Natalia Pavlovna Paley
Russian princess
Natalia Pavlovna Paley
Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley, Countess de Hohenfelsen (December 5, 1905 – December 27, 1981) was a member of the Romanov family. A daughter of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, she was a first cousin of the last Russian emperor, Nicholas II. After the Russian revolution she emigrated first to France and later to the United States. She became a fashion model, socialite, vendeuse, and briefly pursued a career as a film actress.
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  • 1981
    Age 75
    In December 1981, Natalia Paley Pavlvona suffered a fall in her bathroom.
    More Details Hide Details Doctors diagnosed a fracture of the femoral neck. She was transported to Roosevelt Hospital where, against the advice of her last two friends who feared a fatal outcome, surgeons decided to operate on the same night.
  • 1947
    Age 41
    World War II affected Princess Paley only because her family and friends were living abroad. Though she went back to France in 1947, she spaced out her trips to Europe spending more time in her luxurious residences: an apartment on East 57th Street in Manhattan.
    More Details Hide Details Later, she moved to another one on Park Avenue, a cottage in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and a large property in Fairfield, Connecticut. On 5 February 1941, Princess Paley became a naturalized American citizen. She was a well known socialite in New York City, popular in fashionable events for her beauty and glamor. For many years, Paley worked in public relations as a promoter of the fashion house Mainbocher. She was a friend of Elsa Maxwell, became a confidant of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and in the 1940s and early 1950s, Princess Paley had a lengthy romantic relationship with writer Erich Maria Remarque, who fictionalized her as "Natascha" in his posthumous novel, Shadows in Paradise. During the 1950s, Wilson's career declined. He was a heavy drinker and became mentally imbalanced. Natalia tried to help him, but he was self-destructive. Confined to a wheelchair, often violent, and in a state of increasing dementia, he died in November 1961, at age 62.
  • 1937
    Age 31
    After divorcing Lucien Lelong on May 24, 1937, Princess Paley married Wilson on 8 September 1937 in Fairfield, Connecticut.
    More Details Hide Details It was a marriage of convenience. Wilson was intelligent, rich and a good companion. Natalia's name and social skills were assets to his business as a Broadway producer. Princess Paley liked her husband's humor, and his homosexuality suited her distaste for physical love. The couple, who would not have children, settled in an apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. They traveled extensively. Saint Moritz, London and Venice were favorite vacation spots.
  • 1936
    Age 30
    In 1936 she returned briefly to France to film The New Men (Les Hommes nouveaux) with Jean Marais, under the direction of Marcel L'Herbier.
    More Details Hide Details Les Hommes nouveaux was a success in Europe, but marked the end of Princess Paley’s acting career. At her return to the United States, Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley settled permanently in New York City. There she met John C. Wilson, known as Jack Wilson, a theater producer and director, who had previously been the lover of Noël Coward.
  • 1933
    Age 27
    In the spring of 1933 she began to pursue a film career.
    More Details Hide Details She studied acting with Belgian actress, Eve Francis, the former wife of director Louis Delluc. Her first film was, L'epervier (1933, directed by Marcel L'Herbier, her husband's cousin. It was the beginning of her career as a movie actress, taking parts in several European movies, including Sir Alexander Korda's The Private Life of Don Juan (1934). She eventually moved to the United States, where she had a small role in George Cukor's Sylvia Scarlett (1935), a film starring Katharine Hepburn, who became a lifelong friend. Princess Paley's acting skills were modest. Her name and her beauty were main assets, and her film career never took off.
  • 1932
    Age 26
    Their affair ended in the fall of 1932.
    More Details Hide Details She bought an apartment on the Esplanade des Invalides where she entertained society and prominent artists. She continued to work as a photographic model in connection with Lelong's fashion house.
  • 1927
    Age 21
    Against her family's opinion, who considered the union a misalliance, Princess Natalia and Lucien Lelong married in a civil ceremony on August 9, 1927.
    More Details Hide Details A religious ceremony took place the next day at the Orthodox church Saint Alexander Newsky. Theirs was a white marriage, a union without intimacy. Lelong's reputation grew with the help of his wife whose taste was exquisite. Ethereal and glamorous, Princess Natalia would not follow any fashion trend, but would dictate her own. Hats and gloves were her signature. With deep-set gray eyes and pale blond hair, she became a sought after model establishing an image for herself in the Parisian elite becoming a well known socialite. As a model, she appeared in many magazines including Vogue. She was a favorite model for the great photographers of her time: Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, André Durst and George Hoyningen-Huene. Though they shared the same infatuation for the arts and fashion, the marriage of Princess Paley and Lelong was not a success. Too involved with his work and in love with one of his famous models who was doomed to die of tuberculosis, Lelong never grew to understand his wife's languor, or her frequent outbursts of temper when she was out of the limelight. On her part, Natalia began a two-year affair with dancer Serge Lifar. Their relationship ended when she began a passionate but platonic relationship with Jean Cocteau who like Lifar, and most men she was attracted to, was homosexual. Cocteau wanted to marry her and have a child with her, but Princess Natalia declined the offer.
