Monday, October 5, 2009

Maria Ouspenskaya: One of Five Thousand Others!


The month of October will feature a different profile of a character actor in need of attention in each of my Movie Morlocks blogs. The month kicks off with a profile of Maria Ouspenskaya, who may be best remembered for her appearance as a wise gypsy woman in that Halloween perennial, The Wolf Man (1941), but who was so much more. This glimpse of the influential actress begins below:

As TCM winds down a month featuring one of the greatest character actors who ever stole a picture, (Claude Rains, the September Star of the Month), my appetite for character actors in the spotlight has been whetted. Partly in response to repeated requests from those interested readers who frequent these pages, I thought a deserving glimpse of more supporting players might enliven the month of October.

Each week this month, I’ll focus one of those actors who may not have been the stars of the show, but whose work invariably stood out from the crowd of “5000 others”. This week, I thought I’d tip my hat toward at least one of the gifted Russian émigrés who trained at the Moscow Art Theatre.

Maria Ouspenskaya, whose talent came out of that creative seedbed for some of the finest actors and boldest hams, stands out among them, despite being under five feet tall. Many of her colleagues lent their credibility and indelible gifts to Hollywood, but she may be the most readily identifiable of the bunch.

While hightailing it away from the Cossacks, the Whites, the Reds, the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks, the anarchists and the fascists who made life a bit too “interesting” in the first half of the 20th century from Siberia to the shores of Ellis Island, several of these actors found a pretty fair living in Hollywood, among them Akim Tamiroff, Olga Baclanova, Vladimir Sokoloff, Leonid Kinskey and Konstantin Shayne. They may never have felt completely at home in what sometimes seemed the Babylonian splendor of “barbaric” American culture in the studio era. Cut off from their cultural roots and often having lost their families and nearly their lives during the revolutionary times they lived in, these actors often proved their strength of character and professional versatility when asked to play characters of almost every class and ethnicity in American movies...more

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