Brown - Dark
Salt Lake City, Utah
Place of Death
Cause of Death
Claim to Fame
wife of Rudolph Valentino
Profile Bio Text
Rambova was born Winifred Shaughnessy in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her father Michael Shaughnessy, was an Irish Catholic who fought for the Union during the Civil War. Her mother Winifred Kimball, was nicknamed `Muzzie` and was a descendant of Mormon Patriarch Heber C. Kimball. Her father was a businessman who partook in mining interests, but eventually he his alcohol and gambling problems became too much for her mother. Her mother became an interior designer and moved to San Francisco. She was married 4 times (Michael was her second husband), eventually settling on millionaire perfume mogul Richard Hudnut. Rambova was adopted by her stepfather, making her legal name `Winifred Hudnut`.
Rambova (and later Valentino) was extremely close to her Aunt, Teresa Warner. Before her marriage to Hudnut, Rambova’s mother married Edgar De Wolfe, brother of Elsie De Wolfe, a prominent Interior Designer. With this marriage her mother became socially successful and wealthy, but tensions grew between her and her daughter. Rambova was rebellious, and mocked her stepfather for being passive. She was sent home from boarding school for `conduct unbecoming of a lady`. To straighten her daughter out, Winifred sent Rambova to a strict British boarding school recommended by her Step Aunt. At the boarding school Rambova learned ballet, French, drawing, and studied mythology.
Rambova continued to be rebellious, labeling her step family `social climbers`, calling her board school `pretentious`, and continually clashed with her mother and Step Aunt. Rambova withdrew from her schoolmates and kept to herself pursuing her passions. Her Step Aunt loathed art deco, possibly drawing Rambova towards it.
Rambova was gifted at ballet, and trained with Rosita Meuri at the Paris Opera during the summers. She traveled to London frequently to watch other performers including Pavlova, Nijinsky, and Theodore Kosloff. Right before World War 1 broke out, Rambova returned to San Francisco where she clashed with her mother once again and insisted she would pursue ballet as a career. Her family had trained her in ballet as a `social grace` and were appalled at the thought of it becoming a career.
Aunt Teresa intervened, offering to move with Rambova to New York where she could study under Kosloff. Rambova, now 17, changed her name to `Natacha Rambova` at this time. At 5`8 she was too tall to be a classical ballerina, but Kosloff continually gave her leading parts. She performed with him in his "Imperial Russian Ballet Company".
Around this time Rambova fell for the 32 year old Kosloff (who had a wife and an invalid daughter in Europe) and the pair began a tumultuous love affair. Muzzie was outraged when she found out, and brought charges of statutory rape and kidnapping against Kosloff hoping to have him deported. Rebelling, Rambova fled New York and hid in Canada and later England to hide from her mother. While in England she posed as a Governess to Kosloff`s wife and child. Muzzie, wanting to bring her daughter home, relented by dropping the charges. She allowed Rambova to keep performing with the company and promised to underwrite the costumes.
Rambova returned and began touring with the Kosloff company. In addition to dancing she began costume designing as well. After the tour ended Kosloff had been hired by Cecil B. Demille to perform as well as contribute designs. Rambova joined him and was dismayed to find herself as part of Kosloff`s `arty harem`. Kosloff had taken several lovers amongst the dancers, who would perform with his company, teach at his studio, and assist him uncredited in his film work. Rambova took to researching historical accuracy for her designs, which Kosloff would then use without giving her credit, stealing her sketches and claiming them as his own.
Kosloff met fellow Russian Alla Nazimova and convinced her to use his services for her an upcoming planned project based on "Aphrodite". Kosloff sent Rambova to show sketches to Nazimova, claiming they were his own when they were actually Rambova`s. Nazimova was impressed and when she asked for revisions to some costumes, Rambova took out a pencil and began to make the revisions thus showing she had done the work, not Kosloff. Nazimova was surprised, and offered Rambova a position on her production staff as an art director and costume designer. The work would pay up to $5,000 a picture. Nazimova, a lesbian, was also likely entranced with Rambova`s beauty, but it is unlikely Rambova ever reciprocated the feelings as by most accounts she was straight.
