Princess Natalia Pavlovna Paley (Russian: Наталья Павловна Палей; 5 December 1905 – 27 December 1981) was a Russian aristocrat who was a non-dynastic 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 Pavlovna Paley was born as Countess Natalia Pavlovna von Hohenfelsen at her parents' home, 2 Avenue Victor Hugo (now 4 Avenue Robert Schuman), in Boulogne-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 Valerianovna 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.
On 9 January 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 1902, which made Paul's nephew, the reigning Tsar Nicholas II to forbid him and his family to return to Russia.
Grand Duke Paul and Olga's daughter Irina was born on 21 December 1903. In 1904, Grand Duke Paul arranged through Prince Regent Leopold of Bavaria for his wife and their children to be granted the hereditary title of Count/Countess von Hohenfelsen, with a coat of arms.
They settled in Paris and bought a house in Boulogne-sur-Seine which previously belonged to Princess Zenaide Ivanovna Youssoupoff. It was there that Natalia was born in 1905.
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, were 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 they 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 objects of art. 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, the German title of Count/Countess von Hohenfelsen was deemed inappropriate due to anti German sentiment, so in August 1915, Nicholas II created the title of Prince/Princess Paley. This was the name by which Natalia, her siblings, and their mother would be known from then on. The same month, Natalia's brother, Prince Vladimir Paley, joined a regiment, and his her father, Grand Duke Paul, although in poor health, 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 II and his family were sent to internal exile in Siberia, Natalia and her family remained 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 former home was expropriated and turned into a museum, while Lenin himself rode in 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 executed by the Bolsheviks, 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 30 July 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 Pistohlkors 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's dacha was expropriated, and the sisters were evicted.
Natalia and Irina were 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 Irina and Natalia' escape. In early December, the girls left their mother and took a streetcar to the train station of Ochta. After a four-hour 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 Olga 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 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 Irina 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. 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."
The sisters came back to Paris, where Irina married Prince Feodor Alexandrovich of Russia, a nephew of Tsar Nicholas II, on 31 May 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. 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.
Natalia began to work initially in the perfume department, moving soon to model the house's designs. With her aristocratic background and her delicate features, Natalia was an asset for Lelong's business.
Lucien Lelong divorced his wife, Anne-Marie Audoy, on 16 July 1927. Lelong was known for his homosexual affairs, but he offered Natalia wealth and security. Against her family's opinion, who considered the union a misalliance, Princess Natalia and Lucien Lelong married in a civil ceremony on 9 August 1927. A religious ceremony took place the next day at the Orthodox church Saint Alexander Nevsky. 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 and 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 Natalia 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.
Jean Cocteau wanted to marry her and have a child with her, but Princess Natalia declined the offer. Their affair ended 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 and 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). Princess Paley's acting skills were modest. Her name and her beauty were her main assets, and her film career never took off.
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.
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. Les Hommes nouveaux was a success in Europe, but marked the end of Princess Paley's acting career.
Upon her return to the United States, Princess Natalia settled permanently in New York City. There, she met John C. "Jack" Wilson, a theater producer and director, who had previously been the lover of Noël Coward.
Princess Natalia and Lucien Lelong divorced on 24 May 1937, and she married Wilson on 8 September 1937 in Fairfield, Connecticut.
It was a marriage of convenience. Wilson was intelligent, rich and a good companion. Princess Natalia's name and social skills were assets to his business as a Broadway producer. Princess Natalia 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.
World War II affected Princess Natalia only because her family and friends were living abroad. Though she went back to France in 1947, she spaced out her trips to Europe and spent more time in her luxurious residence: an apartment on East 57th Street in Manhattan. Later, she moved to another one on Park Avenue. She also had a cottage in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and a large property in Fairfield, Connecticut.
On 5 February 1941, Princess Natalia became a naturalized American citizen. She was a well-known socialite in New York City and was popular at fashionable events for her beauty and glamor. For many years, Princess Natalia worked in public relations as a promoter of the fashion house Mainbocher.
She was a friend of Elsa Maxwell and became a confidante of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. In the 1940s and early 1950s, Princess Natalia 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.
After the death of her husband, Princess Natalia withdrew from society. In the last two decades of her life, she lived as a recluse, surrounded by her pets in her Manhattan apartment. Her only hobbies were watching television and crosswords. She developed diabetes and progressively lost her vision. Her blindness isolated her further. Letters and phone calls to her sister Irina were rare.
In the 1970s, her nephew, Prince Michel Feodorovich Romanoff, tried to visit her at her Manhattan apartment but she declined to see him.
In December 1981, Princess Natalia suffered a fall in her bathroom. 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.
Princess Natalia died at dawn on 27 December 1981, at Roosevelt Hospital in New York. She was buried in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church in Ewing, New Jersey.
Norman David Levinson (April 20, 1900 – October 25, 1972) known professionally as Norman Norell, was an American fashion designer famed for his elegant gowns, suits, and tailored silhouettes. His designs for the Traina-Norell and Norell fashion houses became famous for their detailing, simple, timeless designs, and tailored construction. By the mid-twentieth century Norell dominated the American fashion industry and in 1968 he became the first American fashion designer to launch his own brand of perfume.
Born in Noblesville, Indiana, Norell arrived in New York City in 1919, studied fashion illustration and fashion design at Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute, and began his career designing costumes for silent-film stars. Before partnering with Anthony Traina to form the Train-Norell fashion house in 1941, Norell spent twelve years with Hattie Carnegie as a designer for her custom-order house. In the 1960s Norell became the sole owner of his own fashion house on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. Norell amassed numerous private clients, including Hollywood stars and entertainers, wealthy socialites, and the wives of politicians and industrialists. On occasion, Norell created fashion designs for Hollywood films. Norell considered his greatest contribution to fashion was the inclusion of simple, no-neckline dresses.
Norell was the first recipient of the American Fashion Critics' Award, later known as the Coty Award, the first designer inducted into the fashion industry critics' Hall of Fame, and a recipient of an International Fashion Award from the United Kingdom's Sunday Times. He is also among the first American fashion designers to be honored with a bronze plaque along New York City’s Seventh Avenue. Norell was a founder of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and a member of the Parsons School of Design's board of trustees, as well as a critic and teacher in the fashion design department at Parsons and a mentor to younger designers. The Pratt Institute awarded Norell an honorary fine arts degree. Norell continued to design fashions until his death in New York City in 1972.
Norman David Levinson was born on April 20, 1900, in Noblesville, Indiana. He was the second son of Nettie and Harry Levinson. Norman's only sibling was an older brother named Frank. The family resided in the east side of a double home at 840 Cherry Street in Noblesville. His father, a haberdasher, ran a men's clothing store in Noblesville, but Norman later credited his mother with introducing him to fashion. Around 1905 Norman's father opened a men's hat store on Pennsylvania Street in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the family moved to Indianapolis about a year later.
Frail and frequently ill in his early childhood, Norman recuperated in bed, amusing himself by drawing. Although his brother worked in the family's store from a young age and later managed the family's retail business, Norman preferred drawing and attending the theater. Because Norman's father advertised his hat shop in theater playbills, the family received free passes to attend the shows. Norman saw three or four theater performances a week and entertained himself by sketching costumes and theater sets. He attended a military school in Kentucky, and after a brief and miserable period at the school, Norman withdrew and returned to Indianapolis, but he had no interest in joining the family's clothing business.
In 1919, at the age of nineteen, Norman traveled to New York City to study fashion illustration at Parsons School of Design. A year later he enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to study fashion design. Around the same time, Norman adopted his professional surname of Norell. During the 1940s Norell told reporters he came up with the surname by using the first three letters of his first name, "NOR", followed by the letter "L" for Levinson and another "L" for appearance. Norman never legally changed his surname to Norell.
Following completion of his coursework at Pratt, Norell began his fashion career as a costume designer in New York City.
In 1922 Norell joined the Paramount Pictures studios based in Astoria, Queens, New York, where he designed clothes for Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and other stars of silent-film stars. Norell designed costumes for Zaza (1923) starring Swanson and was one of three costume designers for A Sainted Devil (1924) starring Valentino.
Norell lost his job when the film industry relocated to California. He remained in New York and found work as a costume designer for the Broadway theater. Norell made costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies, as well as for the Brooks Costume Company. Beginning in 1924 Norell spent three and a half years with Charles Armour, a wholesale dress manufacturer, learning how to make real clothes for women instead of crafting theatrical costumes.
In 1928 Hattie Carnegie, a major name in the U.S. fashion industry at the time, hired Norell as a designer for her custom-order house. After Norell joined the firm Carnegie introduced her first line of high-quality, high-priced, ready-to-wear fashions that he had designed. The Carnegie-Norell duo also created fashions for celebrities and film stars such as Joan Crawford and Constance Bennett. Novell remained with Carnegie for twelve years. They split in 1941 after a disagreement about the gowns he had designed for Gertrude Lawrence, the star of the Broadway musical, Lady in the Dark.
When Norell left Carnegie's fashion house in 1941, he was not yet in the financial position to open his own fashion-design business, but he had earned a strong reputation for his designs within the industry. Anthony Traina, a wholesale clothing manufacturer, offered Norell a partnership. Traina would look after the business while Norell designed the fashions. Traina offered Norell a larger salary if Norell's name did not appear on the label, a smaller salary if it did. Norell chose the lower salary/better visibility option. Traina-Norell launched its first collection in 1941.
Norell’s fashions for the Traina-Norell label became famous for their detailing, simplicity, timeless design, and high-quality construction. According to The New York Times, the Traina-Norell collection became a "status symbol among American women." Norell's designs for a chemise, a sequin-covered sheath dress, and a fur-trimmed trench coat helped make the Traina-Norell label "a fashion byword," whose prestige equaled the Parisian labels.
During the World War II-era Norman Norell became the leading New York fashion designer. He was the first among the New York designers to introduce a full collection of fashions, rather than an assortment of separate pieces. Norell's wool jersey dresses became staples of the Traina-Norell label, as did his sailor-suit-inspired dresses and spangle-covered "mermaid" gowns (a skin-tight, floor-length evening gown).
In 1943, Norell became the first recipient of the American Fashion Critics' Award, later known as the Coty Fashion Award. That same year he accepted a teaching position in the fashion design department at New York's Parsons School of Design.
Norell contributed to the war effort as a volunteer on the weekends in New York's hospitals to help care for wounded soldiers.
Although Norell made annual trips to Paris after World War II to purchase fabric and traveled across the United States to show and sell his work, he remained a New York City resident for the rest of his life. Norell turned down an offer from Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, to move to Hollywood and create costume designs for the film studio.
During the 1950s Norell's biannual shows of his collection at his firm's New York City showroom at 550 Seventh Avenue were lavish, black tie events. Norell received his second Coty Award in 1951 and became the first winner of the fashion industry critics' Hall of Fame award in 1956, the same year Norell designed Marilyn Monroe's wedding dress for her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller.
After Traina retired in 1960 Norell and several silent partners established the Norell fashion house. Norell retained ownership of fifty-one percent of the company's stock. The firm's main office and showroom were on Seventh Avenue; its factory in lower Manhattan employed 150 workers. Norell held his first solo fashion show in June 1960. In the early 1960s Norell had become "the label of choice for the fashionable and the famous."
Norell amassed numerous private clients, including Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, Carol Channing, Dinah Shore, and Lena Horne. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lady Bird Johnson, Babe Paley, and Lyn Revson, the wife of Revlon cosmetics founder Charles Revson, were also among his private clients.
On occasion, Norell created designs for Hollywood films, including three ensembles for Doris Day that appeared in That Touch of Mink (1962) and fashions for the film Sex and the Single Girl (1964).
In 1968 Norell became the first American fashion designer to launch his own brand of perfume, marketed by Revlon. Norell took an active role in making selections for the composition of the new fragrance, which he described as "floral with green overtones." The perfume sold at $50 an ounce when it was successfully introduced in 1968, earning Norell an estimated $1 million. The venture provided him with sufficient funds to buy out his silent partners and become the sole owner of the Norell fashion house. Norell's dominance of the American fashion industry began to decline in the late 1960s as other designers, such as Bill Blass and Halston, rose to prominence, but Norell was widely considered "the dean of the fashion industry" in the United States.
Known throughout his career for his calm demeanor and easy-going manner, Norell lived a quiet, private life in New York City. He also maintained a lifelong relationship with his Indiana family, returning to Indiana for Christmas holidays and annual summer vacations for many years.
