All posts by russianmonuments

I am a writer and translator living in Moscow since 1988.

Anton Chekhov monument, Zvenigorod

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On July 14, 1884, the 24 year-old Anton Chekhov wrote to his friend, the writer and editor Nikolai Leikin, “In front of my window there is a hill with pines, to the right there is a prisoner’s house, and further to the right there is a shabby little town, formerly a capital city…” The town he had in mind was Zvenigorod, where the monument you see pictured here was erected in 2010, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth.
Chekhov had an acid tongue and pen, and legion are the little and big towns and cities that bore the brunt of his sarcasm over the years. No small effort has been spent in most of those places to find later comments that might lead us to think that the good doctor’s caustic comments weren’t as bad as they seemed, or were later overturned by other, softer opinions. That’s true in the case of Zvenigorod, where most of the texts about Chekhov’s few months here go on to quote him much later in life when he even expressed the wish to his future wife Olga Knipper that they could marry in Zvenigorod. According to an anonymous piece on Chekhov in Zvenigorod in the internet, Chekhov in 1901 wrote to his future bride, “”It really was quite nice in Zvenigorod, I worked there in the hospital once… it would be nice not to go home from the church, but to go directly to Zvenigorod, or get married in Zvenigorod.”
It’s true that Zvenigorod was an important, if brief, way-station for the new doctor and future writer. It was here, just following his graduation from the school of medicine at Moscow University, that he first practiced medicine professionally. There was only one doctor in the city and it was his duty, when leaving on vacation, to find a replacement for his time of absence. Chekhov was the choice, in this case. He spent two weeks as the temporary supervisor of the regional hospital in Zvenigorod, apparently seeing hundreds of patients and taking part in autopsies. It is considered that his stories “The Dead Body” and “The Investigator” published, respectively, in 1885 and 1887 in Petersburg Newspaper under the pseudonym of A. Chekhonte, were inspired by his experiences here.
Zvenigorod has done a decent job keeping the memory of Chekhov alive. The house where he lived with his brother Ivan  on the Istra River is still standing. The hospital where he worked bears his name, and on the hospital grounds both a bust and a plaque commemorate his presence there. It is safe to say I will never again have the opportunity to find and photograph those items, so fans of Chekhov’s life in Zvenigorod will have to dig deeper than this to find information and images of them. My train of knowledge stops here.

This monument – relatively large once you find it, and quite elusive until you do – stands in a city square between Ukrainskaya and Moskovskaya Streets. It was done with an admirable degree of professionalism and affection by sculptor Vladimir Kurochkin. As his website shows, Kurochkin has done a number of sculptures on artistic themes (primarily Russian writers and Western painters), but the bulk of his public works – busts and monuments – has been devoted to military figures.
The Zvenigorod Chekhov is rather routine. Everything is in place, the dog, the walking cane, the pince nez, the goatee, the overcoat… everything you might expect to see in a likeness of Chekhov. The facial similarity meets our expectations, and – no small thing, I suspect, – the hands are sensitive and gentle. Another nice aspect is the bench on which Chekhov sits. It is part of the monument, so that visitors are encouraged to sit down with the great man on common ground and share some thoughts, or even give his dog a scratch behind its perky ears.
This is the “great” Chekhov here, not the young man who came to begin his career in medicine, but the famed and respected writer who apparently even considered buying a dacha in Zvenigorod in 1903, about a year before he died. He came back to visit the town with the potential purchase in mind, but nothing ever came of it. Perhaps that explains the somewhat blank look in his eyes?
If I’m coming across as underwhelmed in my response to this monument, it’s because I am. But I think the surroundings also have something to do with it. The park itself, for all its motley greenery, is quite faceless. Furthermore, Chekhov is shoved way off to the side for some reason. He is backed right up against a fence that cannot hide the nondescript contemporary city street right behind him. He’s not really part of either world – the modern city or the generic park.
Having said all that, however, I will admit that there is always something pleasant about being able to walk up to Anton Chekhov and sit down with him as if for a chat. It’s not the excitement, humor and intellectual stimulation you get from wandering around Leonty Usov’s brilliant monument in Tomsk, but it’ll do if you’re in Zvenigorod and in the need of some Chekhov.

