Mythological Papyri (1957)

Rambova's intellectual investment in Egypt also led her to undertake work deciphering ancient scarabs and tomb inscriptions, which she began researching in 1946.[6] Initially, she believed she would find evidence of a connection between ancient Egyptian belief systems and those of ancient American cultures.[6] While researching at the Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale in Cairo, she met the institute's director, Alexandre Piankoff, with whom she established a rapport based on their shared interest in Egyptology.[82] Piankoff introduced her to his French translation of the Book of Caverns, a royal funerary text, which he was working on at the time. "To my amazement, I found that it contains all the most important esoteric material," Rambova wrote. "I can only compare it to the Coptic Pistis Sophia, the Tibetan Voice of the Silence, and the Hindu Sutras of Patanjali. It is what I have been looking for for years."[82]

Her interest in the Book of Caverns led her to abandon her studies of scarabs, and she began translating Piankoff's French translation into English, an endeavor she felt "was the main purpose and point" of her studies in Egypt.[82] She secured a second two-year grant of USD$50,000 through the Mellon and Bollingen Foundations (a considerably large grant for the time) to help Piankoff photograph and publish his work on the Book of Caverns.[6] In the winter of 1949–50, she joined Piankoff and Elizabeth Thomas in Luxor to undertake further studies.[6] In the spring of 1950, the group was given permission to photograph and study inscriptions on golden shrines that had once enclosed the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun, after which they toured the Pyramid of Unas at Saqqara.[6]

After completing the expedition in Egypt, Rambova returned to the United States, where, in 1954, she donated her extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts (accumulated over years of research) to the University of Utah's Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA).[83] She settled in New Milford, Connecticut, where she spent the following several years working as an editor on the first three volumes of Piankoff's series Egyptian Texts and Religious Representations,[79][84] which was based on the research he had done with Rambova and Thomas.[6] The first volume was The Tomb of Ramesses VI published in 1954, followed by The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon in 1955. During this time, she kept regular correspondence with fellow Egyptologists William C. Hayes and Richard Parker.[6]

For the third volume of Piankoff's series, Mythological Papyri (published in 1957), Rambova contributed her own chapter in which she discussed symbology in Egyptian papyri.[85] Rambova continued to write and research intensely into her sixties, often working twelve hours per day.[6] In the years prior to her death, she was working on a manuscript examining texts from the Pyramid of Unas for a translation by Piankoff.[86] This manuscript, which exceed one-thousand pages, was donated to the Brooklyn Museum after her death.[6] Two additional manuscripts were also left behind, which are part of Yale University's Yale in Egypt collection: The Cosmic Circuit: Religious Origins of the Zodiac and The Mystery Pattern in Ancient Symbolism: A Philosophic Interpretation.[84]

Later life and death[edit]

In the mid-1960s Rambova developed scleroderma, which significantly affected her throat, impeding her ability to swallow and speak.[87] She also grew delusional, believing that she was being poisoned, and became malnourished as a result.[88] On September 29, 1965, she was discovered going "berserk" in a hotel elevator in Manhattan.[89] Rambova was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital, where she was diagnosed with paranoid psychosis brought on by malnutrition.[90]

With her health in rapid decline, Rambova's cousin, Ann Wollen, relocated her from her home in Connecticut to California, in order to help take care of her.[91] There, Rambova was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Arcadia.[89] On January 19, 1966 (her 69th birthday), she was relocated to a nursing home at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena.[89] She died there six months later of a heart attack on June 5, 1966 at the age of 69.[92][93] At her wishes, Rambova was cremated, and her ashes were scattered in a forest in northern Arizona.[78]

Claims regarding personal life[edit]

Busts of a man and woman, both facing left
Portrait of Valentino and Rambova, c. 1923

As early as the 1980s,[b] several scholars and historians have alleged that Rambova was bisexual or a lesbian,[c] and that both she and Valentino had affairs with members of the same sex during their marriage.[97] Some sources also claim that Rambova told friends after her divorce from Valentino that their marriage had never been consummated.[98][99] This has led some historians to refer to the couple's union as a "lavender marriage."[100] However, according to Rambova biographer Michael Morris, a secondary charge in Valentino's 1922 arrest for bigamy was on the grounds of the couple having consummated their marriage in Palm Springs, California, while Valentino was still legally married to his previous wife, Jean Acker.[101]

Another claim frequently mentioned by historians is an alleged relationship Rambova had with Alla Nazimova, who herself had documented relationships with women[100][102] (similar inferences have been made about others in Nazimova's social circle, including Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, and Greta Garbo).[103] Ty Burr notes these perceptions and rumors surrounding Rambova, Nazimova, and Valentino in his book Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame (2012),[104] and Nazimova and Rambova's alleged relationship is also written about extensively in The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood (2001) by historian Diane McLellan.[105]

Whether Rambova was in fact bisexual or homosexual, and whether or not she had a relationship with Nazimova, is unclear; some have disputed such claims, including journalist David Wallace, who dismisses the alleged relationship as rumor in his 2002 book Lost Hollywood.[106] Biographer Morris also disputes the claim, writing in his epilogue of Madam Valentino that "the convenient...allegation that Rambova was a lesbian collapses when one scrutinizes the facts."[107] Additionally, a close friend of writer Mercedes de Acosta (also an alleged lover of Nazimova) told Morris that she believed Rambova and Nazimova's relationship was nothing other than platonic.[103] Rambova's friend Dorothy Norman also stated that Rambova had been "displeased" by De Acosta's controversial 1960 autobiography (which implied she was bisexual or homosexual) as it had "cast her in an improper light."[103] In his 1996 book The Silent Feminists, however, Anthony Slide contests that there "is no question that Rambova was a lesbian," despite that "all who [knew her] deny that she was a gay woman."[108]

Cultural significance[edit]

Design and fashion[edit]

Alla Nazimova in Camille (1921); Rambova's "exotic" set and costume designs in the film blended elements of Art Deco and Art Nouveau[109]

Rambova was one of the few women in Hollywood during the 1920s to serve as a head art designer in film productions.[110] At the time, her costume and set designs were considered "highly stylized," and divided opinion among critics.[111] A 1925 Picture Play magazine profile on What Price Beauty? noted the "bizarre" effects present, adding: "Miss Rambova insists the picture will be popular in its appeal, and not, as one might think, "arty.""[112] Rambova's sets incorporated shimmering shades of silver and white against sharp "moderne" lines, and blended elements of Bauhaus and Asian-inspired geometries.[113]

Commenting on her career in film, design historian Robert La Vine proclaimed Rambova one of the "most inventive designers...ever," also noting her as one of few who crafted both sets and costumes.[113] Film historian Robert Klepper wrote of her designs in Camille (1921): "In evaluating the film today, one has to give art director Natacha Rambova her due credit for her vision as an artist. The deco sets are beautiful, and the ultra modern design was far ahead of its time. Although Rambova may have influenced her future husband Valentino to make some bad business decisions, her talent as an artist cannot be denied."[111] Historian Pat Kirkham also praised her contributions to film, writing that she created "some of the most visually unified films in Hollywood history."[110] Costume historian Deborah Landis named Rambova's white rubberized tunic (worn by Alla Nazimova) and the Art Deco-inspired imagery of Salome (1922) among the "most memorable in motion picture history."[114]

Rambova c. 1926 in a dress by Paul Poiret

Though her work in both set and costume design has been deemed influential by film and fashion historians alike,[d] Rambova herself claimed to "loathe fashion," adding:

I want to dress in a way that is becoming to me, whether it is the style of the hour or not. So it should be with all women, in my opinion. All women should not wear knee length skirts, even if that is the prevailing fashion; clothes that are becoming to the tall, languid type, would not do at all for a short girl of the staccato type, who has to have sharp clothes to express her personality.[116]

Thus, Rambova's approach to fashion design in her post-film career was conscious of the individual, a practice which textile historian Heather Vaughn suggests was carried over from her past designing movie costumes for "individual character types."[72] Vaughn adds: "While not necessarily an innovator of fashion, her Hollywood cachet and ability to synthesize fashion and traditional cultures allowed her to create designs and a personal style that continues to fascinate."[117]

