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Nazimova: A Biography Hardcover – April 7, 1997

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Actress Alla Nazimova rode unto Broadway from the East, bearing lightning bolts. It was 1905, and her experience in the legendary Moscow Art Theatre under Stanislavsky made her a goddess in the eyes of the first generation of fully professional American actors. Lambert's remarkable feat of theatrical history recaptures the puissant mystique of Nazimova (true believers knew her only by that name, and rolled it off their tongues like an incantation). She introduced many of the primary Ibsen and Chekhov roles to America, introducing in the process a new standard of realistic performance that swept away the wildly melodramatic style of the late 19th century. Nazimova's choice of roles and standards of performance have become so encoded in the DNA of new actresses that they all strive to be Nazimova--whether they even know what a Nazimova was. Thanks to Lambert, they can again. The book includes some of Nazimova's poetry.

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All but forgotten today, Alla Nazimova (1879^-1945) was one of the most powerful actresses in silent-era Hollywood, able to name her terms and maintain artistic control of her films. Lambert's rich, readable, painstakingly researched biography follows Nazimova's life from her difficult, Dostoyevskian childhood in Russia, where she suffered at the hands of an abusive, neglectful father, through her years studying with Stanislavsky et al. at the Moscow Art Theater, to her emigration to the U.S. and subsequent rise to the heights of the film and theater worlds. Lambert handles a melodramatic life full of violence, scandal, and the kind of sudden reversals of fortune that would have killed lesser talents with considerable aplomb, and Nazimova's sexual orientation with even greater composure, treating her bisexual inclinations and later strict lesbianism without a hint of Hollywood-Babylonish sensationalism. Incidentally noteworthy are the fascinating portraits Lambert provides of the Moscow Art Theater in its first years, of Hollywood in the Roaring Twenties, and of the American theater during the fervent years of the Depression. Jack Helbig
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (April 7, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679407219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679407218
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Most people only know the Alla Nazimova through her connection with Rudolph Valentino and her "gay" silent film "Salome." She is nearly always reviled as a domineering, spiteful lesbian queen of Hollywood whose own ego led to her fall.
This book provides a completely different picture of the woman behind the name. Her horrendous treatment as a child definitely molded her personality. An extremely talented actress, she earned her stardom on stage, screen and then stage again, inspiring many of the greatest playwrites of the early 20th century to write plays, many for her.
The author reveals much of Nazimova's sadness and disappointment in her personal life and career, her gullibility when it came to trusting friends with her money, and the vast number of women and the few men with whom she had love affairs.
Through exhaustive research of Nazimova's voluminous but unfinished (and unpublished) autobiography, interveiws with the few living persons who met her, and the letters and memoirs of a vast number of acquaintances and co-workers, the author has constructed a fascinating portrayal of a fragile, brilliant, yet tempermental child-woman who may well have been the greatest actress of at least the first half of the twentieth century.
Readers will be surprised to read the rave accounts of Nazimova's unparalleled talent her from Truman Capote, Ibsen, Shaw and Katherine Hepburn, as well as the doting love and companionship showered on the elderly Nazimova by her godaughter Nancy Davis, later Nancy Reagan.
I highly recommend this book to those who love silent films and bizzare, talented personalities.
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"Nazimova" is a fascinating portrait of a mythic figure. Alla Nazimova died only fifty or so years ago, and she appeared in a number of films in the sound era, but you'd think she was Sarah Bernhardt's great-grandmother for all that remains of her in our consciousness. And now I think I know why. While I enjoyed the book very much -- at times its recreation of a vanished world is truly amazing -- I came away with a sense that something important was missing in Nazimova herself. We learn a great deal about her lovers but not much about her students. Did she bother to have any? Lambert cites plenty of idolators and proteges, but few to whom she passed on her techniques and values in a formal way (Nazimova's flaw or Lambert's? Hard to tell). That may be why we have so little sense of her today. But there's no denying that Nazimova was a powerful influence on the modern theatre -- not to mention a dizzying link between Chekhov and Louis B. Mayer -- and anyone who cares at all about theatre history should read this book
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Gavin Lambert is a mesmerizing writer. He chronicles Nazimova's hellish childhood (which shaped all that followed, I believe), her dramatic rise on the stage (where she did her best work) her Hollywood years and beyond. I find it sad that her stage performances exist only in the memories of those who were lucky enough to see her back in the day, and those people are leaving us very quickly. Nazimova strikes me as a woman who could be infuriating, frustrating, difficult, kind, generous, funny, certainly her own worst enemy at times, and sometimes all of the above in the same moment. The fun she would have during performances made me laugh out loud, and the stupid choices she made for film made me say "no, don't DO that" to the pages of this meticulously researched book. About her sister and niece, I have no kind words whatsoever, and I can thoroughly understand why Lambert dismissed anything the niece had to say. I can't wait to read the other film-related books that Gavin Lambert has written - I'm so glad I started with this one.
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Alla Nazimova was my Godmother and I have heard many stories about her over the years so I was delighted to see a book written about her by Gavin Lambert. I found the book to be fastanating and learned so much about this woman who brought Ibsen and Chekhov among others to the theaters in America. She appears to be a very private yet complicated indivdual who knew exactly what she wanted and went after it with her whole being. She accomplished so much on the stage and in films that it is a shame so few people today remember her. Perhaps Lambert's book will rekindle that interest again in such a great lady of the theater.
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I recently finished reading the book, wonderfully detail, loved each chapter, me being a hollywood historian found it extremely helpfull. Extremely interesting profile,(really fair) of the life of Madame Nazimova as well as a great insight on hollywood history, totally recomended. Thank you very much Gavin Sincerely Octavio Carlin
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It's surprising that hardly anybody remembers Alla Nazimova. At one point (in the 1910s) she was the highest paid actress in the world, earning $13,000 per week--$3000 per week more than Mary Pickford--and her fame was international. She also converted her movie star mansion on Sunset Blvd into the famously infamous Garden of Allah Hotel, which became the hotel-of-choice of many soon-to-be-famous faces. But somehow the march of fame has largely left this uniquely exotic woman on the sidewalk. But LambertÂ's biography of this extraordinary life does much to bring her back center stage. For anyone with an interest in American theater and early Hollywood life, this thoroughly detailed and imminently readable biography is a must read.
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