 

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Leonid Gaidai statue, Moscow

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I must say this is the first time I have posted a work of Zurab Tsereteli in this space. I’m not a fan. Everybody in Moscow knows him for several reasons, few of which work in his favor. He has long been the main art consultant for Moscow, overseeing the erection of numerous tasteless monuments created by himself and his cronies. He created the monstrous (in all senses of the word) sculpture of Peter the Great that looms uglily (you think that’s not a word? go see what I’m talking about…) over the Moscow River and the New Tretyakov Gallery. The legend on that is that Tsereteli wanted to give the statue to St. Petersburg and they refused it. Several sources even tell us that he planned on making it a statue of Christopher Columbus and giving it to the U.S., but the Americans – that time at least – couldn’t be duped.
Enough of that, however, my real topic today is film director Leonid Gaidai.
Leonid Gaidai (1923-1993) had one of the great runs of success in Soviet film. From 1965 to 1973 he unveiled five consecutive hit comedies that were not just hit comedies. They were films that mythologized the comic characters of Soviet history for all times. They are films that everyone knows and loves even today because they all run frequently on Russian television. Their scripts are adapted for theater and played on stage. Their characters are beloved figures – the actors who played them are national heroes. The words they spoke are often quoted, the predicaments they got into are familiar and referred to often.
The string began with Operation Y and Other Adventures of Shurik (1965). It continued with The Prisoner Girl of the Caucasus, or, The New Adventures of Shurik (1966), The Diamond Arm (1968), The Twelve Chairs (1971), and Ivan Vasilyevich Changes his Profession (1973). The Twelve Chairs was based on the popular comic novel by Ilf and Petrov, while Ivan Vasilyevich was based on Mikhail Bulgakov’s play Ivan Vasilyevich. Gaidai was always a member of the team that wrote the screenplays.
Gaidai had a special love and appreciation of actors. He was a star-maker, and he was quite loyal to the actors who enjoyed success with him. His Russian Wikipedia article has an entire section devoted to actors and the lists there are quite impressive. Numerous actors worked with him on eight, nine or 10 films. Many of them, huge stars, owe their popularity specifically to their work with Gaidai.
The actor who played Shurik, Alexander Demyanenko (1937-1999) worked in an enormous number of films, at least 110, but throughout his career he was known to the public as “Shurik.” So important was “Shurik” to Gaidai, and Gadai to Shurik, and so popular was the figure of “Shurik,” Tsereteli gave his sculpture of Gaidai some of the same features as his beloved character. So, when you look over these images of Gaidai, you also see more than a little of Shurik. It was a rare clever stroke for Tsereteli, who is better at being obvious with overkill than subtle with humor.

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Gaidai was born in a small town in the Far East, moving with his family later to Irkutsk. During the war Moscow’s Satire Theater was evacuated to Irkutsk where it continued performing new and old shows until the war ended. The young Gaidai worked as a stagehand for awhile at the Irkutsk Drama Theater, apparently handling many of the Satire Theater shows. Perhaps it’s a little romantic to think so, but one wants to think that the exposure to Moscow’s best satire (this was one of the capital’s most popular theaters at that time) had an effect on the young future film director. After the war, during which he was seriously injured, stepping on a mine, he attended and graduated from the Irkutsk Theater Institute in 1947. He studied film directing at the State Film Institute in Moscow from 1949 to 1955. That year he was hired as a staff director at Mosfilm. His first film, The Long Journey, co-directed with Valentin Nevzorov, was released in 1956. It was based on a story by Vladimir Korolenko and told the tragic tale of young love in Siberia. His second film, The Groom from the Other World (1958), was a satire of Soviet bureaucracy and caused the director enormous troubles. The authorities found this film so offensive that they cut half of it out before allowing it to be released. In the process, the film was downgraded from a feature film comedy to a short. In an effort to help the young Gaidai rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the authorities, Mosfilm’s general director Ivan Pyryev essentially forced Gaidai to take on a patriotic topic for his third film, Thrice Resurrected. Although it was scripted by the highly regarded playwright and songwriter Alexander Galich, Gaidai never warmed to this work. A few more years of floundering found him making a couple more short films until he hit his stride with Operation Y and Other Adventures of Shurik. Over his career Gaidai made 15 features and three shorts.
The statue that you see here is one of three made by Tsereteli for the foyer in Eldar Ryazanov’s Eldar Film Club, located at 105 Leninsky Prospect. The other two are of Ryazanov and still another great Soviet film director Georgy Danelia. More about them another time.

