Archive for the Russian Category

Vera Gordon, of “The Cohens and the Kellys”

Posted in Broadway, Child Stars, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, MEDIA, Melodrama and Master Thespians, Movies, Russian, Silent Film, Stars of Vaudeville, 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 vaudeville and performers like Vera Gordonconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

 

Olga Baclanova: Turned to a Chicken by Freaks

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. 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.

Maria Ouspenskaya: From the Laboratory to Lycanthropy

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).

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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Madame A. Strakai and Her Dogs

Posted in Animal Acts, Circus, Russian, Stars of Vaudeville, 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 Spitz 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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Phil Spitalny and His All-Girl Orchestra

Posted in Art Models/ Bathing Beauties/ Beauty Queens/ Burlesque Dancers/ Chorines/ Pin-Ups/ Sexpots/ Vamps, Hollywood (History), Movies, Music, Radio (Old Time Radio), Russian, Women with tags , , , on November 7, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of Phil Spitalny (1890-1970). Born in the Ukraine, he founded his 22 piece All-Girl Orchestra in the early 30s, called the Hour of Charm Orchestra when it was featured on the Hour of Charm radio program (1934-1948). In addition to the radio shows, the orchestra toured and performed live in presentation houses and similar venues. They were also featured in the films When Johnny Comes Marching Home (1942) and Here Come the Coeds (1945). Spitalny and his Orchestra’s star Evelyn Kaye married in 1946. After the show went off the air the orchestra continued to perform as a live act until 1955, and made several appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Here they are in a 1922 Vitaphone short:

To learn out more about show business history consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable 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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Rubinoff and His Violin

Posted in Classical, Hollywood (History), Movies, Music, Radio (Old Time Radio), Russian, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2013 by travsd

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Today is the birthday of concert violinist David Rubinoff (1897-1986).

Born in what is now Belarus, he studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Warsaw, and was brought to the U.S,. by Victor Herbert. Billed as “Rubinoff and his Violin”, he began playing in vaudeville in the 1920s and continued performing in the large presentation houses with his Orchestra through the 30s and 40s. Starting in 1931 he was a major radio star, beginning with a regular stint on The Chase and Sanborne Hour with Eddie Cantor. In 1935 and 1936 he and his orchestra had their own radio program. In addition he had several guest shots in films throughout the 1930s.

Here he is in his very own “Soundie” from 1945:

To learn 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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To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy 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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