    Lucien Lelong divorced his wife, Anne-Marie Audoy, on 16 July 1927.
    More Details Hide Details Lelong was known for his homosexual affairs, but he offered her wealth and security.
  • 1923
    Age 17
    The sisters came back to Paris, where Irina married Prince Feodor Alexandrovich of Russia, a nephew of Tsar Nicholas II, on May 31, 1923.
    More Details Hide Details During one of the Charity Bazaars her mother gave every year, Princess Natalia, age 21, met Lucien Lelong, a prominent French couturier who offered her a job in his fashion house. She began to work initially in the perfume department moving soon to model the house's designs. Lelong had inherited his famous fashion house from his father. A hero of World War I, he was then married and the father of a little girl. With her aristocratic background and her delicate features, Natalia was an asset for Lelong's business.
  • 1920
    Age 14
    Once in exile, Princess Paley and her daughters moved to Sweden, where they stayed until the spring of 1920.
    More Details Hide Details They eventually settled in exile in France. They sold their townhouse at Boulogne-sur-Seine and bought another in one of the upper-class neighborhoods of Paris in the 16th district. With her few remaining jewels, Princess Olga bought a villa in Biarritz, on the Atlantic coast, where the family would often gather in the future. Later, she would sell her house and buy a smaller one in Neuilly. Princess Natalia and her sister were sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, but Natalia was unable to mix with the other pupils. As she confessed later in a fashion magazine interview, she felt, so different from the others. At twelve, French girls were still reading Robinson Crusoe and watching Douglas Fairbanks movies. At twelve, I was taking some bread to my father in jail. How could I have been like them? I was mute, I would not play. But I was reading a lot. I had faced death, so close. My father, my brother, my cousins, my uncles, executed, all Romanov's blood splashed on my adolescence. This gave me a taste for sad things, poetry, the icy and lightning antechamber of death. Soon, my classmates understood me. And respected the way I was, as strange as it may have seemed.
  • 1919
    Age 13
    Grand Duke Paul was killed in January 1919, and tossed into a heap along with the bodies of other victims.
    More Details Hide Details The following month, Princess Olga joined her daughters in Finland.
  • 1917
    Age 11
    As Tsar Nicholas and his family were sent to internal exile to Siberia, Natalia and her family remained living in their palace under increasingly deteriorating conditions after the Bolsheviks rise to power in October 1917.
    More Details Hide Details By early January 1918, they could no longer afford to heat their large Tsarkoe Selo Palace and they were forced to move to an English dacha at Tsarkoe Selo that belonged to Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich. Their home was expropriated and turned into a museum while Lenin himself rode their car. In March 1918 the revolution tightened its grip. All male members of the Romanov family, including Natalia's brother Vladimir, were ordered to register at Cheka headquarters and shortly after they were sent away into internal Russian exile. They never saw Vladimir again. He was murdered by the Bolshevik along with several other Romanovs relatives on 18 July 1918, one day after the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family at Yekaterinburg. Grand Duke Paul, who was too ill to travel, initially escaped the fate of his son. He was arrested on July 30 and sent to Spalernaia prison, where he would remain for most of his incarceration. In desperation, Olga left her two youngest daughters Irina and Natalia, aged 14 and 12, under the care of their English governess moving with her daughter Marianne to be closer to her husband's prison. Irina and Natalia, accompanied by their governess, were allowed to pay two visits to their father. The sisters lived alone with the servants until October when Grand Duke Boris' dacha was expropriated and the sisters were evicted.
  • 1916
    Age 10
    Though he was in poor health, Natalia's father, Grand Duke Paul, ignoring his doctor's advice, left to take command of a Guards regiment in 1916.
    More Details Hide Details At the fall of the Russian monarchy in March 1917 instead of leaving the country, Grand Duke Paul and his wife, not seeing the dangers ahead, decided to stay in their luxurious estate amid the upheaval.
  • 1905
    They settled in Paris and bought a house in Boulogne-sur-Seine that previously belonged to Princess Zenaide Ivanovna Youssoupoff. It was there that Natalia was born in 1905, completing their family.
    More Details Hide Details Paul and Olga employed a household staff of sixteen maids, gardeners, cooks, and tutors and were avid art and old porcelain collectors. Vladimir, Irina and Natalia had a happy and privileged upbringing, and for a time, utterly protected from the outside world. Though their parents had a busy social life, the children were very close to them and they ate their meals together, an unusual custom for children of their time and station. On Sundays, the whole family would enter the Russian church on rue Daru, but would only attend private mass with the priest who had christened Natalia. In January 1912 Tsar Nicholas II forgave his only living uncle for marrying morganatically, and Grand Duke Paul returned to Russia on the occasion of the tercentenary of the Romanov family. He was followed later by his wife and their three children. In May 1914, the family settled in Tsarskoe Selo in a luxurious palace filled with antiques and object of arts. In Russia, Natalia became close to her maternal grandmother, her half-sisters and half-brothers. Three months after they had settled into their new life, World War I began.
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