Category Archives: Gravesites

Ivan Lebedeff gravesite, Glendale, CA

 

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Ivan Lebedeff is not exactly one of the household names in the Tinseltown pantheon. Nevertheless, the actor – often called “Hollywood’s champion hand-kisser” – had quite a career. That, in itself, is clear from the fact that his burial place lies in the rarified shadows of the grand tomb of Mary Pickford in the Gardens of Memory at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, CA. The inscription on the bronze plaque is somewhat confusing. It states that Lebedeff was the “beloved husband of Wera [Engels-Lebedeff] and Mary’s devoted friend.” That and, which I put in italics, implies that Ivan was Mary’s close friend, when by all accounts, it was Wera and Mary who were close. Maybe the and was supposed to have been a comma, I don’t know. But the fact remains a fact – Lebedeff and his wife are both buried here in this hallowed ground.
Before launching into his life as a film actor, Lebedeff had already lived quite a life. He was born June 18, 1894, on his parents’ family estate in Ushpol (later known as Užpaliai) in Lithuania, which, at that time, was a part of the Russian empire. His father Vasily was well-placed in St. Petersburg society, by all accounts an advisor or confidant of the Tsar. This made it possible for the young Ivan to study at the Lyceum at Tsarskoe Tselo, the same lyceum where Alexander Pushkin was educated 100 years earlier. The young Lebedev (the double-F ending would become the norm only after emigrating to the West) was apparently headed for a life in the diplomatic corps, but World War I put a stop to that. I will let William Donati, author of The Life and Death of Thelma Todd, pick up the story:
…At the outbreak of the Great War, he enlisted in the Corps of Pages, a privileged military school for future guard officers. He fought against the Germans and was decorated. In the revolution he fought against the Bolsheviks but was captured and imprisoned. He escaped to Paris where he survived as a stock broker, playwright, and actor. After making pictures in Vienna and Paris, he attracted the attention of D.W. Griffith, who hired him for The Sorrows of Satan.”
It is worth pointing out that Lebedev was one of those who suffered from mustard gas in the First World War and he received a St. George’s Cross, the highest Russian honor, from the hand of Nikolai II himself, and, also, that his escape from prison was something out of a fairy tale. It just so happened that his family’s former lackey was one of the guards in the prison and he helped his former master escape. He did so by going first through Constantinople, Turkey, and then on to Europe. Here, let me allow a Russian web biography pick up the story – it puts a bit of a different slant on things, particularly on the “stock broker” tidbit:
…At the end of the Civil War, in August 1919 Lebedev boarded the French cruiser Tuareg to Constantinople. There [he made a living selling] antiques and works of art. He then went to Vienna and, in the hope of making big money, played the stock market. He became involved in a huge financial scandal, lost everything and became a beggar. From there he went to Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam, Paris and Zurich … His wanderings were caused by his desperate situation and his lack of money. Luck smiled on Lebedev in Berlin, where he met a director named Robinson in a tram. Robinson immediately offered his companion a role. In 1922, Lebedev starred in the silent film King Frederick, and beginning in 1924, in France in the silent films The Happy Death, The Artist’s Soul, 600,000 Francs a Month, and The Charming Prince.
One can imagine both Robinson and D.W. Griffith hiring Lebedeff (as his name would have been spelled now) on short notice. He was a dashing, handsome man, who retained all the manners and mannerisms of a nobleman and an officer. He was everything the moving pictures of the time adored.

