March 26 is the birthday of Maria Rasputina (1898-1977), a woman at the center of one of the most entertaining tales of all the White Russians.
The daughter of the famous Mad Monk Svengali to the Romanovs, after Rasputin’s murder she married his designated successor Boris Soloviev, a mesmerist, Theosophist, and conductor of seances. In 1920, during the Civil War that followed the Revolution, the pair fled to a dizzying succession of other places: Ceylon, Suez, Trieste, Prague, Vienna, Baden, Berlin, and Paris. In Russia, Boris had kept them afloat as a swindler. In France, probably because of the language barrier, he was forced to work at menial jobs. He died of TB in 1926.
With two children to support, Maria began to trade in on her name in order to earn a living. Having studied dance in Berlin and Paris, she began to work as a cabaret dancer. She was to remain in show business for nearly a decade. In 1929, Circus Busch hired her to do an interpretive dance about her famous father’s murder. By 1933 she was performing with trained ponies in Cirque d’hiver. She next worked her way west to London and finally the U.S. where she was employed by the Hagenbeck-Wallace and Forepaugh–Sells shows, taming big cats. In 1935, she was maimed by a bear, and forced to retire.
In later years Rasputina worked in defense plants. (I never thought I’d ever say this and I do so only half-jokingly, but in this context: thank God for defense plants: they provided jobs for so many former entertainers in the war years after their careers fizzled). In her last couple of years she did lighter work, such as giving Russian lessons, to earn her keep. She also wrote three books about her father, The Real Rasputin (1929), Rasputin My Father (1932), and The Man Behind the Myth (1977).
To learn more about the variety arts, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous