Rambova, Natacha Biography
biography of Rambova, NatachaWinifred Kimball Shaughnessy
19 January 1897, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
5 June 1966, Pasadena, California, USA (heart attack)
Primarily famous as the wife of screen idol 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv), Natacha Rambova was also a talented dancer and an innovative set designer, bringing the Art Deco style to Hollywood for the first time. At the age of 17 she became a protégé and lover of Russian ballet Svengali 'Theodore Kosloff' (qv), a brilliant but manipulative dancer who shot her in the leg when she finally escaped from his dance company. She was engaged as an art director by 'Alla Nazimova' (qv), the exotic, histrionic bisexual actress. Rumours abounded that Rambova herself was sexually involved with Nazimova, but none have ever been proven, and Rambova professed to dislike the lesbian subculture. Rambova's set designs and costumes were enormously innovative, influenced by Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Legendary French artist 'Erté' (qv) professed himself a fan of her work. Her dramatic set and costume designs for Nazimova's _Salome (1923/I)_ (qv) were based on Aubrey Beardsley's famous illustrations for 'Oscar Wilde' (qv)'s play. She met 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv) when he was working with Nazimova on _Camille (1921)_ (qv). At the time he was relatively unknown, _The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)_ (qv) (made the same year) being the hit that propelled him into the stratosphere. Soon, the shy Valentino began wooing the exotic former ballerina, and they eloped in May 22nd 1922. This event was to produce a scandal, as it was revealed that Valentino was not legally divorced from his former wife 'Jean Acker' (qv). After being charged and fined for bigamy, the couple quietly re-married the following year. Valentino's association with Rambova was to prove both his greatest pleasure and his greatest pain. She immediately took over the management of his career, rejecting his usual stereotypical roles as a grunting Italian Stallion in favor of highbrow pictures such as the disastrous _Monsieur Beaucaire (1924)_ (qv), a powdered-wig drama which did nothing to allay rumors that theirs was a 'lavender marriage' - a union of convenience between two homosexuals. Despite Natacha's admirable aim to free her husband from the constraints of the studio and eventually begin a production company of their own, his career was in tatters. Anxious to get his career back on track, he signed contracts with producers, who expressly forbad Rambova to come to his film sets. The painful end to their marriage in 1926 came though, because Valentino wanted to have children, while Rambova didn't. His career was back on track, but little more than six months later, he was hospitalized. On his death bed, he asked for Rambova wanting her by his side, but she was in Europe. When she heard of his dire condition, she too reached out to him, and she and Valentino exchanged loving telegrams. She believed that a reconciliation had taken place. But his condition worsened and he soon died of a ruptured stomach ulcer. Rambova was reportedly devastated. Natacha left America for Spain after her marriage to Alvaro de Urzaiz in the 1930s. Reporters remarked that her second husband physically resembled Valentino, suggesting that Rambova never got over her first husband. She lived through the Spanish Civil War with him, but her second marriage ended in divorce, for the same reason that her first marriage ended, because her husbands wanted children, while she didn't. Her interest in mysticism evolved into scholarly study of ancient cultures and Jungian psychology. Her collection of Far Eastern and Egyptian art was of museum quality. She died at 56 of scleroderma, a painful stomach condition which, to the modern eye, was clearly brought on by the anorexia nervosa from which she suffered all her life.
