Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova
19 August 1893
|Died||6 September 1974 (aged 81)|
|Years active||1914–1925 (Russia), 1925–1955 (U.S.)|
(m. 1922; div. 1929)
(m. 1929; div. 1935)
|Relatives||Gleb Baklanov (brother)|
Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova (Russian: О́льга Влади́мировна Бакла́нова; 19 August 1893 – 6 September 1974), known professionally as Olga Baclanova, was a Russian actress, opera singer, and ballerina. She achieved prominence during the silent film era, after taking several years off her age and changing the spelling of her Russian surname from Baklanova. She was often billed under her last name only, as Baclanova, similarly to the surname-only nomenclature of her fellow countrywoman Nazimova.
An exotic blonde temptress, she was known as the "Russian Tigress". She emigrated to America in 1925, and started appearing in Hollywood films, which she remains most noted for portraying the fictional Duchess Josiana in the Universal Pictures silent The Man Who Laughs and evil circus trapeze artist Cleopatra in Tod Browning's cult horror movie Freaks (1932), which features a cast of actual carnival sideshow freaks.
Early life, Moscow Arts Theatre and Russian career (radio, stage and film)
Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova was born on 19 August 1893 (other sources state 1884, 1896 or even 1900, according to her obituary) in Moscow, Russia. She was the daughter of Vladimir Baklanov and his wife Alexandra, herself an actress in early Russian films. She had 6 siblings, including later Soviet general and WWII hero Gleb Baklanov. Baclanova studied drama at the Cherniavsky Institute before being accepted into the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre with contemporaries such as Maria Ouspenskaya in 1912. Over the next decade she appeared in Russian films, and also performed extensively on stage, touring and performing in many countries of the world. In the 1930s, Baclanova had a program called Olga Baclanova's Continental Review, and she often appeared as a guest on radio programs singing songs in her native Russian, having trained in operatic voice at the Moscow Arts Theatre. In 1925 she was given the award "Merited Artist of the Republic", the highest Soviet artist honour. Baclanova appeared in around 17 films during her career in Russia.
Baclanova first came to New York City with the 1925 touring production of the Moscow Art Theatre's Lysistrata. Though the rest of the company returned to Russia in 1926, she stayed in America. She would appear in a West Coast production of The Miracle, before being cast in a bit part in her debut film, The Dove. A statuesque blonde, Baclanova quickly established herself as a popular actress in American silent movies and achieved a notable success with The Docks of New York (1928), directed by Josef von Sternberg. Later that year, she also appeared in The Man Who Laughs as Duchess Josiana, the femme fatale love interest to Conrad Veidt's disfigured hero.
The introduction of talking films proved difficult for Baclanova, as audiences did not respond to her heavy Russian accent. She no longer secured leading roles, and was relegated to supporting parts. Her career was in decline when she was offered the role of the cruel circus performer Cleopatra in Tod Browning's film Freaks (1932). This horror movie, which featured actual carnival freaks, was highly controversial and screened only briefly before being withdrawn. It would be 30 years before Freaks gained a cult following. The movie did not revive Baclanova's film career, which ended in 1943.
Baclanova's father died of natural causes in 1922. She was married three times. Her first husband was a lawyer named Vladimir Zoppi with whom she had her first son. Her second husband was actor Nicholas Soussanin with whom she had her second son. The birth of her second son was front page news and was covered quite extensively in the press in 1930. Her third marriage was to Russian-born David Judovitch, better known as Richard Davis (1900–1984), who owned the Fine Arts Theatre in New York. In 1931, Baclanova became a naturalized American citizen.
In Russia, Baclanova's departure from the USSR is well remembered for its involuntary significant contribution to the unrivaled success of a Soviet movie star Lyubov Orlova, a struggling ex-pianist with a certain likeness to Olga. In 1926, Orlova was promoted from a choir, after two months in a theatre, by the heart-broken Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, a rumored lover and/or admirer of Baclanova, his favorite student. Fashion historian Alexander Vasilyev remembered in 2018: "He [Vladimir] loved her [Olga] in letters, he was thinking deeply about her. The only time he cried [publicly], at the piano in the Art Theatre foyer, was when he had found out about Olga Vladimirovna Baclanova [emigration]... He really began to cry. I'm sure of this, not because I was there but because I was a friend of Sophia Pilyavskaya who was also closely connected to Nemirovich-Danchenko and could have known this from the wife of the famous director... Lyubov Orlova blossomed as Baclanova's substitute."
After her retirement she migrated to Switzerland. She died at a rest home on 6 September 1974 in Vevey, Switzerland, aged 81, apparently suffering from Alzheimer's disease, although this is unconfirmed. She was interred at Corsier cemetery, in Corsier-sur-Vevey.
Partial Hollywood filmography
|1914||Simfoniya lyubvi i smerti|
|1914||Kogda zvuchat struny serdtsa|
|1915||Zhenshchina vampir||Title role|
|1915||Po trupam k schastyu|
|1915||Lyubov pod maskoy|
|1916||Tot, kto poluchaet poshchechiny||L'écuyère Consuella, qu'il tue par amour|
|1927||The Dove||Minor Role||Uncredited|
|1928||The Czarina's Secret||Catherine the Great - The Czarina||Short|
|1928||Three Sinners||Baroness Hilda Brings|
|1928||The Man Who Laughs||Duchess Josiana|
|1928||Street of Sin||Annie|
|1928||Forgotten Faces||Lilly Harlow|
|1928||The Docks of New York||Mrs. Lou Roberts|||
|1928||The Woman Disputed||Countess||(scenes deleted)|
|1929||The Wolf of Wall Street||Olga|
|1929||A Dangerous Woman||Tania Gregory|
|1929||The Man I Love||Sonia Barondoff|
|1930||Cheer Up and Smile||Yvonne|
|1931||Are You There?||Countess Helenka|
|1931||The Great Lover||Mme. Savarova|
|1932||Downstairs||Baroness Eloise von Burgen|||
|1933||The Billion Dollar Scandal||Anna aka GoGo|
Stage roles (US and UK)
- The Miracle (west coast production, 1926)
- The Farewell Supper (After on anatol), 1929
- Silent Witness (1931)
- Grand Hotel (1932)
- Twentieth Century (1932)
- The Cat and the Fiddle (west coast, 1932)
- $25 an Hour (Germaine Granville, 1933)
- Murder at the Vanities (Broadway Production, 1933)
- Mahogany Hill, Broadway, 1934)
- Going Place (London debut, 1936)
- Idiot's Delight (US tour), 1936
- Twentieth Century (US Tour revival, 1937)
- Claudia 1941–1943, US tour
- The Cat and the Fiddle (revival, New Jersey), 1945
- Louisiana Lady (summer stock, East Coast production, mid 1947)
- A Copy of Madame Aupic (East Coast, New Milford, summer stock, 1947)
- "Olga Baclanova Is Dead at 74. Starred in Films and on Stage". New York Times. September 11, 1974. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
- Mank, Gregory W. (1999). Women in horror films, 1930s, p. 118. McFarland; ISBN 978-0-7864-0553-4
- Meienberg, L. Paul. "Olga Baclanova biography". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent film necrology, p. 25. McFarland; ISBN 978-0-7864-1059-0
- Meienberg, L. Paul. "Olga Baclanova--The Ultimate Cinemantrap!". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
- Robert, Hanks (August 19, 2020). "The Man Who Laughs' is a cautionary tale about grinning and bearing it". apollo-magazine.com. Apollo. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
- "Olga Baclanova: by her emigration to Hollywood, she made Lyubov Orlova a star in the USSR". retrospectra.ru (in Russian). Retrospectra. 10 June 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
- "Alexander Vasiliev: "A Russian personality is known for having a mirror in every room"". muzcentrum.ru (in Russian). Radio Orpheus. 2018. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
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