37 Stunning Photos of Natacha Rambova, Wife of Screen Idol Rudolph Valentino in the 1920s

Natacha Rambova (born Winifred Kimball Shaughnessy; January 19, 1897 – June 5, 1966) was an American film costume designer, set designer, and occasional actress who was active in Hollywood in the 1920s. In her later life, she abandoned design to pursue other interests, specifically Egyptology, a subject on which she became a published scholar in the 1950s.

Rambova was born into a prominent family in Salt Lake City who were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She was raised in San Francisco and educated in England before beginning her career as a dancer, performing under Russian ballet choreographer Theodore Kosloff in New York City. She relocated to Los Angeles at age 19, where she became an established costume designer for Hollywood film productions. It was there she became acquainted with actor Rudolph Valentino, with whom she had a two-year marriage from 1923 to 1925. Rambova’s association with Valentino afforded her a widespread celebrity typically afforded to actors. 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 career flops.

After divorcing Valentino in 1925, Rambova operated her own clothing store in Manhattan before moving to Europe and marrying the aristocrat Álvaro de Urzáiz in 1932. It was during this time that she visited Egypt and developed a fascination with the country that remained for the rest of her life. Rambova spent her later years studying Egyptology and earned two Mellon Grants to travel there and study Egyptian symbols and belief systems. She served as the editor of the first three volumes of Egyptian Religious Texts and Representations (1954–7) by Alexandre Piankoff, also contributing a chapter on symbology in the third volume. She died in 1966 in California of a heart attack while working on a manuscript examining patterns within the texts in the Pyramid of Unas.

Rambova has been noted by fashion and art historians for her unique costume designs that drew on and synthesized a variety of influences, as well as her dedication to historical accuracy in crafting them. Academics have also cited her interpretive contributions to the field of Egyptology as significant. In popular culture, Rambova has been depicted in several films and television series, figuring significantly in the Valentino biopics The Legend of Valentino (1975), in which she was portrayed by Yvette Mimieux, and Ken Russell’s Valentino (1977) by Michelle Phillips. She was also featured in a fictionalized narrative in the network series American Horror Story: Hotel (2015), portrayed by Alexandra Daddario.

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