Rambova's clothing designs drew on various influences, described by fashion critics as blending and re-working elements of Renaissance, eighteenth century, Oriental, Grecian, Russian, and Victorian fashion.[118][119] Common preferences in her work included the dolman sleeve, long skirts with high waists, premium velvets, and intricate embroidery,[72] as well as incorporation of geometric shapes and use of "vivid colors...that are violent and de nite. Scarlets, vermilions, strong blues, [and] blazoning purples."[72] She was cited as influential by several designers with whom she worked, including Norman Norell, Adrian Sharaff, and Irene Sharaff.[74] Rambova typically dressed in the style of her designs, and thus her personal style was also influential: She often wore her hair in coiled "ballerina style" braids,[120] sometimes covered in a headscarf or turban, with dangling earrings and calf-length velvet or brocade skirts.[121] Actress Myrna Loy once proclaimed Rambova the "most beautiful woman she'd ever seen."[121] In 2003, Rambova was posthumously inducted into the Costume Designers' Guild Hall of Fame.[74]

Scholarly influence[edit]

Rambova's scholarly work has been regarded as significant by contemporary academics in the fields of Egyptology and history: Archaeologist Barbara Lesko notes that her contribution to Piankoff's Mythological Papyri "demonstrates her organizational skills and her commitment to searching out truths and does not reek of unfounded theories or other eccentricity."[6] Rambova's research, specifically her metaphysical interpretations of texts, has been deemed useful by Egyptologists Rudolf Anthes, Edward Wente, Erik Hornung.[6] In the 1950s, Rambova donated her extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts to the University of Utah, which are displayed in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts's Natacha Rambova Collection of Egyptian Antiquities.[6][122] Both Rambova and her mother were credited as "vital" to the establishment of the museum through their donations of paintings, furniture, and artifacts.[123]

Depictions in art and film[edit]

Rambova has been depicted across several mediums, including visual art, film, and television: She was the subject of a 1925 painting by Serbian artist Paja Jovanović (donated by her mother to the UMFA in 1949).[124][125] In 1975, she was portrayed by Yvette Mimieux in Melville Shavelson's television film The Legend of Valentino (1975),[126] and again by Michelle Phillips in Ken Russell's feature film Valentino (1977).[127] Ksenia Jarova later portrayed her in the American silent film Silent Life (2016), and she also figured in a fictionalized narrative in the network series American Horror Story: Hotel (2015), played by Alexandra Daddario .[128]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1917 The Woman God Forgot § N/A Costume designer [129]
1920 Why Change Your Wife? § N/A Costume designer [29]
1920 Something to Think About § N/A Art director, costume designer [29]
1920 Billions N/A Art director, costume designer [28]
1921 Forbidden Fruit § N/A Costume designer [28]
1921 Camille § N/A Art director, costume designer
Uncredited
[28]
1921 Aphrodite N/A Art director, costume designer (never made) [28]
1922 Beyond the Rocks § N/A Valentino's costumes [28]
1922 The Young Rajah N/A Costume designer
Uncredited
[28]
1923 A Doll's House N/A Art director, costume designer [28]
1923 Salomé § N/A Art director, costume designer, writer
Credited as Peter M. Winters
[28]
1924 The Hooded Falcon N/A Costume designer, set decorator, writer (never made) [28]
1924 Monsieur Beaucaire § N/A Costume designer, writer [28]
1924 A Sainted Devil N/A Art director, costume designer, writer [28]
1925 What Price Beauty? N/A Producer, writer [28]
1926 When Love Grows Cold Margaret Benson Orig. title: Do Clothes Make the Woman?; only acting credit [28]

§ Indicates surviving films

Stage credits[edit]

Year Title Role Run date(s) Venue No. of
performances
Notes Ref.
1927 Set a Thief Anne Dowling February 21 – May 1 Empire Theatre 80 Broadway [130]
1927 Creoles Golondrina September 22 – October 16 Klaw Theatre 28 Broadway [131]

Bibliography[edit]

Authored works

  • Rambova, Natacha (1926). Rudy: An Intimate Portrait by His Wife Natacha Rambova. Hutchinson & Co. [79]
    • Rambova, Natacha (2009). Rudolph Valentino: A Wife's Memories of an Icon. [Afterword by Hala Pickford; reprint of Rudy: An Intimate Portrait]. PVG Publishing. ISBN 978-0-981-64404-2. [79]
  • Rambova, Natacha (1927). Rudolph Valentino Recollections: Intimate and Interesting Reminiscences of the Life of the Late World-Famous Star. Jacobsen-Hodgkinson-Corporation. [79]
  • Rambova, Natacha (February 1942–June 1943). "Astrological Psycho-Chemistry". American Astrology.[6]
  • Rambova, Natacha (June–July 1942). "Strength...Serenity...Security". Harper's Bazaar. [6]
  • Rambova, Natacha (July 1942). "America: Her purpose and three great trials for Liberty–Equality–Unity". American Astrology. [6]
  • Rambova, Natacha (November 1942). "America's Destiny". American Astrology. [6]
  • Rambova, Natacha (1957). "The Symbolism of the Papyri". In Rambova, Natacha; Piankoff, Alexandre. Mythological Papyri. Egyptian Religious Texts and Representations (Bollingen Series XL). III. Pantheon Books. pp. 29–50. [79][e]
  • Rambova, Natacha (2015). All That Glitters: A Play in Three Acts. [Foreword by Hala Pickford; published posthumously]. Theodosia Tramp Publishing. ISBN 978-0-982-77096-2. 

Edited works

  • Rambova, Natacha; Piankoff, Alexandre, eds. (1954). The Tomb of Ramesses VI. Egyptian Religious Texts and Representations (Bollingen Series XL). I. Pantheon Books. 
  • Rambova, Natacha; Piankoff, Alexandre, eds. (1955). The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon. Egyptian Religious Texts and Representations (Bollingen Series XL). II. Pantheon Books. 
  • Rambova, Natacha; Piankoff, Alexandre, eds. (1957). Mythological Papyri. Egyptian Religious Texts and Representations (Bollingen Series XL). III. Pantheon Books. 

