Dance scholar Naima Prevots, author of "Dancing in the Sun: Hollywood Choreographers, 1915-1937," says: "Kosloff was a matinee idol -- he played it for what it was worth. I don't think he fudged on his teaching, though. He stuck to the tradition and taught well. He respected the tradition enormously."
"I don't fault him," says Prevots. "That was the world then. Kosloff came to Los Angeles to make money. It wasn't so easy. If he did a little monkey business, well, who knew about Diaghilev in Los Angeles -- maybe five people? Soon Diaghilev was gone."
Kosloff was always a ladies' man. Ballerina Tamara Karsavina wrote in her memoir, "Theatre Street," that she and fellow dancer Lydia Lopokova vied for his attention in the Ballets Russes. But the lanky and elegant Baldina, yet another dancer, won out. Kosloff did the right thing after getting her pregnant (their sickly daughter died young). But it was an unhappy marriage made worse by Kosloff's open philandering with ballet girls.
Early in the marriage, about 1914, with Baldina and the baby still tucked away in England, Kosloff hooked up with an exceptionally beautiful and well-bred 17-year old student named Winifred Shaughnessy. Renaming the arty Winifred as Natacha Rambova, he clashed with her in a tempestuous, sexually charged four-year relationship. In a feminist's nightmare, he even took credit around Hollywood for Rambova's sumptuous costume and set designs. The fed-up Rambova finally packed her bags one Sunday and ordered a taxi. Kosloff surprised her by returning early to their Franklin Avenue home after a weekend expedition at DeMille's Tujunga ranch. A quarrel ensued, and he shot Rambova in the leg with his hunting rifle. Rambova, bleeding, escaped through a window. She soon married the gorgeous hunk Rudolph Valentino.
Over time, the Kosloff in photos appears increasingly dour; there is a puffiness indicating an over-fondness for vodka. He died in 1956, age 74, leaving no heirs to his dream retreat, deep in the San Fernando Valley, filled with objets d'art: a necklace and castanets that had belonged to Pavlova, a baby grand played by Rachmaninoff. No one seemed interested in any of it. In 1957, his attorney placed a classified ad hawking the whole kit and caboodle for $175,000. For years, there were no takers.
Today only remnants of Kosloff's manic Los Angeles life and his artistic circle exist, although the Sunland property was on the market as recently as 2006. But Hollywood of the 1920s is enjoying a cultural, design and architectural revival.
Kosloff, in any case, succeeded where his later compatriots Nureyev and Baryshnikov did not. He was a ballet dancer who enjoyed a durable career acting in movies. And he gave the world the gift of Agnes de Mille. Like Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard," Theodore Kosloff was big. It was the pictures that got small.