09 September 2019

Jadwiga Smosarska

Jadwiga Smosarska (1898-1971) was the biggest star of the Polish cinema of the pre-WWII era. From 1919 on, the Polish actress made more than 25 silent and sound films. She also was very successful on stage. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, she fled to the US. In 1970, she returned to Poland.

Jadwiga Smosarska
Polish postcard by BHK, no. 7. Photo: Sfinks. Jadwiga Smosarska in Tredowata/The Leper (Boleslaw Mierzejewski, Edward Puchalski, 1927). Collection: Didier Hanson.

Jadwiga Smosarska
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3853/1, 1928-1929. Photo: W. Kirchnera, Warschau (Warsaw).

Jadwiga Smosarska
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 3853/2 1928-1929. Photo: Van-Dyck, Warschau (Warsaw). Collection: Didier Hanson.


Jadwiga Filipina Smosarska was born in Warsaw as the daughter of Karol Smosarski, a chemist, and Waleria nee Darmos, a housewife and singer at charity concerts. She had three siblings, including two brothers.

Jadwiga spent her early childhood in the land estate of Jurka, where her father was the administrator. In 1905, the family moved to the capital. Five years later, father Karol died, and her mother had to earn a living for the children, working as a hairdresser.

As a teenage student, Jadwiga played in amateur performances. Her unofficial stage debut took place in 1916, in the role of the Virgin in Zygmunt Krasiński's 'Un-Divine Comedy', staged in the Polish Theatre by a student amateur group. After graduating in 1917, she studied acting with Władysław Staszkowski, and then enrolled for evening studies at the Warsaw Drama School, graduating with honours in 1920. In the meantime, she also earned her living by working at the Bank of Poland.

Under the pseudonym Sarska she made her debut in 1918 on the stage of the Summer Theatre in Warsaw in the farce 'Charley's Aunt'. In July 1920 she appeared in the diploma show of the Warsaw Drama School, and in September of the same year, she was involved in the Rozmaitosci Theatre team, where she worked until 1923. Her professional debut there was at the Summer Theater in the comedy 'Weteran' (Captain Swift), where she appeared together with Mieczysław Frenkel.

Until the Second World War, she would continue to perform at the stages of many Warsaw theaters, such as Rozmaitości (1920-1923), Polski and Mały (1924), Letni (1927), Narodowy, Nowy, Letni and Polski (1928-1939).

Jadwiga Smosarska in Tredowata
Polish postcard. Jadwiga Smosarska in Tredowata/The Leper (Edward Puchalski, Józef Węgrzyn 1926), adapted from the novel by Helena Mniszkówna. The man right of her is Léon Łuszcewski,

Jadwiga Smosarska and Józef Wegrzyn
Polish postcard. Jadwiga Smosarska and Józef Wegrzyn.

The new star of the Sfinks

Jadwiga Smosarska's film debut was as Helena in Dla szczęścia/In the name of happiness (1919) by Aleksander Hertz, who then directed films at the company Sfinks.

After Pola Negri, the main star at Sfinks, had left for a career in Germany, Smosarska became the new star. English Wikipedia: "Smosarska was known for playing characters representative of Polish cliches that reflected the suffering of the country's citizens. Patriotic, romantic and in good social standing, her characters often struggled with malaise and a tragic love life."

Her famous titles included O czym sie nie mówi/The Unspeakable (Edward Puchalski, 1924), Tredowata/The Leper (Boleslaw Mierzejewski, Edward Puchalski, 1926) and the historical film  Na Sybir/Exile to Siberia (Henryk Szaro, 1930). The latter was shot as a silent film, but a soundtrack was added in a Berlin studio.

Smosarska's passage to sound cinema went without obstacles, in contrast to others such as Irena Gawecka, whose film career ended because of the introduction of sound film. Smosarska starred in the historical film Barbara Radziwiłłówna (Józef Lejtes, 1936) which was the first feature film transmitted by Polish television during its test phase (on 26 August 1939).

Although she played in 26 Polish films, Smosarska more often appeared on the stages of Warsaw theatres, playing a total of 40 different plays. The cinema, however, brought her so much popularity that for many people (both audiences and critics) she was considered the biggest star of Polish pre-war cinema, winning in many popularity polls.

Jadwiga Smosarska
Polish postcard, no. Br 91811.

Jadwiga Smosarska and Antoni Rozanski in Ziemia obiecana (1927)
Polish postcard by H.P., no. 5220. Photo: Sfinks. Jadwiga Smosarska and Antoni Rozanski in Ziemia obiecana/The Promised Land (Zbigniew Gniazdowski, Aleksander Hertz, 1927). Collection: Didier Hanson.

A lucrative Hollywood contract

In 1932, Jadwiga Smosarska was discovered by Hollywood after her role in the period piece Księżna Łowicka (Mieczysław Krawicz, Janusz Warnecki, 1932), commemorating the Polish 1830-31 uprising.

However, the actress rejected a lucrative contract at one of the leading Hollywood majors because she did not want to leave Poland for a long time. In 1935, she married the engineer Zygmunt Protassewicz in the capital. The couple lived in a villa in Warsaw designed in accordance with Jadwiga's personal instructions. In 1938, she was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit: "in recognition of merits placed on the promotion of Polish film culture".

After the first bombings of Warsaw in September 1939, Smosarska and her husband fled to relatives in Lithuania. Subsequently, both of them arrived in Latvia, Sweden and Norway and in November 1939 in the USA, thanks to the proposal of Polish impresario Stanów Zjednoczonych, who had previously wanted to organise an American tour for her.

While the Hollywood industry would not accept her because of her accent, she appeared in the role of Julia in Aleksander Fredo's comedy 'Pierwszy Lepsza' (First Better), in the Polish Theatre of Artists in New York in the spring of 1944.

Around 1950, the couple lived in their own house with a garden in Middlebury, where Protassewicz ran a large precision tool factory. Polish emigrants and newcomers from Poland often visited them.

In 1954 Smosarska toured Canada to raise money for assisting Polish immigrants. After the war, she visited Poland several times and finally returned with her husband to her hometown for good in December 1970.

Jadwiga Smosarska died less than a year later, in 1971, in Warsaw because of agranulocytosis, an acute condition involving a severe and dangerous leukopenia (lowered white blood cell count). She was 73 and was buried in Aleja Zasłużonych at the local Powązki Cemetery.

Jadwiga Smosarska
Polish postcard by Edition Victoria PW. Photo: Wytw. Sfinks.

Jadwige Smosarska
Polish postcard by Polonia, Krakòw, no. 27. Photo: Dorys, Warszawa (Warsaw). Collection: Didier Hanson.

Jadwiga Smosarska
German postcard by Ross Verlag, no. 4883/1, 1929-1930. Photo: Van Dyck, Warsaw.

Sources: Wikipedia (Polish, Russian and English) and IMDb.

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