Monday, March 7, 2022

A Surprising Interview

There were a couple of things that happened while I was finishing Beyond Valentino after Michael Morris' passing. I so wished he were there to know two discoveries which he so wanted to know. He began the research into both quests which were resolved after he was gone.

One being the confirmation that Natacha and Svetoslav Roerich were engaged. When I contacted the Roerich Foundation to follow up on the images Michael hoped to use, they put me in touch with a gentleman in Moscow who is writing a book on Svetoslav. Dr. Rosov was very formal and said he could not share a lot because he did not want to compromise his research. But he did tell me Natacha and Svetie were engaged for three years. He also told me he once interviewed Michael.

I knew nothing about that and asked him if he could send me the article. He said he published it in Russian and then sent me the file in Russian. We had it officially translated by a certified translator and included it in Beyond Valentino. I think it is one of the most interesting inclusions in the book.

The other revelation that surfaced after Michael's passing was the reason Svetoslav broke up with Natacha. Michael surmised father Nicholas Roerich summoned his son to India. But again through the Roerich connection, I was put in touch with a man in Spain who wrote an article on Natacha and “Svetie”.

He sent me excerpts from the diary of mother Helena Roerich which just recently became public to Roerich members. In those clips, she said she demanded her son Svetie leave Natacha Rambova because she believed she was the “reincarnation of Bathsheba” and bad for his karma. When I read that I was so sorry Michael could not be there because he would have flipped out to know that.

Here is the first page of Dr. Rosov's interview conducted in April of 1999.

"Michael Morris:

I Was Fascinated by My Rambova

Dr. Vladimir Rosov Interviews Father Morris, The Author of “Madam Valentino, The Many Lives of Natacha Rambova”

Dr. Rosov asks, “What prompted a Catholic priest to write a book about the dancer Natacha Rambova?”

Michael Morris:

It's a long interesting story, but I'll try to tell it briefly. I received a doctorate in art history from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to my work on my doctoral dissertation, I completed my master's thesis, with the focus and theme of this thesis being Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations for the play “Salomè”.

In the course of my studies, I discovered that a film was produced based on this play in which Beardsley's drawings were utilized in the design of the costumes and sets. These designs were the creation of a woman who was the wife of Rudolph Valentino. I was most interested in this production, because Salomè was the instrument that led to the death of John the Baptist. I had also been interested in the cinema for a long time, ever since my under-graduate studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. My particular interest in cinema was based upon two elements; religion and art. Therefore, soon after I discovered the Beardsley connection in this production, I was off to see the silent film, “Salomè” in a presentation in San Francisco.

As I watched the film, I was amazed by how the scenery and costumes still held such fascination for me, despite the fact that the production was out-of-date being made in the 1920's with Alla Nazimova. I then realized I needed to learn much more about this woman, Natacha Rambova who was the artist creating such wonderful sets and costumes.

Initially, I read only negative commentary about her. Soon my interest in Rambova turned into a sort of hobby and then an obsession. By the time I was working on my doctoral thesis which was devoted to Victorian paintings of monastic motifs, I kept my focus on Rambova and it helped me to keep my peace of mind. In New York City, I was able to find a copy of Natacha Rambova's will which identified several of her heirs. With the list as reference, I began to knock on doors, to call and write many letters. Many people found the time to share information about Rambova with me.

The more I learned about this woman, the more she sparked my imagination and the more I was drawn to her. At some point in my research, I decided that I should turn my interest in her into writing a book about her. This is how the book was born. It was odd as people treated me as if I was a writer, although this was my first book. I always believed my first book would be some thesis on monks in Victorian art, but few people seemed interested in such a publication. There was interest in a book about Natacha Rambova!”