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Madam Valentino: The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova Hardcover – October, 1991

4.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Artist and spiritual seeker Natacha Rambova (1896-1966) was born Winifred Shaughnessy in Utah. Educated abroad, she changed her name when she joined a ballet troupe in Russia. Returning to America with her lover, a dancer named Kosloff, she designed sets and costumes for his company, until she left him (for abuse), receiving a bullet wound from his gun in the process. Renowned in Hollywood as a costume designer, Rambova was given credit for Rudolph Valentino's success in the silents. She and the star were married in Mexico in 1921, their life together happy until movie moguls cut off her participation in his films. The couple divorced. Rambova acted, scripted plays and translated, her activities culminating in the study of Egypt's ancient secrets to confirm her religious beliefs. This unconventional, little-remembered, glamorous and talented spiritualist is superbly resurrected by Morris, who teaches art and religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Rambova (born Winifred Shaughnessy) was the second wife of Rudolph Valentino. She enjoyed a life with such diverse careers as dancer, set and costume designer in the early days of Hollywood, playwright, and noted Spiritualist and Egyptologist. Morris, who bases this biography on letters and interviews with relatives and friends, credits Rambova with creating the myth of the "Latin Lover" through her choice of scripts, elaborate costumes, and publicity campaigns for her husband. Her strong-minded plans for his career clashed with those of film industry executives and earned her a maligned reputation. While Morris emphasizes Rambova's Hollywood years, he also provides a good overall portrait of a remarkable woman. This is a useful acquisition for libraries supporting film history and women's studies.
- Kathryn Moore Crowe, Univ. of North Carolina-Greensboro Lib.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Abbeville Pr; 1st edition (October 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558591362
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558591363
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 1.3 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,285,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This biography is a fascinating read of the woman that was Rudolph Valentino's second wife, and love of his life (it has been said her leaving him led to his death, due to stress and increased drinking, which may have led to worsening his ulcer).
Anyone who wants to know more about Valentino, and about the way certain artists of the more 'Bohemian' set were crushed by the glove of Hollywood, needs to read this book. An astoundingly beautiful woman, Natacha's life reads like the epitome of Art Deco elegance; a schooling in Europe, a career as a ballet dancer with a Russian troupe (and a stormy love affair with its leader), and finally as confidante to the power Alla Nazimova and Hollywood art director.
Valentino fell under her spell before he catapulted to fame, they wed, and spent their time indulging their passions; animals, spending sprees (which led into major debt) on antiques and clothes, love of art and culture, and study of spiritualism.
Natacha's own independent personality and adherence to the aesthetic tenets of 'high art' led the Hollywood execs to like her less and less. The final straw, when Valentino signed his United Artists contract *banning* Natacha from the set, led to her leaving him and his subsequent heartbreak. She wanted a career; Valentino wanted a career and a family.
After his death, Natacha's life did not cease to be interesting, with her continued study into Spiritualism, and her endeavors in Egyptology, along with her second, also doomed (though this time in divorce), marriage to a spanish rebel.
The photographs in the book are numerous, some rare, and still pictures show her as a radiant, almost unnaturally beautiful woman; I could imagine what she must have been like in real life!
A well researched, well written, engaging biography that I read cover to cover with much interest.
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Format: Hardcover
This book could have been so deliciously tacky. It could also have swung the other way and made its subject saintly. Michael Morris found just the right balance.

I first encountered Rambova in Kenneth Anger's book, "Hollywood Babylon." She intrigued me the way Yoko Ono and Courtney Love intrigue some John Lennon and Curt Kurbain fans. You wonder, 'What's Sooooo special about her?' So I approached the book with that attitude. Afterall, Rambova was married to Rudolph Valentino, a man known to this day as 'the world's greatest lover.'

But I read the last sentence of the book with great regret that the book had ended and that the experience of reading it was over. It was that good.

Michael Morris did a top-notch job on this biography and I regret that he didn't do Mae Murray, Barbara LaMarr, Corrine Griffith, etc. the same favor.

Morris went into great detail in all the right places. After I finished the book, I didn't feel like I'd read a biography about a movie star's wife who was striving to be a 'personality' in her own right. Rather, I felt that I'd read a book about a person who, like so many of us, was searching her way through life and trying to figure out why in the hell she was here. She just went about her 'search' a bit differently because she had all the right connections, the money, and the energy to do so.

But it's money in the end.
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Format: Hardcover
The author of this bio did not discover She-Who-Became Valentino's wife in the usual fashion, and his perspective on her is wonderful as a result. Where most people who know of her at all only experience the harpie images given by Hollywood mudrakers, Morris learned of Winifred/Natcha through her art. His interest in Natcha is the whole of her life, not just the bit with Valentino. The result is a thoughtfull, well-researched and facinating account of a remarkable life -- and one of my favorite biographies.
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By A Customer on January 4, 2003
Format: Hardcover
A book about the fascinating Natacha Rambova is long overdue. Well known as the much-maligned wife of early Hollywood heart-throb Rudolph Valentino, she was also a dancer, set designer, mystic, and art collector to name just a few of her talents. However, the author's excessively rosy view of his very complex subject makes this a good book, not a great one.
Morris works hard to reverse the numerous unflattering stereotypes and rumours built around Natacha during her life. By refusing to at least explore them, he weakens the book considerably. All negative claims are swiftly - perhaps a little too swiftly - shot down. The bare details are subtly poked and prodded into a much more pleasant picture than was strictly the case. In particular, very little is made of `Monsieur Beaucaire', the notorious flop which nearly ended Valentino's career and his rough, mysterious image. This movie represented a major crisis in the marriage of the couple, as Rambova has convinced Valentino and his studio to make the film in the first place.
The end (and for that matter, much) of the Valentinos' marriage was far more acrimonious than Morris leads us to believe, and thus the portrait of Natacha he paints remains disappointingly bloodless. One topic of which more exploration is needed by further biographers of Natacha (and I hope that more is written of her) is made evident by the numerous references to her ability to work all day having had nothing to eat, and by the stomach ailment that eventually killed her. Natacha was quite obviously anorexic, and exploration into her affliction might have told us much more about her.
Natacha was not the wilful but essentially benign artiste that Morris portrays here, but nor was she the cold-hearted, ruthlessly ambitious lesbian of other historical accounts.
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