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Once in Hollywood he launched into a relatively successful career as a character actor. The imdb website lists 67 credits between 1926 and his death in 1953. (They do not list his European credits, nor do they list at least one other Hollywood film, The Voice of Hollywood, No. 3, released August 2, 1931 (citation: Edwin M. Bradley’s The First Hollywood Sound Shorts, 1926-31). True, of those films, 16 were uncredited roles, one was a short and another was a film in which all of Lebedeff’s scenes were left on the cutting floor. You get a feel for the way he was typecast by perusing the characters he was asked to play – five Princes, five Counts, four Barons, four Marquises, three Captains, and so forth. At least one film seems never to have happened. In it he was to have played the lead in a script that he co-wrote himself with British playwright Benn Levy. According to a 1931 gossip column he was signed to play the lead in Strange Women, a tale based on his own life. The famed teacher Richard Boleslavsky was to have directed, and Irene Dunn was slated to play the female lead. Several years later he did play a small part in a film called Strange Wives (1934), but this would appear to be something else entirely – the director, screenwriter and stars are completely different. The extent to which Lebedeff’s career tumbled in the later years is borne out by a still photo of Lebedeff sitting with Mary Pickford in 1952. The caption identifies him not as an actor, but rather as the Los Angeles director for the National Economic Council of New York. Still, Lebedeff did play featured roles opposite Jean Harlow, Mae West and other top stars.
Thanks to a fabulous fan blog we have access to a marvelous three-page feature that Harry Lang wrote about Lebedeff in Photoplay magazine in November 1931. It is chock-full of the tidbits any Tinseltowner would love to hear – all about Lebedeff’s philosophy of kissing hands, his use of his monocle (his vision was actually so bad he could not drive), his shaving practices, his haberdashery habits, his likes and dislikes in women and food. I’d love to quote the entire article, it is that good. But, assuming you’ll go read it yourself, I’ll limit myself to this lovely bit about his walking cane:
The reason he carries a stick is because, while in Russian military service in his earlier life, he formed the habit of holding in his left hand the hilt of his sword. When he abandoned the uniform, he felt so uncomfortable without something in his hand that he adopted the habit of carrying a stick, always. He owns half a dozen sticks – all bamboo and all alike. He does not swing the stick when walking. He carries it rigidly.”
In short, the more you read about Lebedeff the more you like him. And then you run across the fact that he was a close friend of Ayn Rand! Could there be anyone more loathsome? Ann C. Heller, in Ayn Rand and the World She Made, writes about a party that Lebedeff threw for his friend at the Russian Eagle cafe after the premiere of her play The Night of January 16th in 1934. Rand, of course, though we hate to acknowledge it, was another member of the struggling Russian emigre community at that time. Born Alisa Rosenbaum in St. Petersburg, she would soon become a celebrated writer whose philosophy of extreme individualism poisoned American politics in the early 21st century. One is tempted to write the Lebedeff-Rand friendship off as unimportant, but then you run across another tidbit that makes you wonder. Lebedeff’s widow, Wera Engels-Lebedeff returned to her homeland of Germany after her husband’s death in the 1950s and lived out most of the rest of her life with a certain Erna Hoffmann, the widow of Adolf Hitler’s notorious friend and personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. Hitler and Rand; not the best of company to keep.
A few more details, beginning with Lebedeff’s first name. He was apparently known generally among friends by the diminutive “Vanichka” (which would be transliterated as “Vanechka” these days). His first name was pronounced in the American style as EYE-van, rather than in the Russian pronunciation of ee-VAHN.
The Russian site referenced above tells us that Lebedeff spoke eight languages fluently – Russian, English, German, Italian, Greek, Armenian, Turkish and French. And it quotes a Hollyood gossip columnist as writing in 1930 that, “Not a single social event is held in Hollywood without the participation of Ivan Lebedev. Men hate him, and women admire him, but Lebedev pays no attention to that!”

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Leo Tolstoy grave, Yasnaya Polyana

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The first time I visited Yasnaya Polyana it was in the dead of winter. Shoveled snow was piled up shoulder-high and higher alongside the walkways and paths around the sprawling gardens of Leo Tolstoy’s former estate about a half hour’s drive south of Tula. It was one of those wonderful Russian winter days when the temperature had dropped below -10C (14F), which meant the snow underfoot was giving off marvelous squeaky crunches with every step Oksana and I took.  If I remember correctly, the temperature that day was around -13C or -14C (8F), so the crunchy briskness around us was downright delicious. I might add that this is not at all a cold temperature. When the temp falls below -10C pretty much all of the moisture is frozen out of the air, so that the air is very dry and quite comfortable. Naturally, you’re well dressed and that takes care of it. But back for a moment to the crunchy briskness all around us: you see, one of the marvelous things about Yasnaya Polyana is that you rarely run into other people, and the noises of the city are far, far away. Sure a few people pass here and there, a handful of other pilgrims like yourself, or gardeners or tour guides making their way from one place to another. But for all intents and purposes, Yasnaya Polyana provides you a one-on-one experience. You are virtually alone with your thoughts and with whatever nature has to offer you that day. On my first trip that made the crunch and the crackle of the snow underfoot (as well as of the tree branches bending and occasionally groaning under the weight of heavy snow) all the louder. It was more than enough to throw one into a state of revery.
There was much that was remarkable about my first trip to Yasnaya Polyana, but the unequivocal highlight was our long walk through the woods to Tolstoy’s gravesite. I would guess that it is at least a 15 minute walk from the house, maybe 20. The entire way takes you through wild woods, apple groves, small, grassy glades, and gorgeous, winding pathways. On that winter afternoon in the early 2000s, there was a special quality to the day’s waning light. The trees, as I have said, were laden down with snow, thus cutting out much of what was left of the available sunlight. Everything around us seemed dark and mysterious, making the beauty it commanded even more powerful. The walk is long enough that you are lulled into thinking you might never reach your destination. You become so attuned to the sounds and sights around you – constantly changing and monotonous all at once – that you become one with the road. The journey becomes the destination and you accept the fact that what you are doing – walking down a winding path – is entirely a self-sufficient activity. You give yourself up to the moment and to the specific location that you occupy at each passing moment, understanding that this, in itself, is what you have come for.
And then it happened. We turned a slight bend in the path and both Oksana and I gasped together. We both saw it, it hit us both. Up ahead of us, around a small patch of snow-covered ground, light was emanating from below, from the earth itself. This was not light coming from above, it was light shining as if coming up out of the earth. A few steps more and we realized: this is where Leo Tolstoy is buried. There it was, a long, narrow mound of earth stacked with pine branches all covered in snow. We could not help but ask – and I did ask Oksana out loud – can it be possible that Tolstoy’s burial place gives off light? Well, of course it doesn’t, and, of course, there is an explanation. We recognized it quickly enough. Throughout the forest the entire way to the gravesite no one bothers to clear away thick, old dead branches that clog up the light from the sky, especially when they are covered in snow. You feel you are making your way through an enchanted darkness. All around Tolstoy’s grave, however, gardeners are careful to keep the tree canopy at a minimum. They also clear away fallen branches and other natural debris that might fall near it. The result is that more sunlight pours down upon the grave in this small spot than anywhere around it. Furthermore – and this is the key to the magic – the brilliantly white, snow-covered ground all around the mound where Tolstoy’s body was laid to rest fully reflects all of the light that reaches it from above. In short, the gardeners at Yasnaya Polyana work hard and meticulously to be certain that, during snowy weather, it will seem as if the earth Tolstoy is buried in gives off light.
Believe me. It doesn’t matter that it is a kind of sleight of hand. The effect is stunning and lasting. In my mind, ten or more years later, I still see that light emanating from the earth around Tolstoy’s grave.