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Anna Pavlova plaque, London

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This is another of those instances where your dedicated sleuth and reporter went the extra mile or two to find what I am willing to wager you would never have found on your own. To look it up on the internet it looks incredibly easy: The Anna Pavlova blue plaque commemorating the home in which the great Russian-born dancer lived for many years in London. You can find plenty of photos of the house. That should make it even easier, no?
No.
You can find an address of 6 Ivy House. You can find references to the former Jewish Cultural Center. There is also an address of 94-96 North End Road. The photos of the imposing house are so distinct it would never occur to you that you could possibly walk right by without noticing it.
But that’s just what I did 3 or 4 times before enlisting the aid of a friendly neighbor who was out hosing down his driveway right next to where I knew I wanted to be – although that wasn’t doing me any good.
“Good morning, sir,” said I. “Hate to bother you at your work!”
“Oh, any time!” he replied.
“I think you must know where I want to go,” said I. “I’m looking for one of your neighbors. Maybe you can tell me.”
“Maybe so, maybe not,” he said with a smile.
“I know she’s right here,” I said, “but I have walked back and forth and up and down your street to no avail. Surely you know where Anna Pavlova lived!”
“Oh! Anna PavlOva,” he said with pleasure and veneration, employing the non-Russian pronunciation of the great ballerina’s name. “Yes, I do think she lived somewhere nearby.”
“It’s a great, big beautiful home,” said I. “Very stately. I shouldn’t be able to miss it, but I surely do every time I walk up and back on this street.”
“I’ll bet that’s because it’s behind a big wall now,” my gardening friend told me. “It was bought by a school and they erected a tall fence in front of it. I believe it’s the next house just up from here.”
I thanked the man for his friendly advice and I headed back up North End Road for the third time at least. And sure enough. There was the fence, behind which arose several nondescript gables (see photo immediately below). Was this it? I walked up to the gate and peered around the corner and – yessiree – there was the house. Not really in all its glory because you really can’t get an angle to look at it from the street. But I finally did realize I had reached my destination. Next up: the plaque. Peering through the gate like a thief on prowl I searched up and down the walls of the house – no plaque was to be seen.
As I contemplated my next move I saw a woman ring a bell and enter the gates seconds later. I resolved to do the same. A kind-voiced young woman came on the line and asked if she could help. I assured her she could. I needed to get inside to find the Anna Pavlova blue plaque. Could she let me in?
“Oh, no. Not now,” she said, almost worried. “Come back in a half an hour. The children are being let out now and we can’t have any strangers crossing paths with them before they’re all gone.”
“A half an hour?” I asked back. “I’m losing daylight and I have several other places to be today,” I pleaded. “I’ve come from Russia. I’m a journalist,” I added, sort of telling the truth. “I’ve come specifically to photograph the plaque. But I don’t see it anywhere.”
“Oh, it’s here,” the kind young lady said. “But it’s behind the fence. You can’t see it.”
“Oh,” I said, getting more and more disappointed.
“Come back in 15 minutes,” she said through the intercom. I’ll try to let you in then.”
I promised her I would and I walked across the street to try to find an angle to photograph the home (see the last photo in the following block for that result). I took a shot or two and, bored, went back to stand by the gate. Although 15 minutes hadn’t passed, I unexpectedly heard the young woman’s voice through the intercom again.
“Sir? Sir?!”
I ran to the door. “Yes?” I said.
“Push on the door,” she told me. “It will open.”
I did and it did. Shortly thereafter, a woman dressed in black came out the front door and headed in my direction. It was the lady from the speaker phone. We exchanged pleasantries then got down to business. The plaque, I was told, was now closed off in a side area behind locked gates. I asked if I could have access – I’d come all the way from Russia. I repeated this information in a whine that employed my best wounded-bird voice. “Oh, I’ll have to ask. I couldn’t make that decision myself,” she said. She went in to ask permission to let me into the hallowed ground and I began photographing the building straight on. If you look at the second photo above you will see the young lady coming back out and trying to run out of the photo before I snapped the shot. God bless her, she had secured permission for me to go inside the holy-of-holies side yard to shoot the plaque. See the second and third photos below for that.
After I snapped those shots we went back out and chatted for a few minutes. I was assured that the school had plans to move the plaque out from its current prison onto a place on the building that would be more visible from the street. There was no fence before the school purchased the property in 2015 – it had been put up as protection for the children, history be damned.

Apparently quite a few items belonging to Pavlova are still present in the house. My friendly acquaintance told me there is often talk about turning one of the rooms into a small Pavlova museum in order to collect all the items in one place. I solemnly confirmed that this would be a wonderful idea – particularly if people could have access to it… In fact, there was something of an exhibition here 12 years ago. A small piece in The Independent tells us about that, suggesting that the home became a Jewish Cultural Center because “Pavlova’s unknown father is thought to have been Jewish.”
Pavlova bought this house in Hampstead Heath – originally built in the 18th century – in 1912. It remained her home until her death in 1931. In fact, this is where she died. I don’t know when the structure was given over to the Jewish Cultural Center, but the majority of references to the building on the internet are to the Jewish center. According to one source, it was purchased by the school – now known as St. Anthony’s School for Girls – for 6.25 million pounds in 2015. To the best of my ability to ascertain, it was called Ivy House 6 when Pavlova lived here. At some point the modern address became 94-96 North End Road, most probably during the tenure of the Jewish Cultural Center. The West Hampstead School of Dance was located in Pavlova’s former home until the property was bought by St. Anthony’s.
Several photographs and even some video of Pavlova in the house and its gardens has been put together in a YouTube short. Another video repeats some of the same footage but includes a very brief, but quite wonderful, sound recording, reportedly the only extant recording that we have of Pavlova’s voice.

 

 

Sergei Rachmaninoff at the Savage Club, London

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Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) had four years left to live, but when he performed on tour in the UK in 1939 he was looking so haggard that even the newspapers were writing about it. Sergei Rachmaninoff: A Lifetime in Music pulls together several comments about the pianist’s declining health at this time, such as one paper calling him a “weary titan,” and Rachmaninoff himself admitting in an interview in the Northern Echo that he had been ill for five days straight and wasn’t entirely sure he would be well enough to travel to Middlesbrough, let alone perform.
Perform he did, however, and apparently after the concert he told friends he was back to normal health again. It was either a case of Rachmaninoff brushing off comments of concern, or it was an example of that miracle known as “the stage heals.” Many a performer has walked onto a stage feeling under the weather; many have come back off feeling quit chipper.
Of course there is that one last time it doesn’t work, and that moment would come upon Rachmaninoff at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville on Feb. 17, 1943. Having pushed himself farther than he could go, he had to cancel the rest of that tour and return home to Los Angeles where he would die five weeks later.
But back to the UK in 1939. In February and March of that year Rachmaninoff undertook a tour that saw him perform 12 concerts in 25 days. He opened on Feb. 16 in Birmingham and appears to have concluded in Cardiff on March 12.  Other cities were London (Feb. 18), Liverpool (Feb. 19), Sheffield (Feb. 21), Southampton (Feb. 24), Middlesbrough (Feb. 28), Glasgow (Mar. 2), Edinburgh (Mar. 4), Oxford (Mar. 7), Manchester (Mar. 9), London (Mar. 11). Scott Davie’s wonderful Rachmaninoff site lists the Cardiff show on the 12th, although I have seen comments elsewhere stating that the March 11 London  performance at the old Queen’s Hall (destroyed two years later during the bombing of London) was the last of the UK concerts for that tour – and his last ever performances in the UK. It is after the London show – where his performances included Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and some of his own works – that Rachmaninoff would be taken to the Sydney Savage Club in the heart of London at One Whitehall Place, which you see pictured here from several angles. Fortunately, a monster delivery truck parked smack dab in front of the entrance for the entire time I was shooting, finally left after I decided to leave, so I ran back and got a few of the straight-on shots that you see here.
On the evening he spent at the Savage Club, Rachmaninoff came as the guest of his good friend, Odessa-born pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch. The Evening News reported the event as follows: “After his concert at Queen’s Hall on Saturday afternoon he was taken to the Savage Club, where, to his surprise, they made him an honorary member. A musician friend of mine who was a guest tells me it was amusing to see the great pianist’s reaction to the carefree abandon of the gathering.” Even today the Savage Club’s website still lists Rachmaninoff as an honorary member, along with Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Dickens, Dylan Thomas and others. Thanks to Sergei Bertensson and Jay Leda, the authors of A Lifetime in Music, we know it was Moiseiwitsch that brought Rachmaninoff to the club because they inserted that information in brackets in the middle of the Evening News report.

