One name stars have been around a long time — think Moliere.
Hello Everybody, Joe Morella and Frank Segers here again.
Ever wonder how the one name phenom started? Of course there are numerous stars who were known by one name. Chaplin, Pickford, Valentino, Garbo, Gable, Monroe, Presley, Brando. The list goes on.
But we’re talking about stars with only ONE name.
The 1940’s had Annabella, Belita, Zorina, and Valli. The 50’s produced Liberace and Fabian. The 6o’s spawned Cher. And let’s not forget two of the biggest stars with one name —Rin-tin-tin and Lassie.
But when did stars start billing themselves with only one name? Always tricky to declare firsts (an old rule working at Variety was never write something was “the first,” because someone would come out of the woodwork to prove you wrong.)
Probably the first silent star with single-name billing was Nazimova, the Russian actress who starred and produced in the1920’s. Nazimova, pictured above, was a major film and stage actress and her career spanned nearly 30 years.
Actually Nazimova DID have a first name (it was Alla). To further confuse matters, she was born in 1879 in Yalta (now in the Ukraine) as Mariam Leventon. No matter. She will always remain simply Nazimova in film history.
She had changed her name very early on when she first took to the stage. Her father, who wished to protect family respectability, insisted on it. Being an actress back then was considered not too many steps above being a streetwalker.
At 17, Nazimova studied with method acting guru, Konstantin Stanislavsky, at the Moscow Art Theater. (She also wed an acting student, her one and only marriage.) By the turn of the century she was touring Europe in “Hedda Gabler” and “A Doll’s House,” establishing herself as a foremost Ibsen interpreter. When she played Broadway in 1905, Nazimova decided to stay put in the U.S.
By 1918, she was a star at MGM, and made 11 silents over a three-year-period. Her broad, stylized acting style was mostly applied to roles of independent women suffering great personal anguish. (Note, no happy faces in the above photos!) She was a reformed prostitute in 1918’s “Revelation,” and costarred with Valentino in the title role of 1921’s “Camille.”
According to Hollywood lore, Nazimova was bi-sexual, living for 13 years with gay actor Charles Bryant to maintain appearances. When the cash was rolling in, she bought home situated on a 3-1/2-acre spread off Sunset Boulevard, named the place “the Garden of Allah” and tossed lavish feeds for Hollywood’s elite.
Two interesting trivia items about Nazimova — she was the godmother of actress Nancy Reagan and the aunt of RKO producer Val Lewton (nee Vladimir Leventon), the man responsible for what Frank believes are among the best films ever made: 1942’s “Cat People” and 1944’s “The Curse of the Cat People.”
Nazimova made her comeback film, (and first talkie) “Escape,” in 1940, playing Robert Taylor’s mother. Then she portrayed Tyrone Power’s mother in “Blood and Sand.”
One of our previously published blogs shows a marvelously playful photo of Joseph Cotten dancing with Jennifer Jones and Claudette Colbert in the arms of Robert Walker. (It’s worth taking a few minutes to type in Cotten’s name in our search box to bring up this delicious snapshot.)
The photo was taken when the quartet costarred in David O Selznick’s production of the wartime drama “Since You Went Away,” in 1944. It was the last movie Nazimova ever made.
The (probably?) first of the one-named actresses was 65 at the time. She died a year later in Los Angeles of heart problems.