Tag Archives: Moscow Art Theater

Vladimir Bakaleinikov home, Moscow

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I have been chasing after Vladimir Bakaleinikoff (Bakaleinikov) and his brothers Constantin (Konstantin) and Mischa (Mikhail) for several years now. I have followed their traces all over Los Angeles numerous times, always armed with new locations. I have addresses for them in several places. I have information about their burial places in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. And every time I come up empty. Every house that they occupied in the L.A. area – at least as far as I can determine – has been torn down and replaced since the time they lived there. And, as I suggested, even their grave sites turned out to be fictive. I have the plots for Vladimir and Constantin and I had the directions from the cemetery staff. My sister Margie and I even plugged the coordinates into the Forest Lawn internet app on her iPhone – and still no go. We went back to the office to ask again and they said there was nothing more they could do. They suggested that maybe the grave markers have not been maintained and are lost. Elusive guys, these Bakaleinikoffs!
But I am nothing if not tenacious. And one day when I was researching the homes in Moscow’s Arbat region, I happened upon a building that ties Vladimir Bakaleinikov to the earth on Bolshoi Afanasyevsky Lane, house No. 30. I would have preferred to locate a Los Angeles address for at least one of the brothers, because the U.S. is where their careers in music flourished. On the other hand, this location in Moscow was the site of at least a few of Vladimir’s formative years.
Let’s get past the Bakaleinikov/Bakaleinikoff dichotomy for those who may be confused. As I have pointed out many times in these pages, these are alternate English spellings which occurred often in the post-revolutionary years. Broadly speaking, though not exclusively so, the two “ff”‘s for the soft, final Russian “v” were used in Europe. Any emigrant who spent much time in Europe grew used to the “ff” spelling and kept it. To this day, for example, most people recognize the spelling of Rachmaninoff as “correct.” Having said that it would appear that the Bakaleinikovs chose to use the “ff” spelling without any European influence. in 1927 Vladimir headed straight from Moscow to Cincinnati, of all places. Constantin went from Moscow to Hollywood in 1929. (In this post I will use the “ff” spelling when referring to the family in the U.S., while I will employ the stricter, more “proper” “v” transliteration when referring to them in Russia.
Vladimir Bakaleinikov was actually quite an accomplished musician (viola), conductor and composer before he left Russia. Born into a poor clarinetist’s family in 1885, his talent allowed him to begin studies at the Moscow Conservatory at the tender age of nine. He was the conductor of the Theater of Musical Drama in Petrograd from 1914 to 1916, and was employed in the musical studio of the Moscow Art Theater from 1920 to 1927. He taught at the Petrograd Conservatory from 1918 to 1920, and at the Moscow Conservatory from 1920 to 1924.
Konstantin (1896-1966) was significantly younger, and appears not to have had much of a career until he left Russia. At least a moderate internet search turns up no major information about him in Russia other than the fact that he studied at the Moscow Conservatory, graduating in 1916, and that he emigrated to the U.S. with his brother Mischa (more about whom in a moment) in 1929. One Russian site states plainly in a cursory bio that he began his career in 1929 in the U.S. That debut was a film called Father and Son, although it was another four years before his second major Hollywood job came along – Only Yesterday (1933), for which he again served as composer. Over the years, Constantin was nominated for four Oscars for best original score – Something to Sing About (1936), The Fallen Sparrow (1944), Higher and Higher (1945) and None but the Lonely Heart (1945). Throughout his career Constantin (as his first name was spelled in the U.S.) was the musical director at Paramount Pictures, MGM and Grand National Pictures. At times he was associated with local symphony orchestras in the L.A. area.
In his book Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood’s Russians, Harlow Robinson throws the emigration date of Constantin into question by claiming it was 1920, but also provides a nice anecdotal description of him: “…he played the cello briefly in the Los Angeles Philharmonic before being hired by the producer Sid Grauman as musical director for his movie theaters, conducting the orchestra for silent films shown at such palaces as the Egyptian and the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater. So familiar was he with movie audiences that they started calling him by the nickname of ‘Backy.‘”
I am pleased to report that in the game of six degrees of separation I am only a handshake removed from Constantin Bakaleinikoff. The great Pearl Bailey starred with Nat King Cole in Constantin’s last major motion picture, St. Louis Blues (1958), while Ms. Bailey was a Cub Scout den mother in my hometown of Apple Valley, CA, around 1960-61. I once won a 45 rpm record of hers from her own hands for performing some Cub Scout stunt that I have long forgotten. That lovely hand of hers figuratively could have reached out and touched Constantin Bakaleinikoff.

