08 October 2013

Vera Karalli

Vera Karalli (1889-1972) was one of Russia's first film stars. She was an actress in the films of pioneer film maker Yevgeni Bauer, and she was also a ballet dancer with the Ballets Russes.

Vera Karalli
Vintage Russian postcard.


Vera Alexeyevna Karalli (Russian: Вера Алексеевна Каралли) was born in Moscow, in 1889. After the Moscow Theater School, Vera Karalli performed with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1909. At the Bolshoi Theatre she was promoted soloist after two years and ballerina in 1915.

From 1914 to 1919, she also had a short but intense (16 films) career in the Russian cinema. Her film debut was the drama Ty pomnish' li?/Do You Remember? (Pyotr Chardynin, 1914) opposite the successful actor Ivan Mozzhukhin. The next year she starred in Voyna i mir/War and Peace (Vladimir Gardin, Yakov Protazanov, 1915) based on the famous novel by Leo Tolstoy.

From 1915 on, she also played in the films by Yevgeni Bauer such as in the Turgenyev adaptation Posle smerti/After Death (1915) and the haunting melodrama Umirayushchii Lebed/The Dying Swan (1917). In the last film she is the beautiful Gizella, a mute ballerina murdered by an obsessive artist in order to get her in the right shape of the dying swan.

During the First World War, Karalli was considered one of the most celebrated actresses and dwelled in high circles (as mistress of Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia). She is suspected of being a co-conspirator in the murder of Grigori Rasputin in December 1916. Following the October Revolution, Karalli fled to Western Europe. Her last film in Russia was Mechta i zhizhn/Dream and Easy Life (Aleksandr Uralsky, 1918).

Vera Karalli
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin. Photo: Schloss-Atelier, Berlin.

The Revenge of a Woman

Vera Karalli played in one French film La nuit du 11 septembre/The Night of September 11 (Bernard-Deschamps, 1919) opposite Severin-Mars.

In Germany she also played in one film, Die Rache einer Frau/The Revenge of a Woman (1921) by Robert Wiene, the director of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. It was based on a story by Barbey d'Aurevilly. The Ross postcard above was probably made for this film.

At that time, she was also named Vera Caroly. In 1919 and 1920 she performed again with the Ballets Russes. In 1920, Karalli participated in a large a charity concert at the Paris Opéra along with opera singer and dancer Maria Kuznetsova amongst others, to raise funds to aid impoverished fellow Russian émigrés.

Lidia Ryndina, Vera Karalli, Vitold Polonsky
Russian postcard. Collection: Didier Hanson. Photo: publicity still for Vozmezdie/Retribution (Yevgeni Bauer, 1916) with Lidia Ryndina, Vera Karalli and Vitold Polonskywith.

Grand Hotel

In the 1920's, Vera Karalli taught dance in Kaunas in Lithuania, and from 1930 till 1935 she was the ballet mistress of the Rumanian Opera in Bucharest.

From 1938 to 1941 she lived in Paris, where she had a studio. Later she settled in Vienna, and taught there.

Vera Karalli died in Baden, Austria, in 1972. The character of Grusinskaya, played by Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932), seems to be based on her.

Vera Karalli dances in Umirayushchii Lebed/The Dying Swan (1917). Source: GoldenSilents (YouTube). Music by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Sources: Steve Shelokhonov (IMDb), Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

MrCachet said...

That first image is great. That's quite a pose she's struck.