After traveling to Yasnaya Polyana in mid-October 2017, I can say that the “special effects” of the walk to Tolstoy’s grave are different in fall, though no less stunning. The golds and reds and greens and yellows and browns shimmering against a milky gray sky offer a sensory overload of visual pleasure and spiritual calm. This time the sounds are of rustling and shuffling as your feet traipse over a bed of fallen leaves and the wind ripples gently through the hundreds of thousands, or millions, or billions, of branches and leaves. As you see from the photos here the gardeners are fast at work in autumn, too. They keep the grave covered in fresh pine branches, while making sure that falling leaves do not blot out the green mound standing amidst a sea of yellow.
As I walked around the grave taking photos, I was fascinated to find that my camera refused to let me place the grave front and center in the frame. I am a fan (though not a fanatic) of purposeful “flat, frontal” photography. Especially in urban settings. I like that simplicity. I like to take measure of a thing centered in its surroundings, shown front on, with its face able to speak to us. But Tolstoy’s grave simply would not “go” to the center of my viewfinder. It wanted to be in a corner, it wanted to be a part of an ensemble of figures (whether that be trees, carpets of leaves, green spots, ravines or walkways wandering away). It wanted to be modest, though not necessarily shy. Now is that not another aspect of the magic of which I wrote above? I believe it is. Of all the photos I took of the grave only one (the first in the block above) allowed me to bring the grave close to center (although not entirely). This was only because I was already walking away and was already at some distance. But look at the first photo I took upon seeing the grave for the first time (the first photo at the very top): even there my camera lens wandered off to the left of the grave. The focal point point was the road leading us to the grave, not the grave itself. Although in my mind I was photographing the grave, not the path.
Two facts:
1) Tolstoy himself chose this site for his grave. It was one of his favorite spots in childhood, a place he called “the place of the green wand,” where his beloved brother Nikolai and he used to come to play.
2) Tolstoy insisted that there be no marker over his grave. He reportedly said (I am paraphrasing, not quoting), “A rich man will spend much money to erect a grand monument to himself, but no one will come see it. A righteous man will do nothing to mark his final resting place, but if he has deserved it, people will come.” His long-suffering wife Sofya was adamant that her great husband should be honored with a fitting gravestone. She even went so far as to have it designed. But her children prevailed and stopped her from having any marker erected. It’s a good thing. Leo Tolstoy’s gravesite provides an astonishing spiritual experience.
Epilogue: I have written at length elsewhere on this site about the influence that Tolstoy and, specifically, War and Peace, had on my life. I won’t repeat that now. But I will add this: when I was preparing to leave for my first trip to Russia in 1979, it was entirely a result of having read War and Peace and then Anna Karenina and then Resurrection, and then… and then… By that time, Dostoevsky and Gogol and Turgenev and Pushkin and Lermontov had all made deep impressions, but it was always Tolstoy, and War and Peace, that brought me to that moment in my life that my bags were packed and I was to head to the airport the next morning. That evening, on the eve of my departure, I stood in the dining room of my parents’ house and talked to my mother. I wasn’t much of one to open up emotionally to my family, but at that moment, I was compelled to say, “Mom, you know, I feel very strongly that I will not come back from Russia the same person. I will come back a different person.” Mom, with the wisdom and understanding that she always had, looked at me as if I didn’t even need to have said that. “I’m sure you will, JEF,” she said, calling me by the name everyone uses for me in my family. “I don’t doubt it.”
Mom was right, as she always was.

 

George Blagoi gravestone, Los Angeles

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You almost can’t find this guy under his real name – Yury Blagoi. Even on most Russian sites he is listed as George. And even when you do find information about Yury/George Blagoi, it is of the skimpiest kind, often just a name in long lists of actors who performed in some film, appeared at some party, or were part of some Hollywood hotshot’s entourage.
I tracked Mr. Blagoi down at plot 119 in the Chandler Garden of the Hollywood Forever cemetery at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles. The birth-death dates there are almost correct. That is, his birth date of August 27, 1895, in Moscow is true if you consider that it is in the so-called Old Style. This was still 20-some years before Russia joined the rest of the world by jettisoning the Julian calendar and embracing the more accurate Gregorian calendar. So on the day that Blagoi was born it was actually September 8 in most of the world. The gravestone indicates that the date listed is by Old Style, but does not offer the true contemporary date. Virtually all internet sources pick up the date off of the gravestone, therefore providing for posterity an incorrect date of birth for this Russian emigre actor. His death date of June 24, 1971 in Los Angeles is not in dispute.
It is interesting that this man, who appeared in close to four dozen films over the span of his career, chose to identify himself in death as a military Major and a Prince with the full last name of Blagoi-Obolensky, a member of the Imperial Army and Navy before the Revolution, and a descendant of the noble Smolensky and Zabolotsky families. At least by the end of his life, these aspects of his biography clearly had become the most important.
For those interested in the full scoop in regards to what is written on Blagoi’s grave marker – the phrase at the top is a quote from John 11:25: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.”
One of the longest descriptions I found about Blagoi’s biography is a single sentence in a Russian Wikipedia article about his older brother Dmitry, who was a well-known literary scholar and specialist in the works of Alexander Pushkin. Here it is: Dmitry’s “brother Yury Dmitrievich Blagoi, a participant in the Civil War, abandoned Russia with the Whites, and lived in Hollywood where he performed in the cinema as George Blagoi and Lieutenant Blagoi.”
It’s not much to go on, but it’s something.