For the record, Vladimir and Konstantin had two other talented brothers, Nikolai (1881-1957) and Mikhail (known in the U.S. as Mischa Bakaleinikoff, 1890-1960). Mischa performed in the Columbia Studios orchestra and scored over 20 films in a career that ran from 1930 to his death in 1960. U.S. Wikipedia claims he left for the U.S. in 1926, while I find the 1929 departure date in other sources. Since he apparently began his Hollywood career in 1930, and since his brother Constantin (apparently) made the move in 1929, I’m tentatively sticking with that date.
Vladimir’s career in the U.S. was full, if not quite as spectacular as that of his oft Oscar-nominated brother. He was chief conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1927 to 1937, at which time he followed his brothers to Hollywood. However, after two years, he apparently felt the pull for more serious work and accepted an invitation to head up the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1948-1952). He was a well-known teacher and one of his prize pupils was Lorin Maazel, who began studies with Vladimir at the age of seven. Vladimir wrote a book, Elementary Rules of Conducting for Orchestra, Band and Chorus (in English, 1938), and memoirs under the title of The Notes of a Musician (in Russian, 1943). 
Aside from a stint with Sergei Diaghileff’s Ballets Russes before the Revolution, the eldest brother Nikolai Bakaleinikov spent his entire life in Russia or the Soviet Union. He was a noted flutist, a conductor and a composer. Not surprisingly, with three brothers skipping out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s, Nikolai found himself moving to Sverdlovsk – far from the cultural centers of Moscow and Leningrad – in 1931. One wonders if the move was voluntary. He remained in Sverdlovsk (today’s Yekaterinburg) until his death.
I have not been able to pin down what, if any, connection Nikolai, Konstantin, and Mikhail might have had to the building that is pictured in today’s post. I do find a tantalizing link on the Russian net which seems to connect Nikolai to this address, but the link will not open. In any case, we know that Vladimir lived here, and, since the family was apparently quite close-knit, at least early on, I’m guessing every one of the brothers was here at one time or another, even if they didn’t live here.
Vladimir wrote in his memoirs that, “My father earned very little. We, the children, helped him earn money by playing at weddings, in restaurants, and by giving lessons, and, subsequently, concerts. We children did not scorn any kind of work. It was shameful not to work, seeing how our mother did the washing, cooking and sewing for everyone, while serving us all.
It is worth noting that this remembrance would not have been connected with the home I show here. An apartment in this house, built brand new in 1906, would have been out of the reach of the younger Bakaleinikov family. This would have been accessible to them only after Nikolai and Vladimir’s careers in Moscow had taken a significant upturn.
P.S. Some additional information on emigration dates for the brothers. FamilySearch.com tells us that “Mihail” Bakaleinikoff arrived as an emigrant in Los Angeles harbor in 1930 and that he was naturalized in 1931. For Constantin I find he was naturalized in Los Angeles in 1927, and that he was married in Cincinnatti, Ohio, on Dec. 23, 1925. I don’t find an immigration date for him. Finally, the information on Vladimir is somewhat confusing. FamilySearch offers several different immigration dates, the earliest of which might be 1924. A notation suggests that a border crossing into Vermont may have happened as early as 1924 (although the actual date given is 1924-1952). Another notation, giving the spelling “Bakaleinicoff,” suggests a 1925 arrival (“immigration”) to New York in 1925. A third posits a Sept. 2, 1930, arrival in Detroit, although this may simply have been a return trip from abroad. I’m guessing that the 1925 date is pretty close to correct.