Benno Moiseiwitsch (1890-1963) can now occasionally be found in “forgotten pianist” lists, although that seems awfully harsh. He was a deep admirer of Rachmaninoff, who was also a Moiseiwitsch fan, the former calling the latter his “spiritual heir.” As for Moiseiwitsch’s performances of Rachmaninoff’s works, here is what Grammophone wrote in a review of  The Moiseiwitsch-Rachmaninov Recordings, 1937-43: “No pianist other than the composer himself has been more intimately associated with Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody than Moiseiwitsch. And, as a corollary, no other pianist has played either work with such a feline ease and sensitivity.” Fortunately for us, Abram Chasins, a U.S. composer, pianist, author, and radio executive, did a radio interview with Moiseiwitsch in 1950 that we can still listen to on YouTube.
There Moiseiwitsch sheepishly tells of his first meeting with Rachmaninoff following his own piano recital at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1919. He had actually attended Rachmaninoff’s performance a week earlier but was too embarrassed to approach the great man. Rachmaninoff had no such qualms and came backstage with a friend to introduce himself after the Moiseiwitsch recital. Benno opines that it was his performance of three or four of Rachmaninoff’s preludes that was the “link that started our friendship.”
When I last saw him it was the year when the war broke out and he was in London in March, and he told me he was coming back in September to play his First Concerto for the first time. So although I studied it – they wanted me to play – I said I would not play, because I want Rachmaninoff to give the first performance. So we waited, and, of course, Rachmaninoff went back to America and [there] was no likelihood of his coming to play in England. So I was the first to play this work, in the new version at any rate.”
Later in the interview – which is definitely worth listening to in full – Moiseiwitsch tells more about the last time he saw Rachmaninoff in his hotel room – I’m guessing this would have been a day or two after the visit to the Savage Club. The two gossiped about numerous of their pianist colleagues, praising each for something, but damning each for something else. As Moiseiwitsch was leaving the room, Rachmaninoff said, “Thank you!”
No, thank you,” said the younger of the two men.
But Rachmaninoff continued, “No, I want to thank you because you killed everybody except me!”
To which Moiseiwitsch, clearly more emboldened than at their first meeting 20 years before, shot back, “Wait a moment, next week I’m lunching with [Josef] Hofmann. Then we’ll kill you! So the last I saw of him was mouth wide opened, roaring with silent laughter.”
I would like to acknowledge Natalia Dissanayake’s wonderful book Russian Fates in London (Russkie sud’by v Londone, London, NED, 2016), where I first ran across reference to Rachmaninoff’s visit to the Savage Club on pg. 243. Thanks also to Larissa Itina, who let me run off with her only copy of the book. I’ll have reason to refer to it again in the future.

 

Maria Ouspenskaya grave, Los Angeles/Glendale

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“We increasingly live among the dead.”
The thought hardly belongs to Maksym Kurochkin, you can find all kinds of people who said it before I heard him make the comment one day at the Actors House in Moscow, probably around 1999. But it’s a fact of my own biography that the first time I was ever confronted by the notion stated so clearly was when Max uttered it during a post-performance discussion of some show I have long since forgotten. The show is gone from memory, the actors, the director, almost all of the audience around me – all familiar faces at the time – all of them wiped clean. Max’s comment continues to live on in me with that very tenacity of the dead.
It comes back to me as I post more photos of a gravesite, this one the final resting place of Maria Ouspenskaya, a Moscow Art Theater alumna who had a significant impact on American theater and film in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
Ouspenskaya (1887-1949) was born in Tula, Russia. She died a rather grisly death, almost as if from one of the horror movies in which she acted – she fell asleep with a lit cigarette in hand and woke up amidst a fire. The wounds that she suffered from the fire, as well as the stroke it induced, were lethal. She died a few days later. I actually went in search of the house where she died, but, as far as I can tell, it no longer exists. My guess is that – if anything was left of from the fire in the first place – it later fell victim to the widening of the 101 freeway that runs through Los Angeles.
As some, rather empty, compensation, she now lies in a peaceful setting beneath the branches of a huge tree in the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale. Her marker lies about 30 yards to the left of the right border of the cemetery’s Eventide section. She is in the first row along Arlington Road, plot 3741-6, just to the left of the tree. Visitors can look up to a sloping hill behind her, and back down across segments of East Los Angeles below her. There is a legend out there that she demanded to be addressed, and credited in films, as “Madam Ouspenskaya,” and, sure enough, that is how she is identified on her grave marker – “our beloved Madam.”
This Madam was a formidable woman, actress and teacher despite, or perhaps, because of her slight build. One source tells us she never weighed more than 90 pounds in her life. Others point out that she was demanding as hell and could be extremely hard on students. She referred to her hard nose attitude in an interview in 1941: “All through my life I have been stubborn about my dreams! Nothing could ever stop me from dreaming. If there is determination – if the wish is strong and built on a foundation of joy – in one way or another it will come true.” (Quoted in Pamela Sue Heilman’s PdD dissertation, The American Career of Maria Ouspenskaya (1887-1949): Actress and Teacher [1999]. It’s a fount of information, I highly suggest you read it if you’re interested in Ouspenskaya).