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It’s no easy task even coming up with a good list of the films Blagoi acted in, although the always-reliable imdb.com site is the best. This listing suggests Blagoi was in at least 31 feature films and at least 14 television programs or serials. Over the years he worked with some major directors, including John Ford and Josef von Sternberg. With the exception of his very first film, Into Her Kingdom (1926), where he was credited as Lieutenant Blagoi, virtually every other one of his roles was uncredited. Could this be why we have such a difficult time scaring up information about this actor? On the other hand, he was there hands-on at the making of many of American TV’s best early serials. Get a load of this, he appeared (again, uncredited) in I Love Lucy (1956, where he played a passenger on a ship), Perry Mason (1957), The Untouchables (1959-60, three episodes – one credited!), The Twilight Zone (1961), The Andy Griffith Show (1963), Dr. Kildare (1963), Rawhide (1963), The Fugitive (1964), Bonanza (1965) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1967) and It Takes a Thief (1968). I and a couple of generations grew up watching every single one of those shows.
A Russian site suggests that he worked on the 1959 feature film The Buccaneer where he was a stand-in for Yul Brynner.  He was an extra in Around the World in 80 Days (1956). The kind of roles he played can pretty much be summed up as follows: bar/cafe patron, clerk, officer/sailor/soldier, party guest, judge on a panel, juror, courtroom spectator, medicine show spectator,  barn fight spectator, mourner at wake, dinner patron, club patron, customs man and the like. It’s a great working man’s resume! That made me particularly curious when I ran across a site that promised to tell me George Blagoi’s net worth – just to see what a small-time working man in Hollywood made back in the day. I clicked on the bait and found that “George Blagoi’s net worth is under review.”
Blagoi was married to Tina Blagoi, apparently born as Valentina Ivanova (imdb.com writes “Ivanovna” but that is a patronymic, not a last name), also in Moscow, in 1900. She died in 1986. She had a short career in film, too, with at least seven credits. She too was uncredited in all her roles.
And on that note, ladies and gentlemen, I have exhausted what I have to say about Major Prince Yury Dmitrievich Blagoi-Obolensky, a man who appeared to live a life as unusual and unexpected as any in Tinsel Town. That’s an achievement and I take my hat off to him. If you think I’m being facetious, you don’t know me.

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Richard Ter-Pogosian grave, Los Angeles

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I’ve been working for awhile now with the majors – your Dostoevskys and Bulgakovs and such. But not by Pushkin alone is Russian literature Russian literature. And so on this day, so dreary, rainy and quiet where I live, I have succumbed to the desire to search a little farther than usual and to dig into the more obscure reaches of my topic. I’ll tell you right here: I had never heard of the poet Richard Ter-Pogosian until I happened upon his grave about a year ago in the Hollywood Forever cemetery. I would not have known that Richard Saakovich was a poet, had not his gravestone proclaimed it quite assertively in proverbial black and white. We can quickly summarize the information which I carried away with me from this place: Ter-Pogosian was born in 1911 and he died in his mid-90s in 2005. His wife Maria, nee Yevtushenko, was born in 1918 and preceded her husband in death in 2003. As I say, Mr. Ter-Pogosian was a poet, which is borne out not only by the word itself, but by the quill next to the word atop of the stone cross above his name. His name, of course, indicates he was of Armenian descent, although the fact that the gravestone offers it in Russian (as it does the word “poet”) implies that he considered himself a Russian poet. The name is given in English on the stone cross as Ter-Boghossian, although that rings no more bells than Ter-Pogosian. (Unless it makes us wonder if there is any connection between our poet and Eric Bogosian, the American playwright of Armenian extraction.) And that is it. That puts me at the end of my pitifully meagre knowledge.
A few things came to me long after I made these photos in the summer of 2015. By which I mean to say I only noticed them today as I began editing them. One is that there appear to be two cups of some kind lying on their side between the two graves. Perhaps these are vessels for flowers that have been put aside for the moment. I mention them because they seem to bear some specific kind of design. I don’t know if there is anything in that which might expand our knowledge or not. The other thing is the clay pot at the foot of Richard’s gravestone. Look closely at the photo above. Yes, you’re right. That is a baby’s boot in the pot. Not exactly the first thing you would expect to see in a flower pot on a grave. But there it is – the reality of it is undeniable. (The flower pot on Maria’s grave appears to be empty.) Now, if you think I am struggling to come up with something to write, you are absolutely correct. On the other hand, when presented with an absolute dearth of information, one can only begin with whatever is at hand. I have done that now, and now I have exhausted it. Utterly. As such, it is time to turn to the god of contemporary information, and to ask it, as our forbears once appealed to the Oracles, for whatever enlightenment They should so deem to share.

