- Birth Date:
- Death date:
- Person's maiden name:
- Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley
- Extra names:
- Natalie Paley, Натали Палей, Наталья Павловна Палей, Gräfin von Hohenfelsen, Natalia Pawlowna Fürstin Paley
- Actor, Aristocrat, Model, Princess
- Grand Ducal Burial Vault
Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley (Наталья Павловна Палей), 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.
Princess Natalia Paley was born, as Countess Natalia Pavlovna von Hohenfelsen, at her parents' estate, 2 avenue Victor Hugo (now 4 avenue Robert Schuman), inBoulogne-sur-Seine, close to Paris, France, on 5 December 1905. She was the youngest child of Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia and his morganatic second wife, Olga Valeriovna Karnovich, who was of Hungarian descent.
Her parents had met in St. Petersburg in 1895, when Olga Karnovich was married to an officer, by whom she had three children. Grand Duke Paul already was the father of two; his first wife, Princess Alexandra of Greece, had died in childbirth. The couple's relationship did not remain secret for long. On January 9, 1897, Olga gave birth to a son, Vladimir, by Grand Duke Paul. Olga was granted a divorce from her husband and soon left Russia to marry Paul in Livorno, Italy, on 10 October 10 1902. Their daughter Irene was born on 21 December 1903. Not long after, the King of Bavaria gave Olga the hereditary title of Countess de Hohenfelsen. They were still vacationing in Rome when the couple was forbidden to return to Russia by Paul's nephew, the reigning Tsar Nicholas II.
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. Paul and Olga employed a household staff of sixteen maids, gardeners, cooks, and tutors. Vladimir, Irene 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.
Life in Russia
From left to right: Princess Olga Paley, her eldest son Alexander Erikovich von Pistohlkors, Olga Erikovna von Pistohlkors, Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, Princess Irina Paley, Princess Natalia Paley, PrinceVladimir Paley, and Marianne Pistohlkors.
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 the Spring of 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.
During the war, Natalias’s brother, Prince Vladimir Paley, joined a regiment. 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. 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. 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. 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 bother 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 Irene 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. Irene 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 they were evicted and forced to move to Petrograd with their mother and their half-sister Marianne. Worried about her daughters, Olga, with the help of a few remaining friends, organized Irene and Natalia' escape. In early December the girls left their mother and took a streetcar to the train station of Ochta.
After a four hours trip in a cattle wagon, they jumped into the snow and took a horse drawn sleigh. Finally, they walked for miles in the frigid night air. After thirty-two hours of traveling they reached Terijoki, the Finnish frontier. On arriving there, they continued their journey to Vyborg. Taken to a sanatorium in Ranha, they anxiously awaited their parents' arrival. Their father never made it. Grand Duke Paul was killed in January 1919, and tossed into a heap along with the bodies of other victims. The following month, Princess Olga joined her daughters in Finland.
Once in exile, Princess Paley and her daughters moved to Sweden, where they stayed until the spring of 1920. 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 jewels left, 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 she was unable to mix with the others 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 Crusoeand 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 have may seemed." The sisters came back to Paris, where Irene married Prince Feodor Alexandrovich of Russia, a nephew of Tsar Nicholas II, on May 31, 1923.
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. Shortly after he had divorced his wife, he asked her to marry him in 1927. Lelong was known for his homosexual affairs, but he offered her money and security.
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. 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. 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 photographer of her time: Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Andre 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. Princess Natalia ended her affair with Cocteau in the fall of 1932. 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. In the spring of 1933 she began to pursue a film career. She studied acting with Belgian actress, Eve Francis, the former wife of director Louis Delluc.
He first film was, L'epervier (1933, directed by Marcel L'Herbier, her husband's cousin. It was the beginning of her career as a movieactress, 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).
For many years, Paley worked in public relations for the fashion designer Mainbocher.
Natalie Paley married twice. Her husbands were:
(1) Lucien-Camille Lelong, the French fashion designer and war hero; married in October 1927, they were divorced in 1936. They had no children.
(2) John Chapman Wilson, a theatrical producer and director, who had previously been the lover of Noël Coward. They married on 8 September 1937 in Fairfield, Connecticut. He died in 1961. They had no children.
She had a brief affair with the writer and filmmaker Jean Cocteau, which resulted in an aborted pregnancy. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Paley had a lengthy romantic relationship with writer Erich Maria Remarque, who fictionalized her as "Natascha" in his posthumous novel, Shadows in Paradise.
Natalie Paley became a naturalized American citizen on 5 February 1941.
Natalie Paley died in New York City and is buried in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church in Ewing, New Jersey.
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