Archive for the Russian Category

Stars of Vaudeville #987: Vera Gordon

Posted in Broadway, Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, MEDIA, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Russian, Silent Film, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2016 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Vera Gordon (Vera Pogoreslsky, 1886-1948). Pogorelsky began acting at age 11 in her native Russia. After marrying writer/director Nathan A. Gordon the two immigrated to the U.S. with their three month old infant in 1905. Unable to speak English, they moved to the Lower East Side, and began appearing in Yiddish theatre and vaudeville.

A little over a decade later she was playing Broadway, the West End, and Big Time Vaud theatres, including the Palace, where she appeared in a sketch called “Lullabye”. In her book, The Palace, Marion Spitzer writes of bringing a group of Palace stars up to Sing Sing for a charity performance, and Gordon being so moved by the plight of one of the inmates that she helped to get him paroled.

Gordon’s biggest mark was to come in motion pictures, where she was generally cast at the traditional Jewish mother, staring with the silent smash Humoresque (based on a Fanny Hurst novel) in 1920. In 1923 she did the film version of Potash and Perlmutter, a play she had starred in in London four years earlier. Today she may be best remembered for starring in the Cohens and the Kellys series of comedies throughout the 1920s with Charlie Murray and others. Her last film was Eddie Sutherland’s remake of Abie’s Irish Rose in 1946.

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Gorky’s “Boredom” at Coney Island USA

Posted in AMERICANA, Amusement Parks, AMUSEMENTS, Coney Island, CRITICISM/ REVIEWS, Indie Theatre, Russian with tags , , , , on May 30, 2015 by travsd

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In 1904 the great Russian (and then proto-Soviet) writer Maxim Gorky, in exile from Tsarist Russia, undertook a fundraising tour of the U.S. for the Bolsheviks along with his lover the great actress Maria Andreyevna. The venture was almost immediately aborted when New York newspapers learned that he was living “in sin” with his traveling companion. Bookings were canceled and they were banned from hotels. So they hung fire in in New York for a time and even spent some time in Coney Island. Gorky wrote an essay about his experiences.

Coney Island USA’s Dick D. Zigun adapted Gorky’s observations into a charming theatre piece and is presenting it in the Coney Island Museum as a program of his theatre company Funhouse Philosophers. In the play, directed by James Rana, Gorky and Andreyevna (Chris DePierro and Atalanta Siegel), address a gathering of workers in a Coney Island union hall. Their observations hit us on  couple of different levels.

The first is the plane of irony. The Bolshevik Gorky is relentlessly negative on the subject of Coney’s amusement parks, seeing them as strictly as elaborate smokescreens to blind the and fleece the proletariat. There is no ride or show or other seemingly innocuous element that Gorky doesn’t regard as a horrible joke and a lie. “Beneath those blazing lights,” he sneers, “are so much painted wood.” (Not a direct quote, but that’s the idea). What did he think American workers believed — that it was an actual fairyland? No — we all know it’s a brief illusion…but we think it’s still worth paying for. But there is no food for the soul there, Gorky argues, thus the ultimate takeaway from  trip to Coney is not fun and excitement but “boredom”. His paint of view is quaint, antiquated and alien to the American sensibility, and it becomes one of the rewards of this theatre piece. Gorky is as much a freak to us as the Wild Boy or Zip the Pinhead.

The second reward for the audience is that Gorky’s writing (even more ironically) provides us with a window onto the place he’s lambasting: Coney Island at its very height, in 1906. He describes for us the reactions of people on the rides, families walking around, the experience of taking an early dark ride voyage to Hades. Both of these elements make it a perfect piece to present in this setting, and Rana and his animated actors bring it off well, suggesting a lot with a little, weaving elaborate dreamscapes with Gorky’s language and whimsical masks and props by Kate Dale. Fans of Coney Island (and CIUSA), of Maxim Gorky, and of well-acted indie theatre will all love this little piece — it’s the perfect way to kick off what promises to be a

You have two more chances to see it (and hear it — this would make an excellent radio play, btw). It plays through tomorrow. To get your tickets and more info, go to ConeyIsland.com.

 

 

 

Stan Laurel in “Frozen Hearts”

Posted in Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Russian, Silent Film, Stan Laurel (Solo) with tags , , , , , on October 28, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the anniversary of the release of the very  funny Stan Laurel comedy Frozen Hearts (1923).

