Pages

13 April 2013

Vera Kholodnaya

Vera Kholodnaya (1893 - 1919) was the first star of the Russian silent cinema. Only 26, the ‘Queen of Screen’ died of the Spanish flu during the pandemic of 1919. Although she worked only three years for the cinema, she must have made between fifty and hundred short films. The Soviet authorities ordered to destroy many of the Kholodnaya features in 1924, and only five of her films still exist.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard, no. 118. Collection: Didier Hanson.

A Woman of Outstanding BeautyVera Kholodnaya (Russian: Вера Холодная, and also also romanized as Vera Kholodnaia and Vira Kholodna) was originally named Vera Vasilyevna Levchenko. She was born into a respectable well-to-do family in Poltava, Russian Empire (now Ukraine) in 1893. Her whole family enjoyed acting in plays. At the age of ten, she was sent to Moscow to live with her widowed grandmother. There she attended the elite Perepelkina Grammar school. The girl dreamed of a career in classical ballet and even enrolled at the Bolshoi Theatre ballet school. That changed in 1908, when Vera attended a performance of the film Francesca da Rimini, with ballerina Vera Komissarzhevskaya in the title role. She was deeply impressed with Komissarzhevskaya's artistry, and now was set on becoming an actress. In 1910, the 17-years old married student Vladimir Kholodny, one of the first Russian car racers. Later he became the editor of the magazine AVTO. 1915. Vera would often accompany him in races which resulted in road accidents. She also adopted his surname, which translates as ‘the cold one’ Their daughter Eugenia Kholodnaya was born in 1912, and they adopted another daughter, Nonna Kholodnaya, a year later. After her husband was drafted to fight in World War I, she decided to venture into film acting. She first approached Vladimir Gardin, a leading Russian film director, who cast her in a minor role in his grand production of Anna Karenina (1914, Vladimir Gardin) with Mariya Germanova in the title role. Then director Yevgeni Bauer was looking for a woman of outstanding beauty for a new film. When Kholodnaya was introduced to him, Bauer reportedly was spellbound of the small, intense woman with her commanding grey eyes and mop of black hair. Bauer at once approved her for the part, the lead role in the Ivan Turgenev adaptation Pesn torzhestvuyushchey lyubvi/The Song of the Triumphant Love (1915, Yevgeni Bauer). This mystical love drama was a major box-office hit, and she signed a three-years contract with the Khanzhonkov studio. The impatient Bauer immediately made another film with his new discovery, Plamya Neba/Flame of the Sky (1915, Yevgeni Bauer). It was a typical melodrama about guilty love of a young woman married off to an old widower, and his son. In the end the lovers perish of a thunderbolt. Her next picture was Deti veka/The Children of the Age (1915, Yevgeni Bauer), a drama with pretensions to revealing social problems. Bauer’s death in 1917 robbed the Russian cinema of one of its great talents, and Kholodnaya of her discoverer. Soon followed more films for her made by other directors. At first, Kholodnaya imitated the acting of Asta Nielsen, but gradually she developed her own style. Another tremendous success was the tragic melodrama Mirazhi/The Mirages (1915, Pyotr Chardynin). Her extravagant costumes and large gray eyes made her an enigmatic screen presence which fascinated audiences all over Russia.

Vera Kholodnaya, V. Maximov
Russian postcard, no. 143. Collection: Didier Hanson. Publicity still for Сказка любви дорогой/Tale of dear love (?, ?) with Vladimir Maksimov.

Vladimir Maksimov, Vera Kholodnaya, Vitold Polonsky, Ivan Khudoleyev,  Ossip Runitsch, Petr Cardynin, Ivan Mozzhukin
Russian postcard, no.108. Collection: Didier Hanson. A Who is Who of the Russian silent cinema. In a circle from left: actor Vladimir Maksimov (with bear), actress Vera Kholodnaya, actor Vitold Polonsky, actor Ivan Khudoleyev, actor Ivan Mozzhukhin, director Petr Cardynin and actor Ossip Runitsch.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard, no. 132. Collection: Didier Hanson. Publicity still for Posledneiye tango/Last Tango (1918, Vyacheslav Viskovsky) with Ossip Runitsch. Only about 10 minutes of this film are known to exist. The rest of the film is believed lost.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard, no. 146. Collection: Didier Hanson. Publicity still for Posledneiye tango/Last Tango (1918, Vyacheslav Viskovsky) with Ossip Runitsch.

Vera Kholodnaya, Ossip Runitsch
Russian postcard, no. 75. Collection: Didier Hanson. Publicity still for Posledneiye tango/Last Tango (1918, Vyacheslav Viskovsky) with Ossip Runitsch.

The Queen of Screen
The melodrama Zhizn za zhizn/A Life for a Life (1916, Yevgeni Bauer) became one of the most popular films in Vera Kholodnaya’s career. After this film she was called ‘the Queen of Screen’. Author of this title was the famous singer Alexander Vertinsky who venerated the actress and frequented her house. In 1916 Khanzhonkov’s company started making the film Pierrot with Vertinsky and Kholodnaya playing the leads. Unfortunately, the film was never completed. By the time of the Russian Revolution, a new Kholodnaya film was released every third week. U kamina/By the Fireplace (1917), based on a popular romance, was another resounding commercial success. The film ran in cinemas until 1924, when the Soviet authorities ordered to destroy many of the Kholodnaya features. During the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik authorities requested film companies to produce less melodrama and more adaptations of classics. Accordingly, Kholodnaya was cast in a screen version of Tolstoy's Zhivoy trup/The Living Corpse (1917, Cheslav Sabinsky). Her acting abilities in this film were applauded by Stanislavsky, who welcomed Vera to join the troupe of the Moscow Art Theatre. Her last box-office sensation was Molchi, grust... molchi/Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent (1918, Pyotr Chardynin, Cheslav Sabinsky). Like many of her films, it was based on a Russian traditional love song. By that time, Kholodnaya turned from just a popular and admired actress into a legend of the Russian cinema. She decided to move with her film company to Odessa. There she died at the age of 25 in the 1918 flu pandemic. A director with whom she had worked for several years filmed her grand funeral. Ironically, this seems to be her best known film today. The other five extant films with Vera Kholodnaya are: Deti veka/The Children of the Age (1915), Mirazhi/The Mirages (1915), Zhizn za zhizn/A Life for a Life (1916), Zhivoy trup/The Living Corpse (1918), and Molchi, grust... molchi/Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent (1918). Official Russian records state that Vera Kholodnaya died of the Spanish flu. While that seems quite likely, there is much speculation around her death. Оther stories claim she was poisoned by the French ambassador with whom she reportedly had an affair and who believed that she was a spy for the Bolsheviks. Her husband, Vladimir Kholodny, died 2 months after her. Her mother, Yekaterina Sleptsova, also died shortly after her. Her life was dramatized in Nikita Mikhalkov's film Raba lyubvi/A Slave of Love (1975), and in director Oleg Kovalov made a documentary on her life, Ostrov Myortvykh/Island of the Dead (1992). A year later, her image was depicted on a postage stamp and in 2003 a life-size bronze statue of her was erected in Odessa, Ukraine; created by the artist Alexander P. Tokarev.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard, no. 47. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard, no. 93. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard, no. 143. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Vera Kholodnaya
Russian postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Sources: Jessica Keaton (Silence is platinum), KinoTV.com (German), Russia-IC, Wikipedia and IMDb.

And a special thanks to Didier Hanson for sending us the scans of these really rare postcards!

No comments: