June is Russian Heritage Month; if you don’t believe me just check out RussianAmericanFoundation.org.
This must be a trying time to be a Russian-American. It shouldn’t be the slightest bit controversial to state that the current Russian government SUCKS. It may be vastly better than communism, but still autocratic, corrupt, homophobic, deceitful and expansionist. But just because Putin’s a nasty piece of work, let’s not penalize the rich, beautiful Russian culture.
Compared to many other groups (including the Jews who fled from Russian pogroms), ethnic Russians in American vaudeville were minimally represented. But there are enough important ones to celebrate certainly! Just follow the links below to learn more about each of them.
There’s the singing headliner Nan Halperin; the great actress Alla Nazimova; the concert violinist Rubinoff; harmonica king Borrah Minevich; and the famous dog trainer Madame Strakai. There were the prima ballerinas (not surprisingly): Vera Fokine, Lydia Lopokova, and Anna Pavlova.
Former stage stooge and restaurateur Dave Chasen was born in Odessa. Impresario Lew Leslie (he of the Blackbirds) was really Lessinsky. French music hall and film clown Jacques Tati was ethnically Russian (his name was short for Tatischeff)
And this being vaudeville, let us not forget the Russians in quotes, such as Olga Petrova (whose Russian identity was an elaborate con game), or the comedian Bert Gordon, a.k.a “The Mad Russian”. And Dave Apollon, the Mandolin King who was an actual Russian but caricatured his own accent and identity, much as Yakoff Smirnoff would later do.
To learn about these and related artists see my Russians section in Travalanche:
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc