Milton Sills

QUESTION:  Milton Sills starred opposite yesterday's blog topic Alla Nazimova in what 1925 film?
A)  As Man Desires
B)  Madonna of the Streets
C)  The Knockout
D)  Paradise

Alla Nazimova was a controversial woman in her own time thanks to her multiple (simultaneous?) marriages and outrageous parties.  In contrast, today we would like to talk about another silent film era actor, Milton Sills. His rise to fame was hardly as dramatic as Nazimova's, although it was a little unusual. Sills was born in 1882 to a successful mineral dealer and the heiress to a successful banking family. His life was set out for him from day one. He was a prominent student at the University of Chicago, and was lecturing on philosophy and psychology when he hosted a lecture by a popular stage actor named Donald Robertson. Robertson liked Sills, and suggested that he abandon teaching to become an actor. Sills did.

It may come as a surprise that Sills succeeded.  He starred in around a dozen plays between 1908 and 1914. That was the year he signed on with a studio to become a film actor, and he not only starred in numerous films over the next sixteen years, including the highly popular Flaming Youth and 1924's top-grossing movie The Sea Hawk, but wrote a number of them as well. His star kept rising when, in 1930, he suffered a fatal heart attack while playing tennis with his wife, the actress Doris Kenyon.  He was 48 years old.

ANSWER:  B)  Madonna of the Streets.  And, as everyone knows, Paradise was released in 1926, not 1925.  So that is just a ridiculous answer!

Alla Nazimova

QUESTION:  During the silent film era, Alla Nazimova helped establish the careers of Jean Acker and Natacha Rambova.  Both women were married (at separate times) to what famous actor?
A)  Charles Boyer
B)  Rudolph Valentino
C)  Douglass Fairbanks
D)  Orson Welles

The American Treasure Tour has more stories throughout its amazing collection than can possibly be told in one blog.  But we try.  Today, we would like to discuss a woman who was at one time enormously popular on the stage and in theater, but who is all but forgotten today. Born Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon in Yalta, part of the Russian Empire (prior to becoming a part of the Soviet Union) in 1879, she abbreviated her first name to Alla, and took on as her last name that of a fictional character from a Russian novel. Nazimova emigrated to the United States when she was 26, having become a famous actor across much of Europe by 1905.  She continued her success on Broadway for many years, then made her film debut in 1916.  This led to bigger and better things until the bigger and better became smaller and not quite so good. By 1925 her film career was over, aside from a few cameo appearances in films of the 1940's.

What makes Nazimova fascinating to students of Hollywood today is actually her private life. She was a married woman when she left Russia. And she was still married when she became involved in what is called a "lavender marriage," which is to say one or both participants are homosexual and hiding that from public scrutiny. Nazimova was outed, which caused a scandal and played a large part in her retirement from film in 1925. She is also accredited with coining the phrase "sewing circle" to discreetly describe lesbian or bisexual actresses. Her reputation for hosting wild parties at her Sunset Boulevard home was quite possibly accurate, and she was definitely entrenched in Hollywood culture. One of her friends, Edith Luckett, asked her to be godmother to her daughter.  Her name was Nancy Davis, who would marry Ronald Reagan and become First Lady of the United States.

ANSWER:  B)  Rudolph Valentino