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Born Eleanora Derenkowsky in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 29, 1917, the only child of Marie (Fiedler) and Solomon David Derenkowsky, she was named after Eleanora Duse, the eminent Italian actor.
Born Eleanora Derenkowsky and raised in New York after her Jewish family fled the pogroms in their native Ukraine, Deren quickly insinuated herself into the American film, dance, and difficult-art worlds, using a Guggenheim fellowship to study Haitian voodoo and becoming a voodoo priestess in the process.
She changed her name from Eleanora Derenkowsky for this picture, and chose "Maya" because Hammid said that it meant "illusion."