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American soil does not shower gold on everyone who comes to it. Fedor Ozep, as he is known in the West (Fyodor Otsep in common transliteration from Russian) bears witness to that. One of the most active and most influential figures in the new Soviet cinema, he had less and less success the further he distanced himself from Moscow. He ended up in Hollywood after the beginning of WWII – slipping out of Europe by way of Morocco – but directed only two or three films there. (Various sources say it was one, two or three.) The usually reliable IMDb cinema site gives him five U.S. credits, although only two in the 1940s employ US-based writers and actors – Three Russian Girls (1943); and Whispering City (1947). In these final years (he was born in 1895 – despite what you see on the gravestone pictured above – and died in 1949) he also made two films in Canada (Le Pere Chopin  and The Fortress ), and one in Portugal, Cero en conducta (1945). You’re excused for not knowing them.
Obviously Ozep was flirting with Hollywood money in the mid-1930s, as he made a series of films in Europe with European production teams, although the films are listed as U.S. productions.
Relatively short sojourns in Germany and France produced a half-dozen films, of which The Brothers Karamazoff (Germany, 1931) was his best known. That same year he made another film in Germany called The Killer Dmitri Karamasoff.
But it was Ozep’s (or, more properly, Otsep’s) work in the Soviet Union that provided him a place in history. The sources, again, are contradictory, so I am culling information from many places and trying not to sin against reality too badly. I wouldn’t take everything I’m writing here as gospel truth; consider it an invitation to dig further for the real facts if you need them.
One thing is certain – Otsep directed and scripted the film version of Leo Tolstoy’s wrenching moral drama The Living Corpse (1929). It was this success that brought about the invitations to work in Germany and France, leading to the director’s decision to emigrate as the cultural and social and political situation in the Soviet Union grew increasingly dangerous. Some sources (not all) posit Otsep as co-director, with Boris Barnet, of the wildly popular film Miss Mend (1926). You can find sources that give him partial directing and scripting credit on Yakov Protazanov’s equally popular and famous film The Man from the Restaurant (1927), but that appears to be erroneous. It’s possible that Otsep’s name shows up here because of his widespread activities at Mezhrabpomfilm, the leading Soviet film studio at that time. He was, at various times, the head script man and the artistic director of the concern.
Otsep’s one acting gig would appear to have been in Chess Fever (1926), which marked the directing debut of the future great Vsevolod Pudovkin.
Otsep also was something of a composer, as it turns out. At least, he is listed as the author of the music to a revolutionary ditty, the sheet music to which was published in March 1917, that is, before the late-autumn triumph of the Bolsheviks. The words to the song are attributed to a certain Valentinov, while the music, listed as Opus No. 10, is prominently attributed to Fyodor Otsep. You can see a copy of the sheet music on a Russian-based old music website.
Otsep was an important screenwriter. In the ‘teens he helped introduce Russian film to the literary classics by scripting silents made to Alexander Pushkin’s The Snowstorm (1918) and The Queen of Spades (1916). With popular playwright of the time Alexei Faiko (whose first two major plays were produced by Vsevolod Meyerhold), he co-wrote the scripts to the famous films of Aelita (1924), a ground-breaking sci-fi feature based on a novel by Alexei Tolstoy, and the comedy The Cigarette Girl from Mosselprom (1924). If you’re interested, you can read a post I wrote here about the Mosselprom building, whence came Otsep’s and Faiko’s cigarette girl…
Ozep died of a heart attack in Hollywood in 1949 and was buried in a beautiful, sprawling cemetery that backs up to Paramount Studios. It is called Hollywood Forever, is located at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard (see the last photo below), and it cares for the remains of an enormous number of Russians, Georgians, Armenians, Jews and other nationalities that have emigrated to the Los Angeles area from the Soviet Union and Russia over the last century.
It was no easy thing finding Mr. Ozep’s final resting place. Oksana and I tried one day, without success. Curiosity brought us back a few days later, however, and this time we stopped by the office first to ask. A properly serious woman stoically took my request to locate five graves and then disappeared for a good 20 or 30 minutes. I imagined her sitting in a back room sharing ghastly laughs with someone over a cup of coffee at the idiots out there in the lobby who thought she was actually looking up grave sites for them. But, sure enough, in time, she returned – this time holding two maps with the requested locations marked in yellow. So much for my cynicism. We thanked the woman profusely and headed out on our hunt for the dead.
Ozep is located in the Garden of Legends section on the east side of the cemetery (see first photo in the block immediately above). However, the information that was provided to us – that Ozep’s grave is in Section 8 (Garden of Legends), lot 217, grave 21 – did us precious little good. There are no markers on the actual cemetery grounds, so you can’t just count down to whatever location you are seeking. At least 80% of the grave markers are identical, gray, black-lined slabs flush with the earth, so there is very little to catch your eye. We wandered up and down and all around in search of Ozep until fate and a bird conspired to aid us. You see, a duck was waddling around Ozep’s marker as I criss-crossed back and forth in the grassy area overlooking a fake lake with a fake island. The duck was the first thing to catch my attention, followed by Ozep’s grave.
By all accounts, the birth year of 1893 on the grave is incorrect. Virtually all sources that I consulted indicate he was born February 9, 1895.