The Bucharest diva who fled the Communists to become a Hollywood star: Nadia Gray, writer Ionel Teodoreanu’s madness in love

The name Nadia Gray may not mean much to you; not at first glance, anyway. However, the Romanian woman has distinguished herself in other realms, free from communism and the constraints of a political regime that is far too hard for an artist to bear.

In fact, it can be said that not only communism blamed her, but also other regimes of the sadly remembered times, her Jewish origins being a reason for discontent even for Ion Antonescu.

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Nadia Gray, in a photo shoot

Nadia Gray, from the beginning

Nadia Gray (Nadia Kujnir, at birth) saw the light of day on 23 November 1923, in a mixed family of Russian Jews and Romanians: her father, who had moved to Romania some time before, and her mother from White Fortress, Bessarabia.

Like any child belonging to a wealthy family, Nadia had a normal childhood, free of financial worries, her parents doing their best to ease her transition through life.

One story has it that at one time the little girl, who would later become Nadia Gray, had a childhood crush on King Charles II. So one day, having had the opportunity to witness the King passing by on her street, the child threw flowers over the car in the hope of impressing him.

Unexpectedly, an event that should have ended happily ended with little trouble for Nadia’s family. Paranoid by nature, it seems that King Charles II didn’t understand the girl’s gesture of affection and mistook it for an attempt at terrorism, so the Kujnir family were left with some explaining to do as to the girl’s real intention.

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Nadia Gray – pictorial

Ionel Teodoreanu, in love with Nadia

In 1938, Nadia was 15 years old, but she was already attracting the attention of those who saw her. That year, she made her debut as an actress at the Majestic Theatre, where the writer and luxury star, Ionel Teodoreanu, fell hopelessly in love with her after seeing a play.

It seems that neither the age difference (he was 41 at the time) nor the fact that he was already married to Ștefana Velisar Teodoreanu mattered to Teodoreanu. He started sending the young actress flowers, along with a textbook courtship campaign, peppered with love notes and small gifts.

Obviously, Ionel Teodoreanu did not miss any of the plays in which she acted, and even more than that, he began to use his connections to arrange private meetings with the young woman.

It gets to the point where the writer asks her to marry him, but she refuses. In anger, Teodoreanu takes refuge in alcohol, becoming a regular in the bars of the period.

Ironically, at the age of 26, Nadia marries businessman N. Herescu, a Jewish businessman 30 years her senior. Soon after, she realizes that this marriage is not for her, so she divorces him.

Nadia Gray – pictorial

Nadia Gray fled both the Communists and Hitler’s followers, and eventually became a movie star

Fearing the growing threat of totalitarian regimes, she moved to Paris in 1940 to continue her acting studies.

She often commuted from Bucharest to Paris and one day met Prince Bâzu Cantacuzino, her second husband, who was also 18 years her senior. It could be said that this marriage could easily be made into a Hollywood film.

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Beyond his noble rank, Cantacuzino was an airplane pilot, so one day the engines of the passenger plane he was piloting catch fire, an emergency landing ensues, and everyone escapes unharmed. Immediately, the pilot goes to the passengers to assure them that everything will be all right, but he sees Nadia and instantly falls in love with the actress.

In 1941, Ion Antonescu, a sympathizer of Adolf Hitler, forbids Bâzu Cantacuzino from participating in the front because of Nadia’s Jewish origins, the woman being suspected of being a British spy. However, the situation is quickly resolved, as the army could not afford to ‘fuss’, as pilots were also in short supply.

By 1947, Bâzu Cantacuzino had lost all his landed property to communist nationalisation, so the couple decided to leave the country, where they sought and obtained political asylum.

Their love story ends shortly afterwards.

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Nadia Gray – in a photo shoot

Kujnir becomes Nadia Gray

In 1949, Nadia Kujnir decided to change her name to Gray and entered the world of cinema, starring in “Monsignor” (1949), “The Spider and The Fly” (1949), “Night Without Stars” (1951), “Puccini” (1953), “The Captain`s Table” (1959) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), which put her on the map of the most famous and beloved actresses in Europe.

She married for a third time in 1964, to American lawyer Helbert Silverman, and this propelled her to the heights of America, where she landed a role in the television series “The Prisoner”, although small roles didn`t seem to excite her much.

Soon after, Nadia Gray gave up acting to devote herself to family life.

She died on June 13, 1994, in Manhattan of a stroke, and The New York Times celebrated her life with a unique epitaph.

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