 

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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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Alla Nazimova temporary residence, Bel Air, CA

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[Shortly after I posted the following text, a wonderful response was posted below, correcting many errors in my speculation, and adding lots of good details about Nazimova. My suggestion is that you start by reading Jon Ponder’s comment, then go to my text (or skip it!) in order to get the straight dope first.]
I’m not exactly sure where Alla Nazimova lived at 1000 Stone Canyon Rd., Bel Air, CA, but she did stay here for awhile in the 1920s. I can’t help but wonder if the guest house she occupied is what apparently is now a garage. It would make sense. All the more so, since this house, pushed up against a densely wooded hill, seems to have no other place where a guest house might fit.
This, one of Los Angeles’s most exclusive neighborhoods, has been home to dozens, if not hundreds, of famous people over the last century. Just a few include: Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Greer Garson, Howard Hughes (whom Ava Gardner once attacked and nearly killed with a bronze statue after he slapped her to the floor in his home down the street at 1120 Stone Canyon), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Steven Stills, Marvin Gaye… and we could go on seemingly forever. Most sources tell us that Nazimov stayed in a home belonging to Hollywood musical director Morris Stoloff, a three-time Oscar winner, but I wonder about that. Stoloff, who obviously had Slavic or Jewish Slavic roots, though he was born in Philadelphia, did not really achieve great success until the mid-1930s, when he became the music director at Columbia Pictures (1936, to be exact). Would he – in his early-to-mid-20s, just starting out in his career – have had the money to purchase this exclusive residence? Sure, it wasn’t as exclusive in the 1920s, but still, this somehow doesn’t add up. I can only assume that the home has now become associated primarily with Stoloff, so that mentions of Nazimova staying here are automatically connected to what would have been his later residency.
In any case, we know that Nazimova, one of those “refugees” from the Moscow Art Theater who made a career in Hollywood, stayed here at least for awhile when she was at, or close to, the peak of her career. Since she occupied a guest room, and since her famous, even notorious, Garden of Allah hotel on Sunset Strip was still being rebuilt between the years of 1918 and 1926, one can conjecture that her time on Stone Canyon Rd. was just a way station for her. It’s possible that she stayed here, waiting until she could move into her new, bigger property.
Nazimova (1879-1945) was born in Yalta with the Spanish name of Marem-Ides Leventon (her earliest-known ancestors apparently left Spain in the 16th century). Her Russian name was Adelaida Yakovlevna Leventon. She first used the stage name of Alla Nazimova when appearing at the Art Theater, on whose stages she performed from its very founding in 1898. Most of the time she played small roles under Stanislavsky and by 1903 -04 she began to feel the pull of destiny. She traveled to the Russian provinces where she played numerous leading roles and enjoyed significant success. (Legend has it she met Anton Chekhov in Yalta in 1904 and that he appreciated her talent.) She made the leap to the United States in 1905 (the year of the first, failed, Russian Revolution). She threw herself into studies of English and, by 1906, debuted on the American stage, performing the title role in Hedda Gabler in 1906. According to one Russian online biography, Eugene O’Neill was so taken by Nazimova’s performance that he attended the show ten times. Her fame grew so quickly that she was invited to visit Teddy Roosevelt in the White House during the time of his presidency.
True fame came knocking, however, when Hollywood called. She made her first film in 1915 (War Brides), but the real start to her career took place in 1918 when she appeared in three films. Her golden years as a Hollywood actress coincide with the period (apparently) when she stayed at the home pictured here. She played the leads in Camille (1921), A Doll’s House (1922) and Salome (1923), confirming her reputation as an exotic beauty and a powerful actress. It is worth noting that between 1918 and 1923 she was also a producer and writer, wearing one or both of those hats in eight of the films she made as an actress. By 1925 her film career, which lasted barely a decade, was virtually over. She performed in three films in the 1940s, but that was another era and another level of art.