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The first bit of information I come upon is posted on booktracker.org, a Russian-language site that offers a page listing the writers of the Second Wave of emigration. This is important, because we now know that Ter-Pogosian left the Soviet Union during or shortly after World War II. As the site suggests, from the years 1938 to 1947, 10 million Soviet citizens found ways to leave the Soviet Union. The Second Wave is considered to have continued into the 1950s. There are 74 individuals in this list of writers (expanded to include historians, academics, journalists, etc.). No information is offered about anyone, aside from birth-death dates.
Next we come upon a Russian-language book published by Vladimir Agenosov in 2014. It is entitled Those Who Arose from Oblivion: An Anthology of DP (displaced persons) Writers and the Second Emigration. It includes poetry by Ter-Pogosian. An interesting statistic offered up in a review of this book is that approximately 13,000 displaced persons settled in the UK; 77,400 in the US; 25,200 in Australia; 23,200 in Canada…
Mikhail Yupp, in a long article on the internet, tells of tracking down Ter-Pogosian after finding one of his poems reprinted in a 1966 calendar put out by a Russians abroad organization. He also gets in a few digs at a Russian scholar who had published a collection, Coasts, dealing with the topic of DP poets. Unlike Yupp, he had not been able to find Ter-Pogosian when doing his research. I’ll quote Yupp’s description of the incident, because it is the only reference to the poet’s own speech that I have uncovered as of yet:
In the summer of 1992 one of the editors of the Coasts collection was in Los Angeles and he called Richard Saakovich. When asked, ‘How did Yupp find you?’ Ter-Pogosian replied:
‘He who seeks shall always find. However, why didn’t you, respected editor, appeal to Yupp? After all, you both live in the same city.’
The poem that Yupp discovered was called “Greatcoat” and tells of thoughts visited upon the poet when, one day, he pulls an old greatcoat out of a trunk. “Greatcoat” contains lines that might allow us to draw some conclusions about Ter-Pogosian’s escape from the Soviet Union. Here, in a hasty translation, are the final three quatrains from that work:

…At war and in bitter battles
Your gray hue lost its color.
You’re full of holes and stains of blood –
Traces of those cruel years!

So much woe and deprivation
Settled on your shoulders!
On the fields of wild battle
And in German labor camps!

I brought you with me here
To these lands so faraway.
We are inseparable now,
My gray greatcoat and I.

As such, we may conjecture that Ter–Pogosian was one of those (like two of my first teachers of Russian) who slipped out of the Soviet Union by way of Germany during, or shortly after, the war. He also appears to have survived time as a POW.
To the best of my ability to determine, Ter-Pogosian published at least four volumes of poetry in his lifetime. (See P.S. below.) In any case you can see four books listed on a Russian bookseller’s webpage:
1. Poems (3rd edition), Paris, 1960.
2. Lively Brook, Madrid, 1972.
3. Along Boundaries, Los Angeles, 1988.
4. Herbarium, Los Angeles, 1991.
The price set for the four volumes is, according to today’s exchange rate, approximately $540.
Note the cities of publication. Does this mean that Ter-Pogosian resided in Europe into the 1970s then found his way to the United States at about the time that the Third Wave of emigration was taking place from the Soviet Union? Possibly. Or it is possible that publishers in Paris and Madrid were simply willing to publish his work.
At present I have no more answers to these or any other questions about Richard Ter-Pogosian. I’ll be looking, though…

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I am compelled to add a P.S. several days after my original post thanks to a letter from my friend Peter Greenleaf, who somehow always seems to have been where I have not yet gone. It proved true again in connection with Ter-Pogosian. Please look at the photos below and behold: a portrait of the poet, a listing of the poetry collections he published, and a shot of two book covers, one of them being Lively Brook, the other being Collected Poetry. There were more than I knew. The photos are of items that Peter holds in his personal library. For the record, here are the books as we now know them:
1. Poems, Paris, 1960.
2. Lively Brook, Madrid, 1972.
3. Along Boundaries, Los Angeles, 1988.
4. Herbarium, Los Angeles, 1991.
5. Evening Bell (p. & d. undetermined)
6. Rainbow (p. & d. undetermined)
7. Collected Poetry (p. & d. undetermined)
We also see that Ter-Pogosian had at least one unpublished book, Epilogue.
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Vladimir Sokoloff crypt, Los Angeles, CA

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Vladimir Sokoloff (1889-1962) was still another of those Moscow Art Theater comets that landed in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s. He may never have been a big star, but he was highly respected, memorable in every one of his roles – no matter how bad the film – and he was always in demand among directors and producers looking for a good actor. He performed in over 115 films from the beginning of his career in Germany on through his last – Taras Bulba with Yul Brynner (another Russian-born Hollywood denizen) – in the last year of his life.
Vladimir Sokoloff was born Vladimir Sokolov in Moscow a few months after my maternal grandmother was born in Avon, IL, in the U.S. There’s no connection whatsoever; I just like taking advantage of any opportunity to remember my wonderful grandmother. Sokolov studied at Moscow University – several sources say his chosen fields of study were literature and philosophy. But he had the acting bug and he next studied  with Konstantin Stanislavsky at the Moscow Art Theater, where he was admitted to the company in 1913. He jumped ship to Alexander Tairov’s Chamber Theater around 1920 and was one of the ensemble who accompanied that theater on a tour to Germany in 1923. He caught the eye of the great German director Max Reinhardt, who offered him work in Germany. Seeing as how things were chaotic and uncertain in Russia, Sokolov took up the offer. This is when he became Wladimir Sokoloff. The first name would revert to Vladimir when he moved to the States 15 years later, but the spelling of Sokoloff stuck with him for the rest of his life. He spent ten years in Germany performing often on stage and on screen, then spent another five in France, where he performed in Jean Renoir’s film of Maxim Gorky’s play The Lower Depths (1932). Presumably sensing the onset of madness and mayhem, Sokoloff made the leap to the United States in 1937. He quickly found work both in New York theatre and in Hollywood films, easily filling in the “ethnic niche” in dozens of films. He once said that he played characters of at least 35 different nationalities over the course of his Hollywood career.  The Movie Morlocks website discusses this topic concisely:
Of course, in an era when native people were rarely cast as Asian, Native Americans, Mexican or any other nationality that might have seemed logical due to conventions of the period, Sokoloff‘s busy work life might seem unfair in retrospect, but he was a gifted man, who imbued these shorthand characters with a humane weight that few others could have conjured up for the often sketchily written roles. By his own estimate, Vladimir Sokoloff believed that he had played at least 35 different nationalities, with particular emphasis on Spanish characters (Juarez, The Baron of Arizona, The Magnificent Seven) and a few Russian types such as a remarkably benign Mikhail Kalinin, one of Stalin’s closest allies in the notoriously (and later controversial) sympathetic Mission to Moscow (1943). You may have seen him as an Asian drug smuggler in Macao (1952-Josef von Sternberg), a French gardener in Till We Meet Again (1944-Frank Borzage), a sagacious inmate in Passage to Marseille (1944-Michael Curtiz), an Italian physicist in Cloak and Dagger (1946-Fritz Lang), a violent radical leader in The Real Glory (1939-Henry Hathaway) and an Old Man in Mexico whose quiet dignity and faith in The Magnificent Seven (1960-John Sturges) galvanizes the mercenaries to help his village.”

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Sokoloff is interred in a crypt in the Sanctuary of Light section of the Hollywood Forever cemetery at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard. I have written about several other Russian transplants to Hollywood who now lay – eternally? – here in this huge city block. If you’re interested in finding this specific place, you enter the grounds, hang right at the first opportunity, then go left at the next opportunity. You will then come upon a lovely Arabic-looking vision as you see in the third photo below. From there the Sanctuary of Light hall is the second one on your left. Sokoloff and his wife Elizabeth (1895-1948) are about 2/3 of the way up the wall about 2/3 of the way back on the right.
Sokoloff maintained a healthy sense of humor as far as his professional origins were concerned. A nice little interview article called “Hollywood Glances!” published in the Miami Daily News-Herald on April 20, 1960, offers a few glimpses into Sokoloff’s own attitude to himself, his work and his teacher, Stanislavsky, who, the actor admitted (chuckling, it’s necessary to add), “tortured” him “personally.”
To hell,” he said, “with ALL the acting theories, including the Stanislavsky method. Before he died in 1938, Stanislavsky himself told me: ‘Adapt and adjust, Vladimir. No longer accept my method letter for letter. The world is changing. Acting is changing and it will change even more.”
The interview, conducted by Erskine Johnson, circles around this topic some more and I think it’s worth bringing it back out of obscurity here.
Today, playing the Wise Old Man of a sleepy Mexican village in The Magnificent Seven, on location near here, Vladimir shudders at the world’s dramatic coaches applying the Stanislavsky acting method ‘so blindly.’ 
‘It is foolish,’ he told me, his eyes bright and clear, ‘to use the same recipes of 50 years ago. You can’t play the same part as you played it 50 years ago.’
‘Audiences are different; countries are different; the world is different. All life is different. If he were alive today, Stanislavsky would be different with his method, too.’
What is Sokoloff’s method now?
‘I have learned,’ he said quietly, ‘to work by my five senses alone. It is not difficult to pretend one is eating hot soup. Yet when I appeared off Broadway not long ago in Power of Darkness, one critic said’:
‘To watch Vladimir Sokoloff eat hot soup is a revelation.’
‘I laughed. What is so difficult about it? It is just the touch, the taste, the feel. Acting is as simple as that. The five senses. If you have any talent, there is little need to study any method.'”
I’d like to see some of Sokoloff’s wisdom printed alongside the reams of reverence that get published in the Stanislvasky System industry. It might put a little perspective back into things.

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Tamara Toumanova grave site, Los Angeles

Click on photos to enlarge.