Rambova`s work had been used in 4 DeMille films, including, "Why Change your Wife?" which featured Gloria Swanson and Thomas Meighan, before her signing with Nazimova. Metro feared censors reactions, and thus the "Aphrodite" picture was never made. Her first film for Nazimova was "Billions" in 1920. She met Rudolph Valentino, her future husband, on the set of "Uncharted Seas" in 1921. They began working together on "Camille" soon after. From the start she used Valentino as her canvas, insisting the greased back hair look would not do for a character new to the city. Her work on Camille is generally cited as some her best, stealing the picture. She used symbolism (Marguerite`s dress is draped in Camellias) and many of the sets are based on German Expressionism. Hans Poelzig and Emil-Jaques Ruhlmann were her inspiration for various sets on the film. Rambova was determined to bring the art deco look to America, as it was transforming film making in Europe. Though Rambova receives praise today, the film flopped, with many contemporary critics finding it too odd. The failure of "Camille" eventually forced Metro to terminate their contract with Nazimova.
In addition to her design work Rambova took on teaching design and selling some of her jewels. She earned more then Valentino who had notoriously bad contract deals. She next designed for a film Nazimova wrote titled, "A Doll`s House". By 1922 Rambova had left Metro to join Nazimova on her artistic productions. By this point Valentino had negotiated a slightly better contract and was now earning more then Rambova. Rambova`s designs for "Salome" were seen as extremely daring and risqué. She based them off drawings by Aubrey Beardsley for Oscar Wilde`s version. In addition to costume design Rambova contributed to the film`s scenario under the alias "Peter M. Winters". The film cost $350,000 to make and flopped at the box office. It was one of Nazimova`s last releases. It was also the last film Nazimova and Rambova would work on together.
During their marriage Rambova was constantly criticized as `controlling` Valentino. Valentino however, was a demure and submissive type person, who was not good with business affairs or finances. Throughout their marriage Rambova would help him with both. After they moved in together the pair devised a plan to sell Valentino`s autograph for 25 cents. It kept them afloat between paychecks.
Valentino signed with Famous Players-Lasky in 1921, a move Rambova was shocked and horrified to learn of (Valentino only informed her after the fact). Rambova felt that the contract was for possibly thousands less than Valentino was worth, and that it would hamper his ability to make artistic films. Before their marriage a public controversy over pictures Rambova had taken of Valentino, dressed up as a Faun or Pan like God. The pictures had been taken by Rambova as part of a series of faun pictures for a magazine called `Shadowland`, that featured art and dancer photos. The pictures were damaging to Valentino`s image, and also were seen as evidence that he was carrying on with Rambova during his divorce from Acker.
Soon after Valentino began work on "Blood and Sand". Rambova had begun to exert small amounts of control during the filming by mediating disputes between Valentino and the director, as well as encouraging Valentino to request filming on location in Spain. That request was denied, with a promise to shoot Valentino`s next Spanish themed movie, "The Spanish Cavalier" in Spain.
As the bigamy scandal raged on, Rambova began work on costumes for Valentino`s next picture, "The Young Rajah". The film contained Indian themes and Rambova`s costumes were glittering and elaborate representations of such. They were based off Leon Bakst`s designs of Nijinsky`s role as a Golden Slave in Scheherazade. Rambova likely made the sketches before she was forced to leave California and separate from Valentino. Valentino complained his separation from her distracted his acting, causing a subpar performance. He also complained to Rambova that everything from the sets to the cast was cheap. The film flopped and was one of the first major flops of Valentino`s leading man career.
Outraged over the bigamy trial and the way his wife was treated, Valentino declared a one man strike against his studio with Rambova`s support. Valentino claimed in addition to that he wasn’t making what he was worth, and that artistic control over his films lay at the heart of the matter. Famous Players sued and won an injunction barring Valentino from seeking any form of employment. This was later reduced to employment in pictures. Rambova stated she was not worried, and could keep them afloat with her designs. She also mentioned offers of being an actress herself though she had yet to appear as anything more then an extra in film.
