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Nina Barsamova – the White Russian “Movie Queen of Shanghai”

Posted: June 21st, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Nina Barsamova was a bit of a celebrity in the 1930s. Like many White Russians she claimed her family were something special back in the tme of the Romanoffs but had come into exile in China. They lived in Harbin until about 1930 or thereabouts and then, after her father’s death, Nina, her mother and sister moved to Shanghai. Around early 1933 she won a beauty pageant at the Shanghai Canidrome aimed at raising money for a White Russian orphans in the city.

Nina decided to trade up after the pageant and took the liner the President Hoover to America (it might be that the trip was the First Prize – it’s a bit unclear), arriving in San Francisco in July 1933 declaring herself looking to “crash” into the movies in Hollywood. Talking to the press it appears she hinted at Russian noble blood and somehow got called the “Movie Queen of Shanghai”. According to the papers she was not in Hollywood long before she was approached by a film producer and director called Buddy DeSylva, who wanted her to take a screen test. DeSylva claimed Nina had a delectable accent and was “exactly what I want”. It’s not clear if she ever made any films (or why she was called the “Movie Queen of Shanghai” as she doesn’t appear to have made any there either – The China Monthly Review claimed the San Francisco press dubbed her with the sobriquet but it may have been the title bestowed by the pageant – good PR I guess?) but she did get her photo in the September 1933 issue of New Movie magazine.

Fast forward 18 months and we find Nina in Jan 1935 boarding a ship returning to Shanghai. The problem seems to have been that “she had been in Hollywood as long as the law permitted” and had now outstayed her visa. So, so long Hollywood; Hello, once again, Shanghai. That appeared to be the end of Nina’s Hollywood career. But not of her life…

However, it appears in 1936 Nina married a Basque Spanish hai-alai player (they were generally considered extremely good looking chaps usually and thought of as catches!)  called Paulino Ituarte y Elordi. And it also seems she had two children – Natalia and Elena, thought to have moved to California. The records are a bit unclear but I think Paulino Ituarte y Elordi was born in 1901 and died in 1989 in California, known as Paulino Ituarte (Elordi having been his mother’s maiden name?).

And that’s all I’ve got – but she was very beautiful and she had some adventures and if anyone knows anymore please let me know?



The_Fresno_Bee_The_Republican_Sun__Jun_25__1933_Barsamova in July 1933 arriving in America from Shanghai


Barsamova in Jan 1935 departing America for Shanghai

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5 Comments on “Nina Barsamova – the White Russian “Movie Queen of Shanghai””

  1. 1 Allison said at 6:40 am on September 4th, 2017:

    She was my great grandmother

  2. 2 paul French said at 5:46 pm on September 4th, 2017:

    how wonderful – do you have any more photographs, memorabilia, letters concerning her Shanghai time?

  3. 3 Allison said at 8:20 am on September 30th, 2017:

    I will visit my grandmother and great aunt soon to see what other memorabilia I can find… they have tons. One thing you didn’t know about my great grandfather Paulino AKA Pompa was that he actually was half Armenian and half Basque. They had to hide this from the public because back then it was looked down upon for a Russian to marry an Armenian because of the Armenian genocide. It was kept such a secret that it only came to light at a family dinner in recent years. Also, she did film one movie from what I’ve been told she was the stunt double for Jane in the first silent Tarzan movie. I haven’t researched this through and through because I can hardly find anything online from this era. Nina was a beautiful well put together woman, even in her later years before she succumbed to Vascular Dementia and Gangrene at 92 years old. She is also believed to still have a presence here with the living, often visiting several family members at night before bed. I was 9 years old when she passed so my memory is kind of hazy. I appreciate this article more than you will ever know.

  4. 4 Xavier said at 6:05 pm on August 16th, 2018:

    Dear Paul,

    I have found a photograph of their wedding, which you can find in our archive or Sino-Spanish relations:


  5. 5 Maria Turner said at 7:32 am on February 6th, 2021:

    My niece Allison has given you some wron information on my Grandfather Paulino Ituarte. If you would like me to clarify please let me know. Thank you, Maria Turner Ituarte

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