Norell, a chain smoker, was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent successful surgery on his vocal cords in 1962. His voice remained a hoarse whisper for the remainder of his life. Norell underwent a hernia operation in 1969. Newspapers also reported that he suffered from migraine headaches and diverticulitis.
Throughout his life, Norell maintained a close relationship with Parsons School of Design . Over the years Norell became known for making impromptu visits to the school to assist Parsons students with their projects. For more than twenty years he served as a critic in Parsons' fashion department, where he was once been a student. Norell also mentored younger designers such as Bill Blass, another fashion designer from Indiana, and Stephen Sprouse.
A retrospective show presented by the Parsons School of Design to honor Norell's fifty years in the fashion industry was scheduled to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on October 16, 1972.
But Norell suffered a stroke on October 15, 1972, he was rushed to New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital. Norell never regained consciousness and died on October 25, 1972, at the age of seventy-two.
The retrospective show went on as planned.
Norman Norell's funeral service was held at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in Manhattan. Norell's remains are interred at Crownland Cemetery, Noblesville, Indiana, along with other members of the Levinson family.
Norell's career in the fashion industry spanned five decades, beginning in 1922, when he worked as a costume designer for Paramount Pictures in Astoria, Queens, until his death in 1972, when he was the sole owner of his own fashion house on New York City's Seventh Avenue. Over the years Norell's clients included Hollywood film stars and entertainers, as well as socialites and the wives of politicians and industrialists. Called the "dean of American fashion designers," Norell was the first recipient of the first fashion industry critics’ Coty Award. From the early 1940s through the 1960s his designs helped make the New York's fashion houses with which he was associated rivals to Parisian firms.
The New York Times noted that Norell's designs were known for their "glamour, timelessness and high quality construction." Fashion critics also praised Norell for his keen eye for detail, accuracy in judging proper proportion, effective use of color, and insistence on high-quality workmanship. Norell's lavish, avant-garde fashion shows showcased his designs that were tailored for the American woman's active lifestyle. He was well known for his high quality, tailored fashions. He was especially known for his sailor-inspired clothes, chemise dresses, wool jersey dresses, and Empire-line dresses, as well as culottes and sequin-covered, "mermaid" evening gowns and sheath dresses. In the late 1960s, during the height of his popularity, Norell's "mermaid" gowns sold for $3,000 to $4,000, "considered the most expensive dresses in America" at that time. To make sure that imitations of his design for culottes would be constructed correctly, Norell published the specifications in Women's Wear Daily. Norell believed that his greatest contribution to fashion was the inclusion of simple, no-neckline dresses.
Beginning in 2000 the City of New York placed bronze plaques honoring American designers along Seventh Avenue and Norell was among the first to be honored.
Norell: Master of American FashionAuthor Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle, Foreword by Ralph Rucci, Afterword by Kenneth PoolThe first book dedicated to the career and creations of esteemed fashion designer Norman Norell, the man hailed as the “Dean of American Fashion” by the New York Times.
Norman Norell (1900–1972)—the first American designer to employ couture techniques, refined workmanship, and luxurious fabrics—made dresses, coats, and suits that critics deemed “the equal of Paris,” earning him the sobriquet “the American Balenciaga” and forever changing perceptions about New York’s Seventh Avenue garment industry.
Norell showed the world that American design could climb to great heights by producing collection after collection that was both elegant and practical. He singlehandedly shaped the character of the ready-to-wear industry and served as a role model to younger generations of American designers. Early jobs included creating costumes for film and stage and outfits for the stars themselves, as well as working for fashion entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie. Norell brought to the world a lean sophistication and American glamour in his daytime suits, jersey separates, swing coats, and his shimmering sequined “mermaid” dresses. Clients included Lauren Bacall, Babe Paley, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lena Horne, Dinah Shore, Marilyn Monroe, and Lady Bird Johnson. Norell was the first thoroughly modern American designer—and his dresses are still prized by stylish women today.
About The AuthorJeffrey Banks is a Coty Award–winning designer of men’s and women’s apparel. Doria de La Chapelle is a freelance writer. She has written on fashion, beauty, and style for Mademoiselle magazine and other publications. Ralph Rucci is a fashion designer and artist. Stan Herman is a clothing designer and former CFDA president. Kenneth Pool is a bridal-dress designer and Norell collector.