Born in 1897 to a no good drunk father and a determined mother in Utah. Rambova was born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy. Years later during the Minervala Dance Tour when her hometown paper promoted her as 'that pigtailed Shaghnessy girl' Rambova locked herself in her room crying and refused to come out. After Rambova's mother left her father, her mother began a career in interior design and eventually moved to San Francisco where she consistently married up, first to Edgar de Wolfe and eventually to perfume mogul Richard Hudnut. Rambova was sent to boarding school where she was kicked out for 'unbecoming behavior of a lady'. A rebel, she mocked her stepfather for being weak and called her family social climbers. Eventually she was sent to a British boarding school where she studied design, drawing, mythology, and ballet. At the age of 17 she began dating premiere ballet dancer Theodore Kosloff...who was 32, married and had an invalid daughter. Rambova's mother opposed the relationship and put a warrant out on Kosloff hoping to have the Russian dancer deported. Kosloff and Rambova fled to Europe and refused to come back to America until the charges were dropped. Eventually Rambova's mother gave in, with Rambova moving to New York where she performed with Kosloff. Kosloff eventually took interest in the movies and moved his company to California. He had an 'arty harem' consisting of young women who did his work for him, and he took the credit. Rambova designed costumes for Cecil B DeMille's "Why Change Your Wife?"...which Kosloff (who acted in the film) took credit for. One day Rambova was sent to visit lesbian actress Alla Nazimova and show some sketches. When Nazimova requested changes to the costumes Rambova took out a pencil and fixed them right there, accidentally proving it was her own work. Nazimova put her under contract as an artistic director to design sets and costumes. Kosloff was not pleased and when Rambova tried to leave him he shot her in the leg. Rambova never reported the incident to the police though she did successfully leave Kosloff. With Nazimova, Rambova quickly rose in the artistic ranks. One day while filming she met a young actor who was covered in a heavy coat. The actor was Rudolph Valentino who was filming "Uncharted Seas". For his next film, "Camille" he co-starred with Nazimova and worked with Rambova. Though Rambova did not like him at first the pair eventually became friends and then lovers. They shared a love of art, history, and the finer things in life. Valentino's star was rising, and after moving to Famous Players-Lasky he made "The Sheik" which sent him into super stardom. He had been married before to a woman named Jean Acker who was a lesbian. A divorce was obtained from Acker, and Valentino and Rambova married in Mexico in 1922. However the law at the time stated one must wait a year between divorce and a new marriage or risk bigamy. Valentino was thrown in jail and charged with just that. He and Rambova were forced to separate, she going to New York to work on costumes for his next film "The Young Rajah". After filming, Valentino refused to return to work and embarked on a one man strike. He and Rambova eventually embarked on a Minervala Dance Tour which helped keep them afloat while he couldn't work in film. In 1924 Valentino signed a new contract, with Rambova now a full partner in his dealings. She designed costumes and sets for his comeback film "Monsieur Beaucaire". When it flopped Rambova was perhaps unfairly given the blame. Valentino's next 2 films also did not do well, with the press again blaming Rambova. She was seen as controlling his career, making him try to be artistic, and driving his friends and associates away. While some of these charges are unfair some of them are true, however she never made Valentino do anything against his will. He had full confidence in her ability and enjoyed working with her. With 3 flops behind him Valentino was offered a contract with United Artists in 1925. For once it was a good contract, but it stipulated that Natacha could not be part of the deal or appear on set. Feeling he had no choice (Valentino was severely in debt and worried his box office appeal was waning) Valentino took the deal. Rambova was furious, and the contract put further strain on their already crumbling marriage. George Ullman, Valentino's manager, gave Rambova money to produce her own film. "What Price Beauty?" starred Nita Naldi and gave Myrna Loy her first screen credit. Sadly the film is now lost and it seems it was not a hit at the time. Valentino and Rambova separated that year, officially divorcing in 1926. Rambova was offered the chance to act in a film, her very first chance in front of the screen. She agreed and was horrified when the originally titled "Do Clothes Make the Woman?" was changed to "When Love Grows Cold" billing her as Mrs. Rudolph Valentino. Rambova never acted in or even worked on another film after this insult. Valentino became ill in August 1926. Rambova was in France, and via telegram she and Valentino reconciled, believing he would be well again. Sadly Valentino died just days later at the age of 31. Rambova was devastated and refused to leave her room for 3 days. She contacted Ullman and offered to bury Valentino in her family plot. She did not attend the funerals, thinking Rudy would understand. A deep spiritualist Rambova conducted séances with what she believed was Valentino's spirit. She wrote a book about it titled "Rudy: An Intimate Portrait by His Wife" released in 1926 and 1927. The book was mostly released to counter another book by Ullman with whom she did not get along. After this release Rambova rarely spoke about her ex-husband for the rest of her long life. She opened a couture shop on 5th Avenue in New York in 1927. She also wrote a play about her time with Valentino, though it was never produced. She starred in various plays, but eventually gave this up. After meeting Alvaro de Urzaiz she closed the shop and moved to Spain. The pair married in 1934, with most people noting how much de Urzaiz resembled Valentino. Surviving the Spanish Civil War, Rambova fled to France where she suffered a heart attack. She divorced her husband soon after. She never had any children, with most people believing she did not want any. Ironically Ullman noted she and Valentino could not wait to have children, they just wanted to be done with their careers when they did. When WW2 broke out Rambova returned to the United States where she took up studying Egyptology. Rambova amassed quite a collection and even translated works for the Bollingen Foundation. Though most do not think of her this way today, Rambova was quite a respected Egyptologist. She lived in New York for most of this time, teaching classes on astrology, Egyptology, and other occult aspects. She became ill in the 1960s with scleroderma, which caused her to be delusional and unable to eat very well. A cousin moved her to Pasadena, CA to care for her. There Rambova died in 1966. Ironically her death certificate noted her as a 'housewife'. Rambova was cremated and her ashes were scattered in Arizona. Today most of her works are out of print though a good chunk of her films survive (sadly not the ones she had the biggest hand in). Recently her Egyptology Collection was put on display in Egypt.