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I’m tempted to just quote Jack Anderson’s New York Times May 31, 1996, obituary for Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) in full. I won’t. But I’m sorely tempted. It’s chock full of the kind of information I love. Let me provide some snippets:
Tamara Toumanova, a child-prodigy ballerina of the 1930’s who became familiar to American audiences as one of the most glamorous stars of 20th-century dance, died on Wednesday at the Santa Monica Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 77 and lived in Beverly Hills…
“By the time she was 13, Miss Toumanova was internationally acclaimed as one of the three so-called baby ballerinas of Col. W. de Basil’s Ballets Russes. She and two other phenomenally gifted daughters of Russian emigres — Irina Baronova and Tatiana Riabouchinska — were discovered in Parisian ballet studios by George Balanchine…
“Adoring fans nicknamed Miss Toumanova ‘the black pearl of the Russian ballet.’ Even as a teen-ager, her beauty was as remarkable as her technique…
“A founding member of the de Basil Ballets Russes in 1932, Miss Toumanova inspired two of this century’s greatest choreographers. She created roles in Balanchine’s Cotillon and Concurrence and in Leonide Massine’s Jeux d’Enfants with the company…
“Miss Toumanova was born on March 2, 1919, in a boxcar in Siberia. She was the daughter of a czarist army colonel and his wife, who were fleeing the Bolsheviks. The couple settled in Paris, where their daughter became a pupil of Olga Preobrajenska, a Russian-born teacher…
And on it goes. Wow. Born in a train car in Siberia (just outside the city of Tyumen, for those who like details), fleeing revolution… Does that sound iconic, or what? With a beginning like that, Toumanova simply had to become a Hollywood star. Hollywood exists to capitalize precisely on such extraordinary biographies.
I mean, look at this little story that Wikipedia carries:
In 1936, while Toumanova was performing ballet in Chicago, an 18-year-old boy named Burr Tillstrom came to see her perform. Following the ballet, Burr went backstage to meet her. As they talked, Toumanova and Tillstrom became friends. Some time later, Tillstrom showed her a favorite puppet he had made and she, surprised by his revelation, exclaimed, “Kukla” (Russian for ‘puppet’). Burr Tillstrom went on to create a very early (1947) television show for children, titled, Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
Now, how many of us who grew up watching Kukla, Fran and Ollie had any idea that Kukla was a Russian word (I only made the connection just now, having read this blurb) and that it had been suggested by the great Toumanova, who was all of 17 at that point?
She began studying with the great Preobrazhenskaya when she was still nearly an infant. She made her first memorable appearance at the grand age of six, chosen out of a group to perform by the great Anna Pavlova. She broke in with the world-class emigres Balanchine and Massine (Myasin, in its Russian form) when she was not yet a teenager (she was 12). Throughout the core of her career she dazzled audiences in Paris, London, New York, Monte Carlo, Milan, while touring to Central American, Canada, Spain and Cuba. She made her film debut in 1944 in a picture, Days of Glory, that featured Gregory Peck making his own debut. Through 1970 she played in five more films, always playing a dancer. Everything about Toumanova sounds like a fairy-tale.
Virtually nothing tied the dancer-actor to Russia itself. I don’t know how long she remained within Russian/Soviet borders after her birth, but it may have been only weeks, it may have been months. It doesn’t appear to have been a year. And yet, before she died, she donated what costumes she had in her possession to the Vaganova Choreographic Museum in St. Petersburg.

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Ethnically, Toumanova was her own personal melting pot. Or so it would seem. You can find references to her alleged Georgian, Armenian, Polish, Ukrainian and Russian roots. The name Toumanova derived from her mother’s maiden name, Tumanishivili, which is a prominent Georgian name. There have been several great Georgian directors with that name. I don’t know if there is a relation or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find there is. On the other hand, one of Toumanova’s best friends apparently claimed she did not have a drop of Georgian blood in her. Sounds rather impossible with such a name, but I don’t make up the news here, I just report it. Her father’s name is usually given as Vladimir Khassidovitch. In a semi-backstage editing-war report at Wikipedia, you can read the following, which indicates how difficult it is to determine Toumanova’s blood heritage: “…She is of Polish/Ukrainian and Georgian descent, not just Georgian (or Armenian), her father was Khazidowich-Boretski, a Pole from Ukraine. Secondly, Tamara herself, her mother and her family and friends have stated that her mother is Georgian. These are primary sources and should be taken as facts, the rest is speculation and rumours.” I will add, as someone else does elsewhere in the long, often contentious report, that the name Khassidovitch or Khazidowich, might also indicate Jewish connections.
Whatever the sources that went into the making of this extraordinary woman, they worked.  As the British ballet critic A.V. Coton is reported to have said, “she was the loveliest creature in the history of the ballet.”
Toumanova is buried next to her mother Yevgenia (Eugenie) Dmitrievna Toumanova, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. Eugenie was her daughter’s constant companion, manager, make-up woman, costume-lady and what-all throughout the younger woman’s career.
I will tell you that Toumanova’s grave is located at Section 8, Lot 111, grave 7 in the Garden of Legends section of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, although that will hardly help you find it. I walked back and forth on the little hillside overlooking an artificial pond, not far from Fyodor Ozep’s grave, for well over a half an hour before finding the site. I hate to say it, but all of those graves begin looking the same at a certain point. Most are not like the Johnny Ramone memorial (straight across the pond from Toumanova), with a cheap look-alike statue and a guitar. If you make the trek yourself, look out for Toumanova’s whispering cherub. That’s what will help you find her.

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Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya grave, Moscow

Click on photos to enlarge.

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These are not the best of days for those of us who, by love, have devoted our lives to the study of Russian culture. Russia’s reputation, damaged by wars, corruption, subterfuge, lies,  belligerence and bad politics is at an all-time low. In just the last week the Russian government has launched numerous campaigns against “internal and external enemies,” that is, those who would like to see Russia be a land that respects the rule of law and the freedom of conscience. Just today the government officially accused former tycoon, and now, social activist, Mikhail Khodorkovsky of two murders and the masterminding of four more. This comes two days after Khodorkovsky declared in a public speech that revolution might be necessary to force regime change in Russia. Yesterday the Russian Prosecutor General launched a massive investigation into the life and work practices of the muck-raking opposition leader Alexei Navalny. This came one week after Navalny released a stunning 45-minute film detailing the mafia-like corruption of the two sons of the Russian Prosecutor General. All of these events are sandwiched in and around an event that is enormous for those of us in Russia, but may slip by those who aren’t watching the territory closely – that is, the three-year prison conviction handed down to a young man, Ildar Dadin, whose crime it was to participate in four political protests where he was detained by police. Dadin is the first individual to be prosecuted under a relatively new, draconian law, which makes it a crime to be detained four times at political protests. Thus, while there are many people sitting in prisons in Russia right now for political reasons, Dadin has become the first actually to be arrested, tried and convicted for nothing other than the fact that he makes it a point to protest the policies of the Russian government. (Incidentally, the prosecutor asked for two years in prison; the eager-beaver judge handed down a sentence of three.) This, meanwhile, coincides with an enormous strike being led by Russian truck drivers to protest unfair and unfairly high road taxes. Thousands of truck drivers, with their trucks, have descended on Moscow, and are prepared to stop traffic in the city in order to make their demands be heard.
In short, things are bleak and confrontational around here these days.
Thus, it seems the proper moment to combine pain and joy into one. We seek joy to offset our pain – thus this entire blog site arose, as I explained some time ago. And, yet, we refuse to turn our eyes away from what pains us. Thus everything I have written up to this point today.
In short, I now wish to ponder the final resting place of two of Russia’s greatest citizens of any era – the cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich and the soprano Galina Vishnevskaya. I photographed their grave at the Novodevichy Cemetery last week when passing by it to attend the burial of the great film director Eldar Ryazanov, still another fine citizen whom this nation could not afford to lose.

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But if the pain of losing Ryazanov was, and still is, acute, fresh and unabated, the joy of coming upon Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya was equally as sharp. The mere pronunciation of either of these two names is enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face who knows.
To be sure, we are not entirely at ease with the notion that these two extraordinary people are no longer with us. For contemporaries who were affected by them – and that is half of Russia, half of the world – that nagging pain may lessen to a certain level of discomfort, but it does not go away. Yet, the joy that they brought us is, obviously, what prevails. I must insert here a comment that I randomly discovered on the internet. I think it perfectly sums up the public attitude to this pair:
I hold this man [Rostropovich] in veneration not because he was a GREAT musician, but simply because he was a marvelous PERSON. The vaccines purchased by the Vishnevskaya-Rostropovich Foundation saved the health of thousands of Russian children. Vaccines against Hepatitis B and cancer found their way to many regions and corners of Russia. We remember...”
The comment is signed “galsvanidze.”
These two great citizens of their nation, the Soviet Union and Russia, were personal friends of Dmitry Shostakovich during the years when the composer was persecuted by the Soviet government, as well as of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the writer whom they sheltered at their dacha outside Moscow when he was under attack from the officials. Rostropovich, defying the fears of his wife, jumped on an airplane to join protesters on Moscow’s streets during the attempted coup by hardliners seeking to depose Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. You can read about that in the L.A. Times. He had done the same so as to be present when the Berlin Wall fell in 1889 – he felt compelled to be there to play his cello for that historical event. You can see him do so on YouTube.
As for Vishnevskaya, she was every bit as fierce a defender of freedom, truth and art as her husband. Although her native land essentially forced her into emigration in 1974, when it became possible to return and work in Russia, she  set about establishing a Moscow-based, world class school for opera musicians, the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Center. Since its opening in 2002, it has been one of the strongest bearers of Russia’s cultural traditions. As a declaration on the center’s website puts it, “The principal task of the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre is to perpetuate Russia’s great operatic traditions and to cause Russian opera to be perceived anew.”
Throughout difficult times in Russia from the end of the 1980s until Rostropovich’s death in 2007, and Vishnevskaya’s death in 2012, these two individuals brought hope, light, courage, humor and strength to everyone around them. I remember what a joy it was to hear or see that one or the other, or both, had arrived in Moscow for a concert or a personal appearance. It was as though old friends had come home to visit. Their presence, the knowledge that they were with us, was a powerful antidote to the negativity that can seep into one’s bones in Moscow.
At times like the present we look to individuals like Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya, Ryazanov, Shostakovich and Solzhenitsyn to remind ourselves why we fell in love with the art they made and the culture they helped build and sustain, sometimes against all odds. Now it is our turn to carry that flame, as best as we can, and flicker as it might.

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