Eventually Valentino hired a new manager, George Ullman. At first Rambova worked well with him, but the two eventually clashed in a battle for superiority. Ullman presented the idea of having Valentino promote Mineralava Beauty Products. He then suggested Valentino and Rambova partake in a dance tour to help the promotion and keep Valentino`s name in the spotlight. The pair agreed and the tour was a major success. Rambova was credited under her legal name `Winifred Hudnut`. During a stop in Salt Lake City, promotion for the tour tried to play her up as the local girl returning home, "The little pigtailed Shaughnessy girl". Rambova was angry and erupted in tears.
Once the tour wrapped up the pair were legally remarried and the press praised Rambova for her "business sense", the very thing not a year later she`d be criticized for. By 1924 Rambova had negotiated a contracted with J.D. Williams for Valentino to sign with Ritz Carlton Pictures. The deal would require 2 films to fulfill his obligations to Famous Players, and then 4 films that he and Rambova could make as they pleased at Ritz Carlton. Rambova would be seen as his artistic collaborator for the first time.
By this point in Valentino`s career the press began to blame Rambova for all his missteps, claiming she was controlling him and power hungry. Rambova was blamed for his strike, for his choice in pictures, and for his artistic goals. Whether those claims were fair or not, Rambova had become Valentino`s prime business advisor, mainly because she took charge, he trusted her, and he felt with her English she could understand legal terms better then he could.
Valentino`s comeback film was "Monsieur Beaucaire" about a 17th century Duke. Rambova was the costume designer and art director on the film. Famous Players was sure the film would be a hit, being Valentino`s first screen appearance in 2 years. They were given a huge budget, with Rambova spending $215,000 on costumes alone. Rambova`s troubles began during filming, with many finding her cold and snooty. Valentino asked the crew to call him "Rudy" while she asked to be called "Madam". Actress Lois Wilson would be the only one to defend her saying she was talented. However actress Jetta Goudal dropped out of the production after clashing with Rambova one too many times. She claimed Rambova was a `know it all`. Rambova also managed to upset a journalist and publicist Harry Reichenbach. When the journalist came to interview Valentino, he was told he could speak with "Mrs. Valentino" instead; furious he left without taking an interview and his article was cancelled. Reichenbach was furious and publicly aired his grievances.
Rambova claimed that Famous Players made them choose the film, when in reality the Valentinos were offered a choice between "Monsieur Beaucaire" and a Sea adventure. "Monsieur Beaucaire" flopped, and most of the blame went to Rambova. Jesse Lasky held her personally responsible saying, "...she insisted on Valentino doing perfumed parts like Monsieur Beaucaire in powdered wigs and silk stockings. We had to take him on her terms to have him at all."
The Valentinos began work on their next picture, "The Sainted Devil" which would follow in Valentino`s early Latin Lover styled roles. Rambova took control of the production, especially the costumes and the casting. Though Joseph Henabery was the official director, Rambova took over this role as well with his blessing. The costumes were again lavish and Rambova brought on two designers who would go on to successful careers: Norman Norell, and Adrian (who would design for the Wizard of Oz).
There were again issues with Rambova behind the scenes. Jetta Goudal was brought on once again, only to leave after clashing with Rambova over her character and costumes. "The Sainted Devil" flopped, this time damaging Valentino`s career to the point where reviewers dubbed he had lost his great lover title to John Gilbert. Rambova blamed the story, which she claimed had a war element when they originally agreed to make the picture; but the studio removed it fearing it would offend European audiences. Rambova said of the film, "...lost sight of that if beauty is only used as shallow satisfaction for the eye and not combined with food for the soul as well...it is but an empty gilded shell." The film is now lost.
The Valentinos began work on what they now seen as their chance at a real picture, "The Hooded Falcon". Rambova wrote the initial scenario and it was again to be her production. Valentino visited his friend June Mathis and asked her to write the full script, to which she agreed. However the project would be plagued with problems from the beginning. Much to their horror they learned their Ritz Carlton pictures would be distributed via Famous Players-Lasky. Ritz Carlton also did not have much financing, crushing their dreams of filming on location in Spain. To work around this they traveled to first France then Spain in search of costumes and scene ideas. They had a $40,000 budget for costumes and props, yet spent $100,000. The picture had a total budget of $500,000, half of which would be used before the film was finally shelved all together.
