The Garden of Alla
‘I’ll be damned if I’ll believe anyone lives in a place called the Garden of Allah.’
– Thomas Wolfe, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, July 26, 1937
In a project for the West Hollywood History Center in conjunction with the Alla Nazimova Society, I have published a 50-plus page virtual history of the Garden of Allah Hotel. It is rigorously researched and illustrated with dozens of photos of the hotel’s founder, Alla Nazimova, the hotel grounds and its famous guests. I believe it is the most comprehensive history of the hotel available. I hope you’ll check it out.
Here’s an overview of the six sections:
Left: rendering of the Garden of Allah Hotel tower by architects Gilbert-Stanley Underwood & Co. Inc. proposed in 1930; right: proposed mixed-use building for the same property today; (A) Intersection of Crescent Heights Blvd. and Sunset Blvd. looking southwest
Plans were unveiled this week for redeveloping the former Garden of Allah Hotel property on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. The plans show a couple of high-rise buildings, including a 16 story tower. Here’s the project description from the developer’s website:
From left: Alla Nazimova, Charles Bryant, Richard Yates, Monica Yates, Larry David
Five degrees of separation between film and Broadway star Alla Nazimova and Larry David:
1. In 1912, Alla Nazimova, now into her fifth year as a legend on Broadway, entered into a faux marriage with one of her co-stars, a British actor named Charles Bryant. Alla and Charles were fixtures on the scene on Broadway and, after 1918, in Hollywood. He co-starred in nearly every movie she made for Metro, at a time when she was the highest-paid female star.
But Alla could not marry Charles because, back in Russia, in 1899, she had married Sergei Golonov, and then immediately abandoned him. Alla and Charles had an open marriage. She was bisexual and, according to her, so was he.
In Woody Allen’s 1985 film, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” one of the characters in the film within the film — a black-and-white drawing-room comedy-romance from Hollywood’s golden age — breaks through the fourth wall and emerges from the screen so he can experience the real world.
A new, ongoing series of novels written by Martin Turnbull and set at the Garden of Allah Hotel in Hollywood do just the opposite. They transport readers through the literary fourth wall back in time so they can experience life as it may have been in Hollywood’s golden era.
Relying on rigorous period research and a powerful imagination, Turnbull has created a fully realized, unromanticized vision of this bygone world. In The Garden on Sunset, the first in the series, we get the glitz and glamour inside the Movie Colony as well as the grit and grime of the grim world outside the Colony’s imaginary gates.
“Eye for Eye,” released on Dec. 22, 1918, was Alla Nazimova’s fourth film under her contract with Metro. It was based on the play L’Occident, by Henry Kistemaeckers, which had premiered in Paris on Nov. 4, 1913.
American Film Institute synopsis:
Nazimova offered a role in the play to her lifelong friend Edith Luckett, who in 1926 would become the mother of Nancy Reagan.
From Playbill Vault for Dec. 30, 2012:
1907 In The Comet Alla Nazimova plays a woman who falls in love with her former lover’s son, who eventually kills himself. This first play for Owen Johnson will run for seven weeks.
Alfred A. Knopf, Apr 7, 1997 – 420 pages
A major rediscovery – a full-scale biography – of the electrifying Russian-born actress who brought Stanislavksy and Chekhov to American theatre, who was applauded, lionized, adored – a legend of the stage and screen for forty years, and then strangely forgotten. Her shockingly natural approach to acting transformed the theatre of her day. She thrilled Laurette Taylor. The first time Tennessee Williams saw her he knew he wanted to be a playwright (“She was so shatteringly powerful that I couldn’t stay in my seat”). Eugene O’Neill said of her that she gave him his “first conception of a modern theatre.” She introduced the American stage and its audience to Ibsen’s New Woman, a woman hell-bent on independence. It was a role Nazimova embodied offstage as well. When she toured in a repertory of A Doll’s House, The Master Builder, and Hedda Gabler from 1907 to 1910, she earned the then unheard-of sum of five million dollars for theatre manager Lee Shubert. Eight years later she went to Hollywood and signed a contract with Metro Pictures (before it was MGM) and became the highest-paid actress in silent pictures, ultimately writing, directing, and producing her own movies (Revelation, Stronger than Death, Billions, Salome). Four years later she formed her own film company. She was the only actress, other than Mae West, to become a movie star at forty, and was the first to cultivate the image of the “foreign” sophisticate, soon to be followed by Pola Negri, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich. Gavin Lambert was given exclusive access to her unpublished memoirs, letters, and notes. And now fifty years after her death, eighty years after her ascendancy as a giant figure to the American public,Lambert has brilliantly re-created the life and work of this complex, dark, glamorous, and important figure.