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Natacha Rambova Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (5)  | Mini Bio (2)  | Spouse (2)  | Trade Mark (1)  | Trivia (14)  | Personal Quotes (5)

Overview (5)

Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Died in Pasadena, California, USA  (heart attack)
Birth NameWinifred Kimball Shaughnessy
Nickname Wink
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (2)

Primarily famous as the wife of screen idol Rudolph Valentino, 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, 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, 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 professed himself a fan of her work. Her dramatic set and costume designs for Nazimova's Salomé (1922) were based on Aubrey Beardsley's famous illustrations for Oscar Wilde's play.

She met Rudolph Valentino when he was working with Nazimova on Camille (1921). At the time he was relatively unknown, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) (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. 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), 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 69 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.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Camille Scaysbrook

Famed costume designer Natacha Rambova was Born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy in 1897 to a drunkard father and a determined mother in Salt Lake City, UT (years later during the Minervala Dance Tour when her hometown paper promoted her as "that pigtailed Shaughnessy girl", she locked herself in her room crying and refused to come out). Rambova's mother left her father and began a career in interior design, eventually moving to San Francisco where she consistently married up, first to Edgar de Wolfe and later to perfume mogul Richard Hudnut. Natacha was sent to boarding school but was eventually kicked out for "unbecoming behavior of a lady". A rebel, she mocked her stepfather for being weak and called her family social climbers. In time 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 filed charges against Kosloff, hoping to have the Russian dancer deported. He and Rambova fled to Europe and refused to come back to America until the charges were dropped. Eventually Rambova's mother gave in, with Natacha 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? (1920), 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, proving it (although unintentionally) that the designs were her work and not Kosloff's. 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. She never reported the incident to the police, though she did successfully leave Kosloff.

With Nazimova, Rambova quickly rose in the artistic ranks. One day she met a young actor who was covered in a heavy coat. The actor was Rudolph Valentino, who was filming Uncharted Seas (1921). For his next film, Camille (1921), 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 (1921), which shot him into super stardom. He had been married before, to a lesbian actress named Jean Acker. 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 a divorce and a new marriage or risk being charged with 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 (1922). 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 (1924). When it flopped Rambova was, perhaps unfairly, given the blame. Valentino's next two films also did not do well, with the press again blaming Rambova. She was seen as controlling his career, trying to make him be "artistic" and driving his friends and associates away. While some of these charges are unfair, some of them weren't. However, she never made Valentino do anything against his will. He had full confidence in her ability and enjoyed working with her.

With three 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 (he was deeply in debt and worried that 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? (1925). It starred Nita Naldi and gave Myrna Loy her first screen credit. Unfortunately, it was not a hit (and is now considered a lost film).

Valentino and Rambova separated that year, officially divorcing in 1926. Rambova was offered the chance to star in a film, her very first starring role (she had appeared in small, unbilled parts previously). She agreed, but was horrified when the original title, "Do Clothes Make the Woman?", was changed to When Love Grows Cold (1926) and she was billed as Mrs. Rudolph Valentino. Rambova never acted in or even worked on another film after this insult.

Valentino fell ill in August 1926. Rambova was in France, and via telegram she and Valentino reconciled, believing he would be well again. Sadly, he died just days later at the age of 31. Rambova was devastated and refused to leave her room for three 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 again in 1927. The book was released mainly to counter a 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 life.

She opened a couture shop on 5th Avenue in New York City 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. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1937, 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 WW 2 broke out Rambova returned to the US, where she took up the study of Egyptology. She 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. Rambova there died in 1966 (ironically, her death certificate noted her occupation as "housewife"). Rambova was cremated and her ashes were scattered in Arizona. Most of her works are out of print, though a good chunk of her films survive (unfortunately, not the ones she had the biggest hand in). Recently her Egyptology collection was put on display in Egypt.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Hala Pickford (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Spouse (2)

Alvaro de Urzaiz (August 1934 - 1939) (divorced)
Rudolph Valentino (17 March 1923 - 19 January 1926) (divorced)

Trade Mark (1)

Turbans and hair in ballerina braided side buns

Trivia (14)

The niece of legendary interior designer Elsie de Wolfe (Lady Mendle).
Is credited with giving legendary MGM costume designer Adrian his first experience in working in films with The Hooded Falcon (1924). She would use him on several of her films.
Myrna Loy gave Natacha credit for discovering her when she was cast in Rambova's film What Price Beauty? (1925).
She designed and gave Rudolph Valentino a gift of a platinum slave bracelet, which he took to his grave.
She and Rudolph Valentino owned and lived with a lion cub named Zela, two Great Danes, a large gopher snake and a green monkey.
She thought the script for Rudolph Valentino's film The Sheik (1921) 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 1951 she turned down interviews and threatened to sue Columbia Pictures if they portrayed her in a biographical film they were making about Rudolph Valentino (Valentino (1951)).
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 (1926). She was horrified when the original title, "Do Clothes Make the Woman?", was changed and she was billed as Mrs. Rudolph Valentino, since the film was released during her divorce from him.
She had a fondness for children, and would often visit her young cousins. However, she neither wanted nor had children of her own. She loved her career and she did not believe it possible to be both a successful career woman and mother. She felt that the demands of her career and her dedication to it would leave her unable to provide children with the attention they need.
In 1925 she staged a media event when she traveled from Los Angeles to Paris to pose for photographer James E. 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 once expressed a desire to meet her. Garbo called her 'Mata Hari (1934)_ costar, Ramon Novarro, 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 women, who had similar faces, never met, but they did have a mutual acquaintance in the screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta.
In 2009 her 1926 memoir was republished as, "Rudolph Valentino: A Wife's Memories of an Icon".
Great granddaughter of Heber C. Kimball, one of the founders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon).
VoluptuVous figure.

Personal Quotes (5)

I always told my mother that I would see to it that I would never have any children.
[on her breakup with Rudolph 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 5:00 a.m. and gets home at midnight and receives mail from girls in Oshkosh and Kalamazoo.
[on her first meetings with Rudolph Valentino] It wasn't love at first sight. I think it was good comradeship more than anything else.
[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 Rudolph Valentino] He knew what I was when I married him. I have been working since I was 17. 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.

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