- 'Alvaro de Urzaiz' (August 1934 - 1939) (divorced)
- 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv) (17 March 1923 - 19 January 1926) (divorced)
- Turbans and hair in ballerina braided side buns
- The niece of legendary interior designer 'Elsie de Wolfe' (qv) (Lady Mendle).
- Is credited with giving legendary MGM costume designer, 'Adrian (I)' (qv), his first experience in working in films with "The Hooded Falcon". She would use him for several of her films.
- Actress 'Myrna Loy' (qv) gave Natacha credit for discovering her when she was cast in Natacha's movie _What Price Beauty? (1925)_ (qv).
- She designed and gave 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv) a gift of a platinum slave bracelet, which he took to his grave.
- She and 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv) owned and lived with a lion cub named Zela, and two Great Danes, a large gopher snake and a green monkey.
- She thought the script for 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv)'s film _The Sheik (1921)_ (qv) was trash but loved him enough to design his costumes for the film, paint a portrait of him in costume, and even appeared as an extra in the film.
- In 1951, she turned down interviews and threatened to sue Columbia Pictures if they portrayed her in a biographical film on 'Rudolph Valentino (I)' (qv).
- Was approached several times to appear in a leading film role, since she was extremely beautiful and photogenic. She refused many offers and relented only once, for _When Love Grows Cold (1925)_ (qv). Rambova was horrified when the original title [i]Do Clothes Make the Woman?[/i] was changed and she was billed as Mrs. Rudolph Valentino since the film was released during her divorce to Valentino.
- Natacha's reasons for not wanting kids was that she loved her career so much, she didn't think she would be a fit enough mother and give her children the attention they needed. She did love kids very much though and would often visit her young cousins.
- In 1925 she staged a media event when she traveled from Los Angeles to Paris to pose for photographer James Abbe at famous clothing designer Paul Poiret's salon. She modeled a pearl-embroidered white velvet gown and a chinchilla cloak, and declared Poiret her favorite couturier.
- 'Greta Garbo' (qv) once expressed a desire to meet Rambova. Garbo called her 'Mata Hari (1934)_ costar, 'Ramon Novarro' (qv), asking for an introduction. The actor asked Natacha to his apartment, but made the mistake of inviting a number of other people, thereby transforming the rendezvous into a reception. When Garbo arrived at Novarro's door and saw the crowd inside, she turned and fled. Thus the two woman, who had similar faces, never met. But they did have a mutual acquaintance in the screenwriter 'Mercedes de Acosta' (qv).
- In 2009 her 1926 memoir was republished as, "Rudolph Valentino: A Wife's Memories of an Icon".
- Great granddaughter of Heber Kimball, one of the founders of the Mormon Church, and its first president.
- Michael Morris. _Madam Valentino: The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova._ New York: Abbeville Press, 1991. ISBN 1558591362
- Emily Leider. _Dark Lover._ 2005.
- Natacha Rambova. _Rudy: An Intimate Portrait by his wife._ 1926.
- I always told my mother that I would see to it that I would never have any children.
- On her breakup with Valentino: "With butlers, maids and the rest, what work is there for a housewife? I won't be a parasite. I won't sit home and twiddle my fingers, waiting for a husband who goes on the lot at five a.m. and gets home at midnight and receives mail from girls in Oshkosh and Kalamazoo."
- On her first meetings with Valentino: "It wasn't love at first sight. I think it was good comradeship more than anything else."
- [Friend Mark Hasselriis talking of Natacha's refusal to bear children] She never felt that she had the right temperament for motherhood. The only thing that ever excited her was art.
- [on her first trip to Egypt in January 1936] I felt as if I had at last returned home. 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.
- [on her separation from Valentino] 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.
- _The Legend of Valentino (1975) (TV)_ (qv)
- _Valentino (1977)_ (qv)
- "New York Times" (USA), 6 August 1966, pg. 15:8, "Miss Rambova Left $368,000"
- "New York Times" (USA), 8 June 1966, pg. 47:1, "Miss Rambova, 69, Film Figure, Dead; 2d Wife of Valentino--Was Ballerina and Columnist"
- "Motion Picture World" (USA), 21 November 1925, pg. 223, "atacha Rambova"
- "Motion Picture World" (USA), 14 November 1925, pg. 129, "Natacha Rambova"
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