Natalie Portman (born June 9, 1981) is an Israeli-born American actress. With an extensive career in film since her teenage years, she has starred in various blockbusters and independent films, for which she has received multiple accolades, including an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, and two Golden Globe Awards.
Portman began her acting career at age twelve, when she starred as the young protégée of a hitman in the action drama film Léon: The Professional (1994). While in high school, she made her Broadway debut in a 1998 production of The Diary of a Young Girl and gained international recognition for starring as Padmé Amidala in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). From 1999 to 2003, Portman attended Harvard University for a bachelor's degree in psychology, while continuing to act in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (2002, 2005) and in The Public Theater's 2001 revival of Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull. In 2004, Portman was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and won a Golden Globe Award for playing a mysterious stripper in the romantic drama Closer.
Portman's career progressed with her starring roles as Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta (2005), Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), and a troubled ballerina in the psychological horror film Black Swan (2010), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She went on to star in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached (2011) and featured as Jane Foster in the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero films Thor (2011), and Thor: The Dark World (2013), which established her among the world's highest-paid actresses. She has since portrayed Jacqueline Kennedy in the biopic Jackie (2016), earning her third Academy Award nomination.
Portman's directorial ventures include the short film Eve (2008) and the biographical drama A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015). She is vocal about the politics of America and Israel, and is an advocate for animal rights and environmental causes. She is married to dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, with whom she has two children.
Natalie Herschlag was born on June 9, 1981, in Jerusalem, to parents of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Her native language is Hebrew. She is the only child of Shelley (née Stevens), an American homemaker who works as Portman's agent, and Avner Hershlag, an Israeli-born gynecologist. Her maternal grandparents were American Jews, whereas her paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants to Israel.
Portman and her family first lived in Washington, D.C., but relocated to Connecticut in 1988 and then moved to Long Island in 1990 where she attended a Jewish elementary school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Nassau County. She studied ballet and modern dance at the American Theater Dance Workshop, and regularly attended the Usdan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. Describing her early life, Portman has said that she was "different from the other kids. I was more ambitious. I knew what I liked and what I wanted, and I worked very hard. I was a very serious kid."
When Portman was ten years old, a Revlon agent spotted her at a pizza restaurant and asked her to become a child model. She turned down the offer but used the opportunity to get an acting agent. She auditioned for the 1992 off-Broadway Ruthless!, a musical about a girl who is prepared to commit murder to get the lead in a school play. Portman and Britney Spears were chosen as the understudies for star Laura Bell Bundy.
Six months after Ruthless! ended, Portman auditioned for and secured a leading role in Luc Besson's action drama Léon: The Professional (1994). To protect her privacy, she adopted her paternal grandmother's maiden name, Portman, as her stage name. She played Mathilda, an orphan child who befriends a middle-aged hitman (played by Jean Reno). Her parents were reluctant to let her do the part due to the explicit sexual and violent nature of the script, but agreed after Besson took out the nudity and killings committed by Portman's character.
After filming The Professional, Portman went back to school. She also enrolled at the Stagedoor Manor performing arts camp, where she played Anne Shirley in a staging of Anne of Green Gables.
In 1996, Portman had brief roles in Woody Allen's musical Everyone Says I Love You and Tim Burton's comic science fiction film Mars Attacks!.
Portman was cast opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996), but she dropped out during rehearsals when studio executives found her too young for the role. She was also offered Adrian Lyne's Lolita, based on the novel of the same name, but she turned down the part due to its excessive sexual content.
Portman instead signed on to star as Anne Frank in a Broadway adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank, which was staged at the Music Box Theatre from December 1997 to May 1998. She found a connection with Frank's story, given her own family's history with the Holocaust.
Natalie Portman began filming the part of Padmé Amidala in the Star Wars prequel trilogy in 1997, which marked her first big-budget production. She worked closely with the director George Lucas on her character's accent and mannerisms, and watched the films of Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn, and Katharine Hepburn to draw inspiration from their voice and stature.
The first film of the series, Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, when she was in her final year of high school. She did not attend the film's premiere so she could study for her high school final exams. The film earned $924 million worldwide, the second highest-grossing film of all time to that point, and it established Portman as a global star.
Portman graduated from Syosset High School in 1999.