Ouspenskaya (whose name would be transliterated as Uspenskaya were it done today) studied singing in Warsaw and acting in Moscow in Alexander Adashev’s private dramatic courses. She joined the Moscow Art Theatre in 1911 and remained in the company until 1924, when she jumped ship, metaphorically speaking, and stayed in New York to play her trade there. She performed in at least five Soviet short films, although there is something fishy about the fifth,  Tanya the Tavern Girl, which the iMDB site writes came out in 1929, at least five years after she settled in New York. I don’t know whether the film was just late in coming out, or if there is another explanation. Her first film was in the relatively well known screen version of The Cricket on the Hearth (1915), starring Mikhail Chekhov and the rest of the cast of the famed Moscow Art Theatre First Studio production. Ouspenskaya was a founding member of the First Studio.
Her first work in American film was William Wyler’s Dodsworth in 1936. She often played countesses or baronesses; in this case she played Baroness von Obersdorf. She spoke with a lovely Russian accent that Broadway and Hollywood loved – she was often the go-to actress for severe-looking European high society women. Her demeanor also made her perfect in the budding genre of the horror film, and, at least for armchair historians, she is now most famed for her performance opposite Lon Chaney, Jr., in The Wolf Man (1941). She figures prominently in the trailer for the film which, thanks to YouTube, you can watch right now. The Classic Monsters site says this about her performance: “As Maleva the Gypsy Woman, she played opposite Lon Chaney in Universal’s most important horror movie of the 1940s, The Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi also starred as Maleva’s hapless son Bela and, despite the film being one of the strongest of all the Universal horrors, not to mention the Wolf Man himself being one of their most iconic monsters, it is Maria Ouspenskaya’s superlative performance that adds an extra finesse, making an already excellent film outstanding.” Her character Maleva was reprised in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). She was nominated for Oscars in 1937 (Dodsworth) and 1940 (Love Affair).
In her time at the Art Theater, Ouspenskaya played numerous roles both as a replacement for other actors, and creating original roles. She was one of seven Art Theater actors to remain in New York when the company headed back to Moscow in 1924. She soon began teaching and performing – with surprising frequency and admirable success – in New York playhouses. Along with Richard Boleslawsky, one of those Art Theater actors to remain in the States, Ouspenskaya helped to found and run the American Laboratory Theater in New York. Her first English-language foray on the American stage captured a rave notice in the New York Times: “The cheers for Saturday night’s audience were rather for Maria Ouspenskaya, stepping from the ensemble of the Moscow Art Theatre to play her first role in English— and to play it, to the astonishment of everyone, easily and colloquially.” Chapters Five and Six in Heilman’s dissertation, whence this last quote, provide a wealth of information about Ouspenskaya’s work in the U.S. theater.

 