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Nazimova’s legendary Garden of Allah estate and hotel (along with her swinging sexual escapades) are now more famous than Nazimova herself. The extravagant structure and beautiful grounds attracted virtually everyone in the Hollywood elite in the 1920s. The Wikipedia article on the location provides a list of some 75 A-list celebrities who lived in, or stayed at, the hotel at one time or another. Although Nazimova never returned to Russia after she left in 1905, when she had a swimming pool built at the Garden of Allah, she may have had it done as a copy of the Black Sea, alongside which she was born. I make that weak claim, however, and must immediately admit that there is still argument as to whether this is true. A lovely internet article tells the story of the pool with plenty of juicy detail (John Barrymore supposedly held the record for falling into the pool; and, “Marlene Dietrich and/or Tallulah Bankhead were said to like to swim in it at night naked except for their jewelry”).
There is virtually nothing left of the Garden of Allah these days. It was bought by a benighted banker, Bart Lytton, in 1959 and he razed it in order to build his bank’s headquarters there. I remember seeing a video on the internet a year ago, when I began researching Russian addresses in L.A., that took viewers down into a basement in one of the businesses now located there, and revealed a couple of tiles or something similar from the original Garden. I don’t  find that video now, but it’s out there. If some intrepid one among you finds it, you can post the link below.
As such, in a curious sort of way – this house at 1000 Stone Canyon Rd. is one of the closest, tangible links to Nazimova’s Garden of Allah. Because, chances are, it was while she was here that the planning and building of the Garden took place. For the record, according to the Movieland Directory, she had a total of three other L.A.-area addresses during the 1920s: 649 W. Adams Blvd. (unspecified 1920s); 1438 Hayvenhurst Dr. (1924-26); and the Garden of Allah at 8152 W. Sunset Blvd. (the address was actually 8080 at that time). The Movieland Directory suggests that Nazimova moved into the Garden of Allah in or around 1930, but I think it’s safe to say she did so earlier – probably 1926 or 1927. I am assuming that Stone Canyon was the first of those address. It would make sense that she lived here temporarily before moving into more permanent quarters, but this is just my conjecture.

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Akim Tamiroff home, Beverly Hills, CA

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Akim Tamiroff may have left more footprints in Los Angeles and its environs than any other Russian-born actor/director in Hollywood. There are numerous addresses for him, and many of the houses he lived in still stand. He has a star just off of Hollywood Boulvard, and, since he was involved with Michael Chekhov, he can be attached to several more addresses around town.
Our first post, among what may end up being many, demonstrates the home where Tamiroff lived for some time in the 1940s. The address is 629 North Alta Drive in Beverly Hills. We know he could not have lived here any earlier than the summer of 1941, when he was still resident at 515 N. Rexford Dr. in Beverly Hills. (He was there from at least 1938 to 1941). I can’t find the dates when he moved into the N. Alta Dr. property, but he lived here when he registered to vote in 1946. Further, we know that he moved to Palm Springs at some time in the 1950s – I don’t have a specific date for that move. So, for conversation’s sake, let’s call this place on North Alta Tamiroff’s home for the better part of the 1940s.
As any source will tell you, Tamiroff was not Russian, but was of Armenian descent. He was born in 1899 in Tiflis (Tbilisi), the capital of Georgia, which was a territory of the Russian empire at that time. His full first name was Hovakim and his proper last name was Tamirov, transliterated with the two ffs back in the day in order to approximate the soft Russian “v” at the end of a word or name. But Tamiroff’s Russian connections were significant, if brief, and so we are happy to claim him in the constellation of Russian culture.
The fact is that he traveled to Moscow around 1918 or 1919 to study at the Moscow Art Theater. That, in itself, is a sign of character and fortitude. Russia was struggling at the peak years of its Civil War at that time and, I would guess, more people were trying to leave Moscow than to come there. Be that as it may, Tamiroff was admitted into the troupe of the Moscow Art Theater in 1920 (trust this date from the Moscow Art Theater encyclopedia, rather than other dates you may find on the net). He was a member of the Art Theater’s traveling troupe that was such a sensation in the United States in the early 1920s. When the Art Theater went back to Moscow in 1924, Tamiroff remained behind. In his four-year Art Theater career, Tamiroff played numerous important, secondary roles in top productions – The Inspector General, Three Sisters, The Cherry Orchard, The Blue Bird, Enough Simplicity in Every Wiseman, The Brothers Karamazov and others. At first in New York he worked for Nikita Balieff’s famous Bat Cabaret, later opening his own make-up studio. The Art Theater encyclopedia tells us that Katherine Hepburn was among his students there. He also embarked on an admirable career acting in New York, sometimes on Broadway.
Curiously – because he spoke with an extremely thick Russian accent – he moved to Hollywood in 1932 precisely when films went talkie. His accent served him well as he played all kinds of colorful foreigners throughout his career.