This little comedy is obscure in more ways than one. It appears to be a parody of a Russian melodrama in the vein of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky (or movies made on those themes), although what specifically it is targeting remains elusive.

But in addition to being quite funny and rather excellently made (especially in terms of art direction) the film’s principal interest lies in the fact that the cast includes Mae (or May) Laurel, Stan’s legendary common-law wife and vaudeville partner. Mrs. Laurel was reported to have been an abusive battle-axe, undoubtedly an inspiration for many of the on-screen Mrs. Laurels once Stan teamed up with Oliver Hardy. She’d got her hooks into the promising young Laurel in 1917 and pretty much dominated his life until 1925 when producer Joe Rock conceived a scheme to get her out of the picture (read more about that in my full Laurel post here). At any rate, Mae constantly pressured Laurel to be in his movies. Producers didn’t want her, but she sometimes was able to muscle her way in. This film is one of the few rare surviving examples of Mae Laurel on film.

To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To learn about the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Hall of Hams #80: Olga Baclanova

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Broadway, Hollywood (History), Movies, Russian, Silent Film, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , on August 19, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great (and beautiful) Russian actress Olga Baclanova (1896-1974).

People of her day would be flabbergasted to know that in 2014 her best known screen performance would be Cleopatra in Todd Browning’s Freaks (1932), seeing as how the film was scarcely released in its own day, and you can barely understand the actress with her thick accent.

Baclanova’s true heyday, though a brief one, was in the silent period. An actress with the Moscow Art Theatre, she opted to remain in the States following a U.S. tour in 1926 as had Maria Ouspenskaya. In the silent days, it was a totally viable option for a person with very limited English skills to be an American movie star: Pola Negri and Alla Nazimova among them. Like Nazimova, Baclanova went by just her last name during her glory days, when she starred in such films as The Man Who Laughs (1928) and The Docks of New York (1928). During the talkies though, her thick accent got in the way — she was relegated to playing the occasional Countess and by 1933 she was done in features. After this she concentrated on a stage career, and had one last cinematic hurrah in the movie Claudia in 1943.

As time goes on, and more and more people re-discover the greatness that was the silent era, Baclanova will (we predict) get a long awaited public reassessment.

To learn more about early film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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To find out more about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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Hall of Hams #79: Maria Ouspenskaya

Posted in Broadway, Hollywood (History), Horror (Mostly Gothic), Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Romani (Gypsy), Russian, The Hall of Hams, Women with tags , , , , , , on July 29, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of the great Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya (1876-1949). Film buffs know her well as the mysterious Gypsy fortune teller in The Wolf Man (1941) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). What I did not learn until recently was that she was instrumental in bringing Stanislavski’s “Method” to American shores. A member of the Moscow Art Theatre, she decided to remain in the U.S. during the company’s 1922 American tour. She settled in New York and taught acting at the American Laboratory Theatre until she founded the School for Dramatic Art in 1929. More about her influence on American acting can be found here. 

In the mid 1930s she went to Hollywood. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film Dodsworth (1936). Other major films she appeared in included Waterloo Bridge (1940) and The Shanghai Gesture (1941).

To find out more about the history of show business, please consult my critically acclaimed book No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and many other fine establishments.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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The Russians of Vaudeville

Posted in Russian, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , on June 3, 2014 by travsd

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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:

 https://travsd.wordpress.com/category/ethnicities-identities-representations/russian/

 

To find out about  the history of vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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Stars of Vaudeville #860: Madame A. Strakai

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Russian, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2014 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Anna Christiansen (1886-1953), better known by the professional name Madame A. Strakai.

Born Anna Annisman in Magilure, Russia, she was second generation circus folk who learned trick riding, wire walking, trapeze and ballet dancing from childhood. Her stage name came from her first husband, with whom she had a bareback riding act. Her second husband was Jorgen Christiansen. With him, she had a bigger horse act (that included over two dozen stallions), and also developed the act known as  Madame A. Strakai’s Siberian Spits Dogs. They performed with the Moscow Circus until forced to flee the Revolution.  They then gradually worked their way through the capitals of Western Europe, eventually making it to the U.S. by 1923. In the decades that followed, they played big time vaudeville, and Ringling Brothers and Cole Brothers circuses. By the time Madame Strakai passed away in 1953, the pair had settled in Fulton, Indiana.

For more on vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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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

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