Ivan Lebedeff home, Los Angeles

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I’ve written about Ivan Lebedeff here in the past; he was a marvelous character, one of the defining figures of the so-called “White emigration” in Hollywood in the early years. Never famous in the direct sense of the word, he was ever-present on the star scene. He always had a starlet at his arm, his mustachio, like his monocle, was always in perfect position, and he himself was always at the hottest premiere or the coolest bar and restaurant where the tinsel shimmered and glittered in the warm Southern California summer breezes. Looking for something new to write about him today, I happened upon a web book called Who’s Who in California (Volume 1942-43), which has a wealth of details I had not previously discovered. In addition to confirming that Lebedeff lived at 8888 Appian Way in the Hollywood Hills, it provides many specifics about his life in Russia before he emigrated.
He received a Master of Literature degree at the age of 20 at the University of St. Petersburg in 1914, following that with a Master of Law degree from the Imperial Lyceum of Alexander I (St. Petersburg) in 1917. It was a propitious time for a nobleman to receive such a status, since just months later the Russian Revolution swept the standing government out of power.
Lebedeff was a much-decorated soldier. His military service began when he enlisted as a volunteer in the 3rd Regiment of Dragoons, with which he participated in the East Prussian campaign. In 1915 he was appointed Commander of Guerilla troops in the Pinsk Marshes, and, in that capacity, led his men on over one hundred raids. 1916 was an active year for Lebedeff as World War I continued to unfold. That year he received the commission of 2nd, then 1st Lieutenant, participated in the capture of German Lieutenant-General Von Fabarius (read more about that here), and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Captain. In 1917 he fought on the Rumanian front and was promoted to the rank of Major. His awards and medals included: St. George Medal, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Class; St. George Cross, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Class; St. Stanislaus, 2nd and 3rd Class; St. Anna, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Class; St. Vladimir, 4th Class; and the Order of the Knight of St. George, 4th Class.
One has the feeling that Lebedeff himself provided all this information for the book; it’s otherwise too detailed and complete to believe that some researcher would have unearthed all this for the book on his or her own. As such, one can almost picture Lebedeff pulling down a dusty old box from a high shelf somewhere in this house at 8888 Appian Way, and looking over all his medals as he carefully jotted them down in a list to send to the editors. Even though most refugees from the Soviet Union left with little on their backs, one feels certain that Lebedeff, who clearly put a great deal of stock in his years as a soldier for the Tsar, would have left behind much, but not those medals. In fact, Lebedeff only lists two organizations of which he was a member in these years, and one of them was the Russian World War Veterans (an honorary membership). The other was the Motion Pictures Actors Guild.

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Unexpected for me was the fact that Lebedeff was an oft-published author of fiction and non-fiction.  He wrote the original story for The Gay Diplomat, a 1931 film in which he performed as an actor. He was also the author of a novel titled Legion of Dishonor (NY: Liveright Publishing Co., 1940). The book can even be had today online for a very reasonable $10. A rarer copy is available for $85 should you be a collector. His interest in foreign affairs led to him penning an essay titled “Japan will swallow China” for the Los Angeles Times (Dec. 6, 1931). Lebedeff had been inclined to test his powers as a writer even before he left Russia. He wrote the short stories “Temple of Beauty,” Nurse Natasha,” and “Woman and Tiger” in the years 1915-16. (The source suggests these tales were published in “Lyceum Monthly,” although my brief internet research does not turn up any reference to such a historical publication.) (Add note: see comment below by LanguageHat to clarify this publication.) On military affairs Lebedeff published “Psychological Strategy in Guerilla Warfare” (New Time; St. Petersburg, 1916), and the apparently prescient “Second World War Inevitable” in the Revue de Deux Mondes (Paris, 1923).
To fill out the wealth of information provided in this book, we shall add that Lebedeff enjoyed horse-riding and hunting, he was a member of the Russian-Orthodox Church (it actually says the “Greek Orthodox Church”), and the Republican Party. I provided information in the last blog about Lebedeff that he was a close friend of, God forbid, Ayn Rand, and that he had friends among fascists in Germany. Times were tough, we do need to remember that.
Finally, the book lists 8888 Appian Way as Lebedeff’s home and business address.
The Movieland Directory puts Lebedeff in this house from 1944 to 1948, based on voting records. It puts him at other addresses, including 8419 De Longpre Ave. in the 1930s and up to at least 1940 (again, as per voting records). But we know from the book referenced so heavily above that that he was resident at 8888 Appian Way at least as early as 1942-43. Lebedeff, born in 1894, died in 1953. I do not know if he was still resident here for those last five years of his life. At present (2018), the home on Appian Way has four bedrooms, one bath, and consists of 1,690 square feet of living space on a lot of 6,842 square feet. As you can see in one of the last photos below, it looks out over the Los Angeles basin from the Hollywood Hills.

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Maximilian Voloshin apartment, St. Petersburg