During production for "The Hooded Falcon" Rambova clashed frequently with Valentino`s friends. Rambova and George Ullman were in a battle for control of Valentino`s career. Ullman seen Rambova as a dominating woman who used her charms to get her way. Rambova alongside Valentino and Henabery, decided Mathis` script for "The Hooded Falcon" would not do and a script doctor should be used. When Ullman informed Mathis of the decision Mathis quit speaking to both Rambova and Valentino ending their long friendship. Rambova felt she was unfairly singled out, and with Mathis` departure the press slammed her more claiming she had full control over Valentino. Valentino and Rambova tried to fight back, by granting interviews claiming that `Valentino is not a Henpecked Husband`.
With "The Hooded Falcon" on hold, Williams insisted Valentino began work on "Cobra" which took place in a modern setting. Most of the crew from "The Hooded Falcon" worked on "Cobra" as well. Rambova only took part in two scenes before leaving the film claiming modern stories bored her. In the short time she worked on the film she managed to clash with Mario Carillo and other actors as well. "Cobra" flopped and both Valentino`s popularity and career were in jeopardy. The Valentinos had been keeping to themselves but as Rambova took more blame in the press they began to make more appearances at parties and events to try and soften Rambova`s image. However after a final fight between Williams and Valentino over Rambova, Williams announced to the press that "The Hooded Falcon" would be postponed indefinitely, and Valentino`s contract terminated. Rambova again took the blame in the press.
With the knowledge United Artists would likely be signing Valentino, Rambova went to speak with Ullman about the contract terms. Valentino was finally offered a decent contract, but one of the stipulations was that Rambova would not be allowed on set or any part in his films. Knowing he did not have a choice, Valentino took the offer. Rambova was furious, and the move eventually cost them their marriage.
As a peace offering, Ullman offered Rambova $30,000 out of his own pocket to create a film of her own choosing. Rambova began work on "What Price Beauty?" which she wrote, produced, and appeared in. Nita Naldi starred, and a small part was given to Myrna Loy in her first screen appearance. Loy would defend Rambova, saying she was unfairly judged for Valentino`s choices. The film ran over budget costing $100,000 and received limited and delayed release. It is now lost.
After her divorce from Valentino began, Rambova produced and starred in another picture titled "Do Clothes make the woman?" She had brought 40 trunks back from Europe for the picture and would act opposite Clive Brook. Eventually it was retitled to "When Love Grows Cold" much to Rambova`s horror. Rambova was so upset that the distributor promoted the film with her name as "Mrs. Valentino" that she never acted in film again. Most of the film is lost except small fragments from a promotional trailer.
After Valentino`s death Rambova appeared on stage via vaudeville and Broadway. She wrote a play titled "All that Glitters" which supposedly detailed her time with Valentino though by the end of the play the couple reconcile unlike in real life.
Rambova opened an elite couture shop on 5th Avenue in 1927. She urged women to express themselves through fashion. She would later close the shop after meeting her second husband in 1934. With her husband in Mallorca, Rambova began a business of buying up old villas and modernizing them for tourists; a venture she financed with her inheritance from Hudnut who died in 1928.
After divorcing her second husband, Rambova remained in France where she began to relax her style and allow herself to be photographed not all done up. She remained in France until the Nazis invaded, at which point she returned to New York. Through the 1940s Rambova`s interest in the metaphysical grew, with her supporting the Bollingen Foundation, which she believed help her see a past life in Egypt. Rambova published various articles on healing and astrology during this time. Eventually she helped decipher ancient scarabs and tomb inscriptions which led her to edit a series of publications titled, "Egyptian Texts and Religious Representations". She conducted classes in her apartment about myths, symbolism, and comparative religion.
She did not speak of Valentino publicly, turning away reporters on the 25th anniversary of his death and threatening to sue if an upcoming picture about him had a caricature of her in it. In the mid 1960s she was struck with scleroderma, and became malnourished and delusional as a result. A cousin brought her to Pasadena, where she died of a heart attack on June 5th, 1966. She was 69. Her collection of Egyptian antiquities were donated to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. She willed a huge collection of Nepali and Lamaistic art to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Ironically her death certificate described her as a `housewife`. Rambova`s ashes were scattered in Arizona.
Rambova`s designing career began in 1918 when she toured with Kosloff`s company. She favored designers such as Paul Poiret, Leon Bakst, Aubrey Beardsley. She specialized in `exotic` and `foreign` effects in both costume and stage design. For costumes she favored bright colors, baubles, bangles, shimmering draped fabrics, sparkles, and feathers. She also used the effect of sparkle on half nude bodies slathered in paint. When Rambova began work in film costume design she took to researching historical accuracy for her designs.
During her marriage to Valentino, Rambova was seen as a fashion icon. During a trip to Paris her shopping trips caused a sensation with the press reporting on her outfits. Rambova would not appear publicly unless she was fully turned out. It took until her later life for her to allow photographs of her in more casual dress.
Rambova was a shy and rebellious child. She did not like to partake in things she seen as pointless, and spent most of her time keeping to herself. After her relationship with Kosloff she retreated even further inward, causing most people to take her aloofness as snobbery and coldness.
Rambova loathed the world of high society, and even though her mother had married well she refused to live off her step father`s money, insisting on making her own living. Valentino was said to be shocked when he first viewed her parents lavish home, as Rambova did not speak of their wealth. Later during Valentino`s strike from Famous Players, she still intended to make money herself, and never mentioned her parents as a source of income.
Both Rambova and Valentino were Spiritualists. Rambova had been interested in ancient religions since her teen years. She believed in reincarnation and psychic powers. Later in life she became an Egyptologist, an author on astrology, and a follower of Madame Blavatsky and George Gurdjieff. During her marriage to Valentino they both visited psychics, partook in séances, and automatic writing. Through these practices Valentino was eventually moved to write a book of poetry titled, "Daydreams", with many poems about Rambova. When Valentino died Rambova wrote a book about the time she had spent with him, and also her claims to be in contact with him in the afterlife via psychics.
Rambova`s first relationship was with Theodore Kosloff when she was 17 and he 32. Though her mother protested, Rambova was eventually allowed to continue the relationship which became tumultuous. Kosloff had several lovers, and took credit for all their designs and work he would ask them to do, including Rambova. When Rambova was offered a position by Nazimova she was finally able to leave Kosloff. However Kosloff was controlling and abusive, and Rambova had to proceed in secret as Kosloff would do anything to keep her in his `harem`. While Kosloff was away on a hunting trip, Rambova packed her bags and called a taxi. However Kosloff returned unexpectedly and caught her leaving, angered he shot her in the leg. Rambova managed to flee to Metro Studios, where terrified, Paul Ivano helped her pick the bits of lead from her leg. Rambova never reported the incident to the police.
Rambova has constantly been pegged as a lesbian since her death. This is likely due to either her association with Alla Nazimova who was a lesbian, or an error in the book "Hollywood Babylon" which claimed Valentino married two women, `both lesbians`. Valentino did marry a lesbian, Jean Acker. However Rambova was most likely straight as she married two men and her relationship with Kosloff. However hints at bisexuality persist though are hard to prove.
By most accounts Nazimova had an attraction towards Rambova. The two were good friends, but if they were ever more is unknown. Nazimova, generally defined as a lesbian, occasionally had relationships with men. At the time she met Rambova. Nazimova was dating Paul Ivano. Mercedes De Acosta (a `lesbian head hunter` who claimed to sleep with Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo) claimed to be close with Rambova, and when she died Rambova left Acosta a small bequest in her will. At the most it could be possible Rambova was bisexual, but likely did not consider herself as such.
Couple Profile Source
Full Name at Birth
Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy Hudnut
Rudy: An Intimate Portrait of Rudolph Valentino  (Hutchinson and Co)
Costume Designer, Actor/Actress, Art Director
Has Detailed Data (New)
Natacha Rambova (January 19, 1897 – June 5, 1966) was an American film costume and set designer, best known for her marriage to Rudolph Valentino. Although they shared many interests such as art, poetry and spiritualism, his colleagues felt that she exercised too much control over his work and blamed her for several expensive flops. In later life, she continued her spiritualist activities, as well as studying Egyptology.
Costume and set designer, artistic director, screenwriter, producer, actress, fashion designer