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Natacha Rambova

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Natacha Rambova (January 19, 1897 – May 6, 1966) was an American costume and set designer, art director, playwright, silent film actress, fashion designer, Egyptologist, collector of antiquities, and the second wife of the silent film star Rudolph Valentino. She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and died in Pasadena, California at the age of 69.

Early lifeEdit

Rambova, a great-granddaughter of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leader Heber C. Kimball, was born Winifred Shaughnessy to Winifred Kimball and her first husband, Michael Shaughnessy. She was not adopted by her mother's third husband, cosmetics millionaire Richard Hudnut, and was thus not, as is sometimes claimed, appropriately known as Winifred Hudnut, the name some news reports used during her lifetime. Her mother was also briefly married to Edgar Sands de Wolfe, a brother of the pioneering American interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe, whose business partner she became.

She was educated in the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, at a school recommended by her step-aunt, Elsie de Wolfe.

Personal Life and Career Edit

After a tumultuous love affair with the dancer Theodore Kosloff, with whose dance company she performed, Kosloff's Imperial Russian Ballet, Rambova worked as an art director for an extended period with the Yalta-born film and stage star Alla Nazimova. There were rumors that Nazimova and Rambova were involved in a lesbian affair (they are discussed at length in Emily Leider's biography of Rudolph Valentino, Dark Lover), but they have never been definitely confirmed.

Nazimova, however, recognized her professional talent. The innovative Art Deco sets she designed for Camille and the sets and costumes Rambova created for Salomé (which were based on the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley) are highly regarded today.

Rambova met Rudolph Valentino on the set of Camille in 1921 and they married on March 14, 1922, in Mexicali, Mexico. Their marriage resulted in Valentino's being arrested and charged with bigamy because his divorce from his first wife, actress Jean Acker, was not final. Rambova and Valentino remarried in 1923.

When, following a dispute with Paramount Pictures, Valentino was legally barred from working for any other studio, he and Rambova embarked on a dance tour across the United States and Canada. The dance tour was a success, and the film studio came back to hire Valentino for films. Later, Rambova's involvement with such of her husband's films as Monsieur Beaucaire came to be resented by many at Paramount who accused her of driving up production costs and felt she was pushing Valentino into static, arty films with little box office potential.

Their marriage broke up in 1925 shortly after United Artists offered Valentino a contract with a clause forbidding Rambova from being present on any of his film sets. When Rambova announced that she would write a book detailing her breakup with Valentino, he retaliated by bequeathing her only $1 in his will, and left one-third of his estate that was originally meant for Rambova to her aunt Teresa. But when Valentino was on his death bed in New York, he asked for her, wanting her by his side, but she was in Europe. Valentino died in 1926 at age 31 following surgery for a perforated ulcer. Rambova was reportedly devastated.

After Valentino Edit

For several years thereafter, Rambova worked as a mildly successful fashion designer [1] in New York City. She also starred in her only feature film When Love Grows Cold (1925), but gave up films when distributors billed her as Mrs. Rudolph Valentino on film posters. She wrote a book on Valentino titled Rudy: An Intimate Portrait by His Wife (1926). The first part of the book is about his life on earth, painting him in a positive light. The rest of the book detailed about how she had kept in touch with his spirit after his death by use of psychics and seances. A year later, a shorter edition of her book was published with the title, Rudolph Valentino Recollections by Natacha Rambova (1927).

Also during this time, she designed costumes for and appeared in Broadway shows. She was also heavily involved with the Roerich Museum. Rambova married her second husband, Count Alvaro de Urzaiz, a Spanish aristocrat, in 1934. Reporters noted that that her second husband physically resembled Valentino, suggesting that Rambova never got over her first husband. She went to live with him on the Balearic isle of Majorca off the Spanish coast. Her second marriage ended in divorce as well. Both her marriages ended, probably because her husbands wanted children and she didn't.

In 1962, Rambova gave the Utah Museum of Art a large collection of Egyptian artifacts, and also edited books about Ancient Egyptian art for the Bollingen Foundation.

Her collection of Nepali and Lamaistic art now belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

SourcesEdit

Emily Leider, Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino (2003) ISBN 0-374-28239-0

  • Contains much material about Rambova

Michael Morris, Madame Valentino (1991).

  • This is the only known biography of Rambova.

External linksEdit


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