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Three people come together in today’s brief and fragmentary tale: Maximilian Voloshin, Oksana Mysina, and Konstantin Olonovsky.
I never met Kostya Olonovsky, although his role in, and influence on, my life has been enormous. Kostya was a film director, an experimenter who loved to play with images, music, poetry and the intersection of art and life. My wife Oksana performed in a couple of his films; his last – unmade – screenplay was written for Oksana; and he made music videos of at least two songs by Oksana’s band Oxy Rocks (The World on Edge, and The Sky Above Me). When Oksana and I were looking for advice on where to travel in Greece a few years ago, she called Kostya and asked him because he – with partial Greek heritage – had lived and worked there for a time. His answer was that we should go to Chania, Crete, because “Chania is like a living film location.” We took his advice, we immediately fell in love with Chania and the island of Crete, and it has now become an integral part of our lives. A few years ago Kostya made a film called Whisper. The Silver Age, for which, among others, Oksana recited the work of several Russian Silver Age poets. As he prepared to enter the film in a European festival he wrote and asked me to look over some internet translations of the poetry – he needed to submit the film with English subtitles. I immediately came back to him with the offer to translate the poems myself. I do not consider myself particularly adept at translating poetry, but I knew I could surely do better than Google. The poets whose work I Englished for Kostya were Alexander Blok, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Andrei Bely and Maximilian Voloshin. I don’t know if he ever inserted the subtitles, I don’t know if he ever submitted the film to the festival. (The internet version of the film which I link to above does not have subtitles.) I do know that at about that time he was diagnosed with a virulent strain of cancer that soon after stopped him from working, stopped him from leaving his bed, and finally killed him in late summer 2017. He was 33 years old. Oksana, with Konstantin’s creative team, and the blessing of Konstantin’s widow, is currently preparing to make a film based on the director’s last screenplay. To do so, she has removed herself from the cast of actors and will take on the task of directing.
I thought about a lot of this the last time I was in St. Petersburg. Among the many landmarks I happened upon was the one pictured here today – the first building in which Maximilian Voloshin lived in St. Petersburg. The address is 153 Nevsky Prospect and it is located almost at the very end of that famed thoroughfare – not far at all from the Aleksandro-Nevsky monastery, and on the same side of the street. Voloshin was 26 when in 1903 he took up residence in apartment No. 61, one of the living spaces high up under the roof. Voloshin wrote and published his first poetry while living here, although at the the time he was more inclined to see himself as a future painter. He apparently only spent a few months here before moving on.
When one reads the excerpts of the Voloshin poem that Olonovsky included in Whisper. The Silver Age, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that he already sensed danger in his near future. Even more than that, however, one sees in the verses the sensibility that marked Kostya as a director. Kostya clearly had a kinship with Voloshin. I’m grateful for everything that Konstantin Olonovsky brought to my family – including the opportunity to allow even just a little bit of Maximilian Voloshin to pass through me into English.

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Maximilian Voloshin
A fragment chosen by Konstantin Olonovsky from the “Rebellion” segment of the poem cycle “In Cain’s Footsteps” (more literally, “By the Paths of Cain”).
Translated by John Freedman

The world is a ladder on whose steps
Man rose.
We can feel
What he has left along his way.
Animals and stars are the toxins of flesh
That burned in the creative fire:
They all in their turn served man
As footing,
And every step
Was a rebellion of creative spirit.
Only two paths are open to any being
Caught in the trap of equilibrium:
The way of mutiny and the way of conforming.
Mutiny is madness;
The laws of nature do not change.
But in the battle for the truth of the impossible
The madman
Transubstantiates himself,
And, having conformed, stops still
On the step that he passed.
The beast adapts to the inflections of nature,
While a man stubbornly rows
Against the waterfall that carries
The universe
Back to ancient chaos.
He affirms God by his mutiny,
Creates by lack of faith, builds by denial.
He’s an architect:
His model is death,
His clay – the crosswinds of his spirit.

A man’s flesh is a scroll on which
All the dates of being are noted.

They are waymarks, leaving on the road
His brothers fallen by the side:
Birds and beasts and fish.
He walked the way of fire through nature.
Blood is the first sign of earthly mutiny;
The second sign
Is a torchlight blowing in the wind.
In the beginning there was the only Ocean,
Smoking on a white-hot bed.
And from this heated womb there sprang
The inextricable knot of life: flesh,
Shot through with breathing and beating.
The planet cooled.
Life caught flame.
Our progenitor, the one from the cooling waters
Who dragged his fishy carcass onto land,
Kept with him all that ancient Ocean
With the breathing of the swaying tides,
The primordial warmth and salty water –
Live blood coursing through its veins,
The monstrous creatures multiplied
On the beaches.
The sculptor, ever the perfectionist,
Wiped from the face of earth and made anew
All likenesses and forms.
Man
Was nowhere seen amid the earthly flock.
Sliding from the poles, great icy masses
Pushed out the life that teemed in the valleys.
Only then did the blaze of a bonfire
Inform the beasts about man.

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