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History, traditions

Ten American showbiz celebrities of Russian descent

18.11.2005
 
Pages: 12

David Duchovny is very proud of the meaning of his last name, which translates from Russian as 'spiritual'

Emigrants have their own holiday too, the so called Day of the Emigrant, observed by those who left their homelands seeking a better life abroad. The holiday is barely known in Russia, though millions of Russians have been scattered around the world. Quite a few celebrities were Russian by origin. It is worthy of note that some of Hollywood movie stars and pop singers have Russian ancestors too. On the face of it, there is nothing Russian about the people we are listing below. But the first impression can be often deceptive. After all, it was a big surprise to learn about the Russian grandmother of Lenny Kravitz.

Michael Douglas

The name of the actor's father is Kirk, but his original full name is Issur Danielovich-Demsky. Kirk Douglas's father, Hershel Danielovich, was born in 1884. He left Russia in 1910 to dodge the draft. His wife Brina stayed in Russia for awhile. She was the daughter of Ukrainian farmers. She moved for the United States two years later after Hershel settled down a little bit. The Danieloviches decided to rehash their name so that they would look and sound more American. Hershel became Harri, Brina became Bertha. Their next of kin Americanized their names too. Issur's parents gave him a new name – Isador. The boy hated his new name.

Michael's granddad was one of the few members of the community who managed to buy a horse and a cart for schlepping flour around the town. The Danielovivhes could hardly make both ends meet because Hershel squandered most of his money on the drink. Hershel's passion for the booze was his only link to Russia.

Harrison Ford

Harrison's father name was Christopher. His father was Irish and his mother was of German-American ancestry. Harrison's mother name was Dorothy, she was from the family of Jewish immigrants that came from Russia. The original name of Dorothy Ford is Dora Nidelman. She changed her first name to Dorothy when a teenager. She did not like the Jewish traditions observed by her family. Dora was born in New Jersey in 1917. Her mother Anna Livshutz arrived in New York in 1907 from Minsk.

Speaking about his Russian/Jewish/Irish ancestors, Harrison Ford said that he is “Irish as a person but I feel Jewish as an actor.” He said nothing about his Russian ancestors.

David Duchovny

David's mother Margaret was born into a Scottish family, his father Amram is a son of the Russian Jews who moved for New York. “Duchovny”, Amram's last name, was continually misspelled until he changed it to “Dukhovny.” But David restored the original family name when he grew up. The actor is very proud of the meaning of it (translates from Russian as 'spiritual'). He does not speak Russian but has a perfect command of Hebrew. He loves Russian literature. David is a great admirer of Dostoevsky's works. “His novels are so easy to understand,” says he.

Winona Ryder

Winona was born Winona Laura Horowitz. But the above family name is not her original one: she should be called Winona Tomchina. U.S. immigration authorities messed things up and used another emigres' last name while filling in the records for the newly arrived refugees from Russia. In other words, they fled Russia bearing the name the Tomchins, arrived in the USA by the name the Horowitzes. Winona's grandmother is 100 years old. She keeps telling the actress about her Russian ancestry. “I wish I could make a film about Russia or World Ward Two one day. Most of my father’s relatives perished in Gulag,” says the actress. She says she got her American name, Winona, by sheer chance. She was born in the city of Winona, Minnesota. And her stage name “Ryder” is meant to honor the favorite jazz musician of her father.

Sean Penn

Sean's mother is Irish, his father is a Jew of Russian and Lithuanian descent. The last name of Sean's father Leo was Pinon. Leo changed it into Penn when the family immigrated to the United States. Leo Penn became an actor and TV director, he shot a few episodes of Star Trek and Colombo. His name got into the “black list” of the notorious McCarthy commission dealing with anti-American activity in the 1950s. He was accused of spying for the USSR. The accusations were never proved in a court of law.

Lenny Kravitz

The singer's full name is Leonard Albert Kravitz. Roxy Rocker, his mother, was born in Trinidad. His dad's name is Sai Kravitz, he is from a Jewish family that arrived in the U.S. from Russia. However, Lenny does not remember nor he knows any of his Russian relatives. But he is very proud of his ancestry.

Monica Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky was born into a family of Jewish emigrants. Her family moved to the U.S. from Germany. Monica's father made a good career in San Francisco, Bernard Lewinsky is a prosperous oncologist these days. Her mother's relatives arrived in the U.S. from Russia. Monica's mother is a writer, she is more known in the States by her nom de guerre Marcia Lewis. Monica knows nothing about her Russian ancestors and prefers to refrain from discussing the subject with anybody.

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