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Tamiroff was in such demand as an expressive character actor in the heydays of the Hollywood studios, that he participated in over 60 films in just his first few years on the West Coast. This was good, of course, because it meant steady work and pay. It also apparently frustrated the actor. According to legend, he is the unnamed actor who complained to the famous Russian writers Ilf and Petrov that he could only get parts playing Mexicans. They quoted him saying that in their popular travelogue, Single-Storied America (material gathered 1935-36; published in Russian in 1937). Indeed, according to the IMDB film website, Tamiroff’s first ten roles in the cinema were so small that they went uncredited. Be that as it may, Tamiroff was twice nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Supporting Role, Male, category. This was in 1936 for the title role in The General Died at Dawn, and in 1943, for For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The actors and directors he performed with and for comprise a who’s-who of Hollywood in those years. Directors included Cecil B. DeMille, Preston Sturges, Orson Welles, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric von Stroheim, Michael Curtiz, William Wyler, Charles Vidor and others. He worked with virtually every major actor of the age, including Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Gary Cooper, Irene Dunne, Frederic March, Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, Ingrid Bergman, Frank Sinatra, Charlton Heston, and I’m just skimming as I run rough-shod over an astonishing list. He was something of a favorite of Orson Welles, playing in four of that master’s late films, including the role of Sancho Panza in Welles’ unfinished Don Quixote.
Most of this post consists of things I have cherry-picked from the internet, but at the end I can offer up a tidbit that you probably can’t find anywhere else. When I was doing research on the L.A. addresses, Lisa Dalton of the Michael Chekhov Theater Institute responded to my cry for help by tossing off a nice little phrase, which I quote here in full: “Akim Tamiroff hosted regular soirees and classes for Mr. C which is where Mala [Powers], [Anthony] Quinn and the Bridges [as in Lloyd and his wife Dorothy] worked with him.” So, it would appear that Tamiroff – who would have known Michael Chekhov as a great actor in Moscow – was one of those people in the “Russian mafia in Hollywood” to help provide Chekhov a foothold in Tinsletown.

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Konstantin Stanislavsky home and plaque, Moscow

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I am always taken aback when I encounter this building at 6 Leontyevsky Lane. This is where Konstantin Stanislavsky lived from 1921 until his death in 1938. He is identified on one of the plaques on the front wall as an “actor and director.” Nowhere does it say that he was a co-founder of the Moscow Art Theater, but maybe that would be superfluous. A little bit like labeling the summer sky blue. Soviet scholars, armchair or otherwise, will immediately note the curiosity of the date: 1921. This is when the Russian Civil War was still underway. Muscovites of all walks and professions at this time were being forced to give up their individual apartments as strangers, sometimes couth, sometimes un-, were moved into “spare” rooms. The word in Russian was ‘uplotnenie,’ that is, ‘packing-them-in.’ If you had a three-room apartment you could expect the state to move in at least two other families into the ‘extra’ rooms. It was the way the young Soviet government solved the housing crisis. What does this have to do with Stanislavsky’s home? Well, look at it. It’s huge. And it all belonged to Stanislavsky. I haven’t made it a point to study this topic, but the only other person I know of who received this kind of treatment was Maxim Gorky, to whom Stalin, in 1932, gifted a spectacular art-moderne home on Spiridonivka across from the church where Alexander Pushkin was married.
This building that was put at the service of Stanislavsky has quite a history. Parts of it were erected between 1650 and 1670. It was expanded in or around 1777, and then again at the beginning of the 19th century. There are not many buildings left in Moscow  that are that old. Fires and wars have seen to that. And most of the ones left are not residential structures. So this is really something. It is kept in beautiful condition, as you can see. The powder yellow is one of my favorite colors in Moscow. The first two photos in the block immediately below show the structure from the inside courtyard.  The second photo, which looks out the gate at the building across the street, shows how well the powder yellow combines with another of Moscow’s common colors – powder blue.
Russian Wikipedia tells us that just a few doors down from here, at 2a Leontyevsky Lane stood the building in which Maria Lilina, Stanislavsky’s leading lady, lived before the couple was married. According to Moscow lore, it was there that Stanislavsky popped the question and Lilina accepted. I mention that building here because it can no longer be photographed or perused. It was torn down in 2003 to make way for a modern apartment building “with an underground garage,” as Wikipedia puts it.

