Alla Nazimova

Horne, Jennifer

Alla Nazimova’s silent film career began in 1916 with her performance as the feisty, indomitable lead character in the screen adaptation of Marion Craig Wentworth’s pacifist drama “War Brides.” Nazimova had performed the role as a one-act play on the vaudeville circuit in an effort to reverse course on the succession of exoticized femme fatale roles that she had accepted under contract first to New York’s Shubert brothers and then to Charles Frohman’s Theatrical Syndicate. The tour production of “War Brides” for the variety stage had been popular and well received, particularly by women’s organizations, presumably just the encouragement independent producer Lewis J. Selznick needed to make his highly profitable film version under the direction of Herbert Brenon. Prior to this performance, Nazimova had a reputation as a moody Bohemian and political subversive. (Emma Goldman once served as her press agent and companion.) With her role in War Brides, a strident feminist was invented, if only temporarily, for the screen. Nazimova boasted to a reporter for the New York American that her decision to appear as figure of suffrage in War Brides was intended to be a contribution to “the womanhood of the world” (Lambert 172). Though periodic image reinvention now seems de rigueur for Hollywood stars, it wasn’t always; part of Nazimova’s legacy is that she is said to have been among the earliest to exercise control over her own celebrity image (Mann 62). With very few exceptions, the path of Nazimova’s motion picture career is described according to skillful and timely reinventions of her public persona and a feminine will as sharply defined as the emotive theatrical poses for which she became known. Stories repeatedly appeared in the press about the actress being “caught” taking in one of her films along with the moviegoing public, suggesting that Nazimova maintained a belief in the primacy of a live appearance, even if she embraced the new medium as an advance over theatre.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Women Film Pioneers Project
Published Here
October 16, 2019