West Hollywood, Calif. (March 10, 2015) A lost trove of early 20th century costumes and fashionable street wear from the estate of Broadway and silent-film star Alla Nazimova (“Nah-ZIM-oh-vah”) was discovered last fall in an unlikely place: a storage building behind a home in Columbus, Ga.
College student Jack Raines found the garments fastidiously packed in a steamer trunk stored on the grounds of his grandmother’s house. Four other trunks also once belonging to Nazimova were empty.
Among the items Raines found was a costume headpiece festooned with pearl-like beads. A note packed with it read, “Salome Wig.” It was immediately recognizable as the wig Nazimova wore in “Salome,” an independent film that she starred in, wrote, directed in 1923. The film’s sets and costumes, including the wig, were designed by Natacha Rambova, who was married to film star Rudolph Valentino. Nazimova based her script upon Oscar Wilde’s 1891 play, “Salome,” and Rambova’s costumes and sets were inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for an 1894 published version of Wilde’s play.
“The Salome wig is an invaluable artifact from the silent film era,” said Martin Turnbull, co-founder of the Alla Nazimova Society, and author of the Garden of Allah Novels. “Its discovery 90 years after the film’s release is a significant find for film historians and fans of Hollywood’s golden era worldwide.”
There’s an important overview of the location and status of Alla Nazimova’s papers and other research assets on Columbia University’s Women Film Pioneers Project, written by Jennifer Horne, including this bit:
There is no denying the intriguing power of a biographical narrative that traces connections between Alla Nazimova and almost every prominent lesbian in Hollywood, as well as gay male cultural icons such as Oscar Wilde, Rudolph Valentino, and Montgomery Clift, and ends with a penniless and ill Nazimova a tenant in the Los Angeles hotel she once owned. But the archival materials that have been collected over the years suggest that much more can be made of Nazimova’s life as performer, both on screen and off.
The personal correspondence and writings that constitute the Nazimova Papers at the Glesca Marshall Library in Columbus, Georgia, have not as yet been cataloged. The extensive collection of copyrighted publicity stills and family photographs, postcards, letters, and newspaper clippings at the Library of Congress in both the Kling-Lewton Papers and the Harry E. Vinyard, Jr., Papers offers to researchers a fragmented but illuminating documentation of the devoted following Nazimova’s celebrity attracted over the course of her career.
That’s Alla Nazimova, age 65, in the center, her long time companion Glesca Marshall to the left and Nazimova’s goddaughter Nancy Davis, age 23, future first lady of the United States, standing at right. This was probably taken in Los Angeles, maybe even on the grounds of the Garden of Allah, about a year before Nazimova died.