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The first year of Stanislavsky’s life in this home must have been hectic. As I have said, there was a Civil War raging all around. Not that bullets constantly flew freely in the skies over Moscow, but as a new book called The Soviet Theater: A Documentary History indicates, there were, indeed, days when bullets flew freely enough that the Art Theater had to think about canceling performances so as not to endanger actors and spectators. That, surely, is one of the reasons that Stanislavsky and a large group from the theater struck out on a world tour in 1922. They played in Europe and the U.S., although they were in the U.S. for much of the time between 1922 and 1924. If you know anything about human nature, you know full well that Stanislavsky was using that time to decide whether he should bother coming back at all. Many in Russia assumed that he and his troupe would not return. Just imagine Stanislavsky getting up in the morning somewhere in New York, Chicago or Philadelphia, sitting down to his orange juice and scrambled eggs that were served on a crisp, white linen tablecloth and thinking – “Do I go back? Do I not go back?” That quandary lasted for over two years. “Do I bail or do I not bail?” Meanwhile, the popularity of the Art Theater’s shows in the U.S. made Stanislavsky a god in the West. It was here that he wrote and published the first of his books which have come to be looked upon in theater circles as bibles.
In the end Stanislavsky did not bail, although not all of his actors returned with him. He returned to Moscow and his still-new home at 6 Leontyevsky Lane in 1924 at about the same time that his My Life in Art was published in English.
Long before moving into this home, Stanislavsky and Lilina had three children, two daughters and a son. The first daughter, born in 1890, died as an infant. The second, Kira (1891-1977), married the great painter Robert Falk and was the first director of the Stanislavsky House Museum when it was opened in this building in 1948 on the 10th anniversary of the great director’s death, and the 85th anniversary of his birth. Their youngest child, a son named Igor (1894-1974), married Alexandra Tolstaya, the granddaughter of Leo Tolstoy.
The museum displays the rooms in which Stanislavsky and his wife lived. There is a small auditorium which, on occasion, is used for performances by contemporary companies. Actually, I say that and then recall that it’s been years since I saw a show there. I did often attend performances there in the 1990s, but it’s been a long time since then…

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Konstantin Alexeyev (Stanislavsky) plaque, Moscow

Click on photos to enlarge.

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Moscow, damn it, is fabulous. You’re out for a mindless stroll and all of a sudden you run up against this: one of the first theaters Stanislavsky ever performed in. No big deal, just a run-down three story structure. Just a place where the founder of the Moscow Art Theater got his start. I had no idea this was here. It’s located off the main paths most culture consumers in Moscow take. If you’re heading to the Russian Academy of Theater Arts or the Mayakovsky Theater or the Theater at Nikitsky Gates – you miss this little street – Nizhny Kislovsky Lane. If you’re going to concerts at the Conservatory or the Tchaikovsky Music School, you are most likely to take another route. All these places are within spitting distance of the building you see here, but few are going to bring you into contact with the place bearing a plaque that reads, “City Estate, 19th century, Main House 1860. Here from 1860 to 1892 was located the famous Moscow theater of P.F. Sekretaryov (‘Sekrataryovka’), on the stage of which K.S. Alexeyev (Stanislavsky) performed.” Boom, how about that? This is the place, ground zero, where Alexeyev became Stanislavsky. It was while performing here that he assumed his now-famous pseudonym.
Pyotr Sekretaryov was not your run-of-the-mill citizen. His last name came about because his father was secretary to Grigory Potyomkin and Catherine the Great. He, meaning Pyotr, occupied one of the most beautiful homes in Moscow located at what is now known as 5/2 Gogolevsky Boulevard. But he liked to spend his money for the public good, and, being a fan of theater, he kept a rare-at-that-time private theater here at 6 Nizhny Kislovsky Lane. The theater’s story, at least as told on Russian Wikipedia, is quite interesting. It seems that Sekretaryov’s brother-in-law was active in finding private spaces where banned plays by the great Alexander Ostrovsky could be performed by a small group of amateur performers – many of whom were quite famous individuals, including the great philanthropist Savva Mamontov. That apparently prompted Sekretaryov to open his own space. Here is a paragraph lifted directly from the article on the theater:
“On his piece of land Sekretaryov erected a new theater building. Despite its small size (the journalist Vlas Doroshevich called it a ‘tobacco box’), the two-story auditorium included an orchestra, balconies, boxes, a gallery, an orchestra pit and backstage wings. The entry for the actors and the stage were located in the right side of the facade, while the spectators entered by way of an entrance on the left [you can see that door in the top photo and the second photo immediately below – JF]. The first floor had a coat check room and a kitchen, and the second floor had a dance hall and cafeteria.”
The third story that we now see atop the building was added later.