Following production on The Phantom Menace, Portman played the leading role in the coming-of-age film Anywhere but Here (1999) for which she received a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination for it.
In 2000 she began attending Harvard University to pursue her bachelor's degree in psychology, where she also studied advanced Hebrew literature, neurobiology, thus significantly reducing her acting roles over the next few years. When asked about balancing her career and education, she said, "I don't care if [college] ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star."
In the summer of 2001, she returned to Broadway to perform Chekhov's drama The Seagull, which was directed by Mike Nichols and co-starred Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The following year, she reprised her role of Amidala in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which she had filmed in Sydney and London during her summer break of 2000. She was excited by the opportunity to play a confident young woman who did not depend on the male lead. Portman graduated from Harvard in 2003 and her sole screen appearance that year was in the brief part of a young mother in the war film Cold Mountain.
Next year she played a mysterious stripper in Closer, a drama directed by Mike Nichols based on the play of the same name, and co-starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Clive Owen. The actress agreed to her first sexually explicit adult role, after turning down such projects in the past, saying that it reflected her own maturity as a person. Closer grossed over $115 million against a $27 million budget, and Portman won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in addition to receiving an Academy Award nomination in the same category.
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, was Portman's first film release of 2005. It earned over $848 million to rank as the second-highest-grossing film of the year.
In late 2006, she starred in Miloš Forman's Goya's Ghosts, about the painter Francisco Goya. Forman cast her in the film after finding a resemblance between her and Goya's portrait The Milkmaid of Bordeaux. She insisted on using a body-double for her nude scenes after discovering on set that she had to perform them when they were not originally in the script.
Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson starred as rival sisters Mary and Anne Boleyn, respectively, in the period film The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). She was excited by the opportunity to work opposite another actress her age, bemoaning that such casting was rare in film. The film had modest box-office earnings.
She served as a jury member of the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and also launched her own production company, named handsomecharlie films, after her late dog. Portman's directorial debut, the short film Eve, opened the short-film screenings at the 65th Venice International Film Festival. It is about a young woman who goes to her grandmother's romantic date, and Portman drew inspiration for the older character (played by Lauren Bacall) from her own grandmother.
In 2009, Portman played a ballerina overwhelmed with the prospect of performing Swan Lake in Darren Aronofsky's psychological horror film Black Swan. She was trained by the professional ballerina Mary Helen Bowers, and in preparation, she trained for five to eight hours daily for six months and lost 20 pounds (9 kg). Her performance was acclaimed.
Black Swan emerged as a sleeper hit, grossing over $329 million worldwide against a $13 million budget, and earned Portman several prizes including the Academy Award for Best Actress.
In 2010, Portman signed on with Dior and appeared in several of the company's advertising campaigns. Portman is the face of one of the company's fragrances, Miss Dior, inspired by Catherine Dior. She has starred in campaign videos for the fragrance, and promoted a new version of the fragrance, Rose N'Roses, in 2021.
Portman next served as an executive producer for No Strings Attached (2011), a romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and her as a young couple in a casual sex relationship. She described the experience of making it as a "palate cleanser" from the intensity of her Black Swan job. It received unfavorable reviews but was a commercial success.
In 2012, Natalie Portman topped Forbes' listing of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Forbes featured her in their Celebrity 100 listing of 2014, and estimated her income from the previous year to be $13 million.
Portman portrayed Jacqueline Kennedy in the biopic Jackie (2016), about Kennedy's life immediately after the 1963 assassination of her husband. She was initially intimidated to take on the part of a well-known public figure, and eventually researched Kennedy extensively by watching videos of her, reading books, and listening to audiotapes of her interviews. She also worked with a dialect coach to adapt Kennedy's unique speaking style.
She won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Actress and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Natalie Portman met French danseur and choreographer Benjamin Millepied, while working together on the set of Black Swan. The couple began dating in 2009 and wed in a Jewish ceremony held in Big Sur, California on August 4, 2012. They have two children, son Aleph (born 2011) and daughter Amalia (born 2017). The family lived in Paris for a time, after Millepied accepted the position of director of dance with the Paris Opera Ballet, and Portman expressed a desire to become a French citizen. They currently reside in Los Angeles.
In January 2014, her husband Millepied said he was in the process of converting to Judaism.