Russians in Hollywood

Just few people know that there were many Russian actors at the beginning of American films. One of those actors published an article in the magazine Rubezh. “Director’s megaphone is already calling us. Cameramen are already fixing their devices. Now they will demonstrate “Zaporozhye Cossacks Writing a Letter to Sultan”. I hope the film will be the beginning of my success in Hollywood… Alas! These dreams never came true: like any other supernumerary, your correspondent had gone through a period of infatuation, which unfortunately proceeded to bitter disappointment.”

The first Russian actors came to Hollywood even before 1917, the year when the Great October Revolution broke out in Russia; in the years of the Civil War they acted in silent films. When sound films appeared, the opportunities of Russian actors got seriously complicated. The language barrier became insurmountable for many of them. On the whole, the list of Russian actors in Hollywood is big enough (they were Glebov, Malavsky, Borovskoy, Sheron, Cherkassky, Mariyevsky, Razumny, Kinsky, Uspenskaya, etc), however, just few of them performed key roles. In most cases, Russian actors played just bit parts or were supernumerary: they performed cavalrymen, waltz or mazurka dancers. There were many Russian actors in the first color film, Robin Hood (1937), they performed knights. In 1936, the Trade Union of Russian actors was created, but it soon broke up because of the strongest competition with Americans. Russian actors often worked as consultants in films.

The film The Mission to Moscow (the Warner Brothers studio) based on a then-famous book by America’s Ambassador to Moscow Davis, was a great success. That was not the first film dedicated to Russia by director of the film Michael Kortez. But Russian actors didn’t play key roles in this film telling about Russia. At the same time, films The Young Man From Stalingrad, The Girl From Leningrad were shot in America, almost the whole of the Russian community took part in the shooting. Some of them performed key roles, but the majority were employed in crowd scenes.

The film Russia’s Song (1943) by Grigory Ratov also enjoyed great success in America. Actress Karabanova told later: “The film is actually in the Russian spirit. Art director Vazyan created a whole Russian village with a church, which certainly inspired the Russian actors for good work.”

Russian ballet Monte Carlo came there for a concert tour. Four ballet performances registered a record attendance – over 20 thousand spectators. In connection with this success, it was decided to shoot a film based on two ballets of Myasin, Spanish Capriccio and Paris Having Fun.

In Grigory Ratov’s film Rossiya, Mikhail Chekhov and Leonid Mostovoy performed the key roles; almost all Russian actors of Hollywood also took part in this film. David Lishin staged wonderful dances, the music was performed by Sergey Malovsky.

A great number of Russian artists also took part in film shooting. For instance, Novaya Zhizn (New Life) wrote about Russian artist A.Tolubeyev: “It would take much time to mention all films with the sets of this author. It’s enough to say that all of them presented an accurate picture of the Russian life, and were also of a high artistic value. America’s popular journal Saturday Evening Post published an article describing A.Tolubeyev as the most outstanding art-director in Hollywood.

Natalya Wood (her real name was Natalya Gurdina) was the most famous Russian actress in Hollywood. She was born in America on July 20, 1938. Her parents were emigrants: they first emigrated to China through Russia’s Vladivostok, and then moved to San Francisco. The daughter of a Russian engineer started acting in films at the age of four. Historians studying the American movie industry are still arguing about the cause of her death on November 29, 1981: it is not clear whether the Russian actress threw herself out of a yacht, or she was murdered.

By the year of 1947, Russians were no longer a fashionable subject in Hollywood, as a period of cooler relations between the USSR and the USA began. Soon after that, Russian directors and actors lost their authority in Hollywood.

Amir Khisamutdinov Special to the newspaper Vladivostok

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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