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Ah, but isn’t there, in this life, always more than meets the eye? It certainly is true of this little place. Because just about as Sekretaryov was preparing to give up his little endeavor, the Society of Art and Literature moved in as renting tenants. If you don’t recognize that name immediately, let me explain – that is the organization headed by Stanislavsky (with help from his friends) which led more or less directly to the founding of the Moscow Art Theater.
But the miracles do not end there, for, from 1917 to 1924, this very space was used by the now-famous Habima Jewish Theater, where one of the pedagogues was none other than Stanislavsky’s star pupil Yevgeny Vakhtangov.
None of this, by the way, is mentioned anywhere on the building itself. The walls here guard all these riches in mute silence. But that, too, is not the end of the interesting goings on at this address. The future famous actor Modest Pisarev performed on this stage when he was young and, in fact, his future career was apparently kick-started when he ran into the great actor Mikhail Shchepkin in the theater’s foyer.
In 1881 Yakov Bryusov – father of the future poet Valery – staged an amateur show here. Like virtually everything that was performed here, it was without a poster advertising it, without programs and without tickets for purchase. This was the rule at Sekretaryovka, because so often the works offered were not permitted to be performed publicly by the censor. This goes for, among others, Ostrovsky’s A Profitable Post. My understanding is that this was not quite an “underground” theater hiding from the authorities, but a location where well-heeled and well-placed noblemen and aristocrats could dabble in art, especially that which was outside the officially accepted fare.
If there is anyone out there with nothing to do, I highly recommend a book or, at least, an article, detailing the extraordinary cultural heritage of this unassuming building. I have gone through dozens of websites, encyclopedias and books to glean the skimpy information provided here. There is nothing, for example, about this place in the five-volume Soviet Theater Encyclopedia. The two-volume Moscow Art Theater encyclopedia has nothing either. Even my seven-volume, Soviet-era History of the Russian Dramatic Theater does not mention Sekretaryov by name. All the websites crib from one another, rehashing the same finite number of facts, just as I have done. I would love to see some original research on this place.

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Remains of Angelina Stepanova home, Moscow

Click on photos to enlarge.

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I made my first post on this blog exactly a year ago. It’s changed quite a bit since then. Maybe it’s even grown some. Maybe it will continue to do that in the future. At first I saw it as an opportunity to post photos I thought would be of interest. But as time went on I began looking more and more for stories behind the photos, some directly connected, some not.
The photos in this particular post might not look like much at first glance. In fact they are quite extraordinary. Not the photos themselves, of course, but what is pictured in, and suggested by, them. This is all that is left of a building in which the Moscow Art Theater actress Angelina Stepanova lived in the late 1920s and early 1930s – a single wall, stripped down to the bricks on one side, still painted yellow on the other. To be honest, I can’t be sure this wall was actually part of the structure where people lived. It might have been a garden wall of some sort. One detail in the two photos above makes me suspect it was part of the building proper – that window, which is still visible from the “inside” of the wall, and the traces you can still see on the “outside” of the wall where it was blocked up at some point. The address of 4 Krivoarbatsky Lane, which is where Stepanova lived, is now occupied, if you will, by a fancy new, faux old building. I’m sure the architect thinks it is beautiful and I suspect the people that paid the architect all that money to build it agree with him or her. I think it looks like a damn doll house. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It screams of arrogance. Faking the elements of old architecture, it screams, “I am new and I am hot!” I really took a disliking to it as I walked around it. It made me love the crumbly old wall all the more. There is a sense of reality in that broken, abandoned wall that the new building will never have.

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I should add that Stepanova lived with her husband, the Moscow Art Theater director, Nikolai Gorchakov at this address. They were married in 1924. Before long they would part. That happened in 1933. The reason for the rupture was that Stepanova began a serious affair with the playwright Nikolai Erdman. In her memoirs, edited and published together with her correspondence with Erdman, Stepanova wrote, “The feeling that arose in me for Erdman was so strong that it forced me to divorce my husband.” The two did, however, remain friends for the rest of their lives. Gorchakov worked on several of the Art Theater’s famous productions and he was the author of several books about the Art Theater that retain value even today.
Stepanova’s story of returning home from the theater after performances is worth providing in some detail.
“I performed with Vasily Vasilevich Luzhsky, a splendid actor of the theater’s older generation, in the productions of Tsar Fyodor Iannovich, The Cherry Orchard and The Merchants of Glory. After shows he would return home by carriage and, knowing that I lived on the Arbat, he often gave me a ride. On the way we usually exchanged thoughts about the night’s performance, discussed successful or flawed performances and the public’s reaction. When I would part with him at my Krivoarbatsky Lane, I would thank him and jump down from the cab, and Vasily Vasilyevich, without fail, would say to the cabby, “Oh, oh, Semyon! How much money I have wasted on this actress!!!” Semyon would smile, nod his head, and they would go on further.”
Here is the way Stepanova recalled her home in general (published, like the previous quote, in Nikolai Erdman, Angelina Stepanova, Letters, ed. by Vitaly Vulf, 1995):
“My husband and I lived on Krivoarbatsky Lane. Our home – one large room – was loved by our friends for its warmth and hospitality. Writers, artists and our friends and colleagues from the Art Theater often visited us. We were always able to find something for our guests to snack on, or with which to serve them dinner or supper. Our frequent guests included [Pavel] Markov, [Isaac] Babel, the then-inseparable [Yury] Olesha and [Valentin] Kataev, the artists [Vladimir] Dmitriev and [Pyotr] Vilyams, […] Vladimir Yakovlevich Khenkin, […] Vsevolod Emilievich Meyerhold and Zinaida Raikh. […] Vladimir Zakharovich Mass spent a great deal of time at our place. He was working with my husband then on a dramatization of the melodrama The Gerard Sisters. Vladimir Zakharovich also introduced us to his friend and co-author Nikolai Robertovich Erdman and his wife Dina Vorontsova. We became friends and in our free time we would go as a group to exhibits, concerts and the theater club. It was fun and interesting. Erdman began coming to visit us often. He would come alone. Then he began coming when I was alone. A romance began which lasted – not much, maybe, but not a little – seven years…”
This wall here – now knocked down to a single story in height, still painted yellow on the north side from some time in the past, and scraped back to the original material on the other – is all that is left of the world Stepanova describes. This wall was there to see Vasily Luzhsky drop Stepanova off after performances in his horse-drawn carriage. It witnessed Babel and Olesha and Meyerhold and Raikh coming to visit. It caught glimpses of Erdman when he began sneaking in and out. It was there to watch Stepanova’s marriage to Gorchakov fall apart. It was there in the early 1930s to see her move to another apartment on Ogaryov Street near Tverskaya Street – an address I have written about elsewhere in this blog.
There is something incredibly moving about this – a fragment of lives lived and lost. Everyone mentioned in this story today – although it seems as though they are very much a part of our lives – is dead. Stepanova, who was born in 1905, died in 2000. Erdman died in 1970. Gorchakov died in 1958. Vorontsova, whose real name was Nadezhda Alexandrovna Yashke) died in 1942. They’re all gone. Only this wall remains, threatened, but not yet conquered, by the big blue monster that now towers over it. Knowing how these things go, the wall probably will not last much longer. Take a look while you can.

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