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Biographer and descendant Stanley Kimball notes in his biography Heber C. Kimball: Mormon Patriarch and Pioneer (1981) that Rambova's great-grandfather, Heber, was a sixth-generation American descended from English immigrants in the New England colony.[5]
  2. ^ Claims that Rambova was bisexual or a lesbian arose in several academic and historical publications in the late-1980s and 1990s, including articles in the London Theatre Record,[94] as well as several books, such as Who was that Man?: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde (1988) by Neil Bartlett,[95] and Dell Richards's Lesbian Lists: A Look at Lesbian Culture, History, and Personalities (1990).[96]
  3. ^ D. Michael Quinn points out the ambiguity regarding the allegations that Rambova was bisexual and had a romantic relationship with Alla Nazimova. She purportedly told friends she "hated lesbians" during her relationship with Valentino, which has been interpreted as both genuine and as potentially reflective of her own self-hatred and psychological denial over her sexuality.[8] Some sources less definitively allege only her relationship with Nazimova, while and others patently refer to her as Valentino's "lesbian wife."[94][95]
  4. ^ Several fashion and textile historians have proclaimed Rambova's film and fashion design as historically relevant, including Heather Vaughn and Robert La Vine have noted her influence.[115][113]
  5. ^ The full text of Mythological Papyri, featuring Rambova's chapter "The Symbolism of the Papyri," is available at the Internet Archive.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cook, Pam (August 2015). "Picturing Natacha Rambova: Design and Celebrity Performance in the 1920s". Screening the Past. Archived from the original on August 19, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  2. ^ Mallon, Thomas (May 19, 2003). "Those Lips, Those Eyes". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  3. ^ Kimball 1986, p. 311.
  4. ^ Leider 2003, p. 128.
  5. ^ Kimball 1986, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Natacha Rambova" (PDF). Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology. Brown University. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 4, 2006. Retrieved November 8, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Morris 1991, p. 28.
  8. ^ a b Quinn 2001, pp. 173–5.
  9. ^ Morris 1991, pp. 28–9.
  10. ^ Morris 1991, p. 29.
  11. ^ Sparke 2005, p. 344.
  12. ^ McGuire 1989, p. 92.
  13. ^ Morris 1991, pp. 37–9.
  14. ^ Morris 1991, p. 32.
  15. ^ Kotowski 2014, p. 90.
  16. ^ Leider 2003, p. 129.
  17. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 83.
  18. ^ a b Leider 2003, p. 130.
  19. ^ Morris 1991, pp. 34–8.
  20. ^ Lambert 1997, p. 234.
  21. ^ a b Leider 2003, p. 131.
  22. ^ a b c Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 224.
  23. ^ Lambert 1997, p. 232.
  24. ^ Morris 1991, p. 46.
  25. ^ a b c d e Jorgensen & Scoggins 2015, p. 28.
  26. ^ Morris 1991, pp. 59–60.
  27. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 225.
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Morris 1991, p. 265.
  29. ^ a b c d Morris 1991, p. 57.
  30. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 238.
  31. ^ a b Morris 1991, p. 67.
  32. ^ Morris 1991, p. 63.
  33. ^ a b McLellan 2000, p. 27.
  34. ^ "Valentino". The New Yorker. Goings On About Town. New Yorker Magazine. 53: 120. 1977. 
  35. ^ Keyser, E.T. (November 17, 1917). "The Woman God Forgot". The Moving Picture World. Reviews of Current Productions: 1035 – via The Archive.org. 
  36. ^ Morris 1991, p. 70.
  37. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 227.
  38. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 61.
  39. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 62.
  40. ^ Morris 1991, p. 133.
  41. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 74.
  42. ^ Leider 2003, pp. 241–2.
  43. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 282.
  44. ^ Leider 2003, p. 198.
  45. ^ Morris 1991, p. 177.
  46. ^ a b c Jorgensen & Scoggins 2015, p. 30.
  47. ^ a b Morris 1991, p. 172.
  48. ^ Jorgensen & Scoggins 2015, pp. 29–30.
  49. ^ a b Leider 2003, p. 215.
  50. ^ a b Jorgensen & Scoggins 2015, p. 29.
  51. ^ Leider 2003, p. 249.
  52. ^ Mahar 2008, p. 175.
  53. ^ Williams 2013, pp. 93–4.
  54. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, pp. 238, 250.
  55. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, pp. 249–50.
  56. ^ Klepper 2005, p. 378.
  57. ^ a b c d e Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 234.
  58. ^ "Invention–Hobby of Great Men". Popular Science. 112 (1): 136. January 1928. ISSN 0161-7370. 
  59. ^ US 1575263, Guglielmi, Winifred (Rambova, N.), "Combined coverlet and doll", published March 2, 1926. 
  60. ^ "When Love Grows Cold". The Klamath News. Klamath Falls, Oregon. December 15, 1926. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com. 
  61. ^ "The Screen in Review". Picture Play: 96. May 1926 – via The Internet Archive.  open access publication – free to read
  62. ^ a b Rambova & Pickford 2009, pp. 234–5.
  63. ^ "Over the Teacups". Picture Play: 30. May 1926 – via Internet Archive. Then there's always the Palace vaudeville—Natacha Rambova is making her début there this week.  open access publication – free to read
  64. ^ a b c d e f Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 235.
  65. ^ Rambova & Pickford 2009, pp. 245–6.
  66. ^ Ellenberger 2005, p. 43.
  67. ^ Leider 2003, pp. 407–8.
  68. ^ Morris 1991, p. 175, 187.
  69. ^ Williams 2013, p. 178.
  70. ^ "Natacha Rambova". Playbill. Vault. Retrieved November 11, 2017. 
  71. ^ Vaughn 2008, p. 28.
  72. ^ a b c d e Vaughn 2008, p. 27.
  73. ^ Vaughn 2008.
  74. ^ a b c d e Vaughn 2006, p. 36.
  75. ^ Morris 1991, p. 207.
  76. ^ Morris 1991, p. 231.
  77. ^ a b McGuire 1989, p. 93.
  78. ^ a b Morris 1991, p. 228.
  79. ^ a b c d e f Rambova & Pickford 2009, p. 237.
  80. ^ Vaughn 2006, p. 35.
  81. ^ a b c McGuire 1989, p. 94.
  82. ^ a b c McGuire 1989, p. 160.
  83. ^ "Brief history of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts". The Deseret News. May 27, 2001. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  84. ^ a b "The Scholarship of Natacha Rambova". Yale in Egypt. Yale University. Retrieved November 12, 2017. 
  85. ^ "Catalog of Copyright Entries. Third Series: 1958: January-June". 12 (1). Copyright Office, Library of Congress. 1959: 532 – via Google Books. 
  86. ^ Morris 1991, p. 262.
  87. ^ Morris 1991, p. 247.
  88. ^ Morris 1991, p. 255.
  89. ^ a b c Morris 1991, pp. 255–6.
  90. ^ Stutesman, Drake. "Natacha Rambova". Women Film Pioneers Project. Columbia University. Archived from the original on December 24, 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  91. ^ Morris 1991, p. 256.
  92. ^ Willis, John (1983). Screen World 1967. Biblo & Tannen Publishers. p. 239. ISBN 978-0-819-60308-1. 
  93. ^ Ellenberger 2005, p. 149.
  94. ^ a b "Valentino: Half Moon". London Theatre Record. I. Herbert. 10 (1–13): 338. 1990. ISSN 0962-1792. 
  95. ^ a b Bartlett, Neil (1988). Who was that Man?: A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde. Profile Books. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-852-42123-6. OCLC 885172684. 
  96. ^ Richards, Dell (1990). Lesbian Lists: A Look at Lesbian Culture, History, and Personalities. Alyson Publications. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-555-83163-9. OCLC 21454734. 
  97. ^ Abrams 2008, pp. 108–9.
  98. ^ Abrams 2008, p. 107.
  99. ^ Zimmerman, Bonnie (ed.). Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. 1. Taylor & Francis. p. 374. ISBN 978-0-815-33354-8. OCLC 50382076. 
  100. ^ a b Norton, Rictor (2016). Myth of the Modern Homosexual: Queer History and the Search for Cultural Unity. Bloomsbury. p. 57. ISBN 978-1-474-28692-3. 
  101. ^ Morris 1991, p. 114.
  102. ^ Aldrich, Robert; Wotherspoon, Garry, eds. (2001). Who's who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II (Revised ed.). Psychology Press. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-415-15983-8. OCLC 813248489. 
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  104. ^ Burr 2012, pp. 65–6.
  105. ^ McLellan 2000, pp. 56–9.
  106. ^ Wallace, David (2002). Lost Hollywood. Macmillan. p. 48. ISBN 978-0-312-28863-1. OCLC 49346768. 
  107. ^ Quoted in Anderson, Mark Lynn (2011). Twilight of the Idols: Hollywood and the Human Sciences in 1920s America. University of California Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-520-94942-3. OCLC 721927339. 
  108. ^ Slide, Anthony (1996). The Silent Feminists: America's First Women Directors. Scarecrow Press. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-810-83053-0. OCLC 34190533. 
  109. ^ Kirkham 2002, p. 260.
  110. ^ a b Kirkham 2002, p. 259.
  111. ^ a b Klepper 2005, p. 199.
  112. ^ Schallert, Edwin (August 1925). "Natacha Rambova Emerges". Picture Play: 46–7, 94 – via The Internet Archive.  open access publication – free to read
  113. ^ a b c Stutesman, Drake (2016). "The Silent Screen, 1895–1927". In McLean, Adrienne L. Costume, Makeup, and Hair. Rutgers University Press. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-813-57153-9. OCLC 972306563. 
  114. ^ Landis, Deborah (2007). Dress: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design. Harper Design. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-060-81650-6. OCLC 938099689. 
  115. ^ Vaughn 2008, pp. 27–9.
  116. ^ Vaughn 2008, p. 26.
  117. ^ Vaughn 2006, p. 21.
  118. ^ Vaughn 2006, pp. 33–4.
  119. ^ Vaughn 2008, pp. 27–8.
  120. ^ Lambert 1997, p. 233.
  121. ^ a b Leider 2012, p. 47.
  122. ^ McGuire 1989, p. 164.
  123. ^ Ehmann, Kylee (February 16, 2016). "Exploring the Legacy of Actress, Dancer, UMFA Donor Natacha Rambova". The Daily Utah Chronicle. Archived from the original on December 18, 2016. 
  124. ^ "Collection Highlight: Portrait of Miss Winifred de Wolfe". Utah Museum of Fine Arts Blog. February 4, 2014. Archived from the original on February 13, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  125. ^ "Art is 100 at UFMA: Portrait of Natacha Rambova". The Joy Kingston Foundation. Archived from the original on February 17, 2015. Retrieved November 10, 2017. 
  126. ^ Ellenberger 2005, p. 220.
  127. ^ Ellenberger 2005, p. 221.
  128. ^ Murphy, Shaunna (December 10, 2015). "Alexandra Daddario Reveals How to Make 'AHS' Sex Scenes with Lady Gaga Less 'Awkward'". MTV. Retrieved November 9, 2017. 
  129. ^ Morris 1991, p. 51.
  130. ^ "Creoles". Playbill. Archived from the original on November 12, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2017. 
  131. ^ "Set a Thief". Playbill. Archived from the original on November 12, 2017. Retrieved November 12, 2017. 

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Database profiles

Scholarly resources

Film design:

Egyptology: