Motion picture history has been unkind to the ex-wife of silent screen lover Rudolph Valentino. Rambova is primarily remembered for the way she dominated Valentino's life during their marriage, not so much for her brilliance as a costume and set designer. And make no mistake about her talent; if anyone truly brought art deco to the heights of stylized beauty, it was Rambova when she created the sets for Alla Nazimova's Camille.
Rambova was born Winifred Shaughnessy and raised in luxury. After two failed marriages, her mother wed cosmetics tycoon Richard Hudnut, who legally adopted the girl. But by then Winifred Hudnut was already known as Natacha Rambova, a name given to her by dancer and actor Theodore Kosloff. In her late teens Rambova was part of his dance troupe, the briefly lived Imperial Russian Ballet. She also began designing costumes for Kosloff, who took all the credit. Her work can be seen in Cecil B. DeMille's 1917 picture, The Woman God Forgot, and in Kosloff's outfits for Why Change Your Wife and Something to Think About. She also made costumes and designed sets for a dream sequence in Nazimova's Billions. But by 1920, Rambova had had enough of Kosloff, and when he sent her to Nazimova with a stack of drawings, she revealed herself as the creator. Nazimova used Rambova on her films for the next several years. It was during Camille that she met Valentino.