Vera Kholodnaya first Russian cinema star
Born August 30, 1893 (Poltava, Russian Empire), Vera Levchenko grew in a family of Russian language and Literature teacher. However, when the girl was 2 years old, her family moved to Moscow. Meanwhile, as a girl Vera dreamed of a career in classical ballet and even enrolled at the Bolshoi Theater ballet school. In 1908 Vera attended a performance of Francesca da Rimini, with Vera Komissarzhevskaya in the title role. Deeply impressed with Komissarzhevskaya’s artistry, Vera decided to venture in film acting. Soon, Vladimir Gardin, a leading Russian film director, cast her in a minor role in his grand production of Anna Karenina.
Vera Kholodnaya married Vladimir Kholodny in 1910. She also adopted his surname, which means “the cold one”. Later, many took it for a well-chosen pseudonym. Their daughter Evgeniya was born in 1912, and they adopted another child a year later. By the way, Vladimir Kholodny was one of the first Russian car racers and the editor of a daily sport newspaper. Meanwhile, Vera would often accompany him in races which resulted in road accidents.
Soon, her husband went to front to fight in World War I. And Kholodnaya signed a contract with Khanzhonkov studio. She starred in The Song of the Triumphant Love (on Turgenev), which proved to become a major box-office hit. At first, she imitated the acting of Asta Nielsen, but gradually developed her own style. Vera’s extravagant costumes and large gray eyes made her an enigmatic screen presence which fascinated audiences across Imperial Russia.
In particular, the tremendous success was Pyotr Chardynin’s tragic melodrama The Mirages (1916). Then, followed Beauty Must Reign in the World by Bauer, melodrama Fiery Devil, and another melodrama A Life for a Life. And the last one brought her the title ‘the Queen of Screen’. In fact, the author of this title was Alexander Vertinsky who adored the actress and frequently visited her house. Meanwhile, in 1916 Khanzhonkov’s company started making the film Pierrot with Vertinsky and Kholodnaya playing the leads. Unfortunately, the film was not completed.
By the time of the Russian Revolution, every third week appeared films with Kholodnaya. At the Fire Side was her massive commercial success: the movie was on cinema screens until 1924. However, the Soviet authorities ordered to destroy some films with her participation. Noteworthy, her last box-office champion was film titled “Molchi, grust… molchi” – “keep silent, sadness, keep silent”. Like many of her films, it was based on a Russian traditional love song.
During the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik authorities requested film companies to produce less melodrama and more adaptations of classics. Accordingly, Kholodnaya appeared in a screen version of Tolstoy’s “The Living Corpse”. Her acting abilities in this film were so great, that even Stanislavsky himself applauded her. In addition, he welcomed Vera to join the troupe of the Moscow Art Theater.
By that time, the actress moved with her film company to Odessa, where she died at the age of 25 in the 1918 flu pandemic. Learning about her death, Alexander Vertinsky, wrote one of his most poignant songs, “Your fingers smell of church incense, and your lashes sleep in grief…” A director with whom she had worked for several years filmed her large funeral. Ironically, this seems to be her best known film today.
Official Russian records state that Vera Kholodnaya died of the Spanish flu during the pandemic of 1919. 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 life was dramatized in Nikita Mikhalkov’s movie “Slave to Love (1975)”. A documentary on her life was in 1992. A year later, her image appeard on a postage stamp. In addition, in 2003 a life-size bronze statue of her appeared in Odessa, Ukraine (sculptor Alexander P. Tokarev).
Ваши пальцы пахнут ладаном
А в ресницах спит печаль.
Ничего уже не надо нам,
Никого теперь не жаль.
И когда весенней вестницей
Вы пойдете в дальний край,
Сам господь по белой лестнице
Поведет Вас в светлый рай.
Your fingers smell Frankincense
And on the eyelids sadness sleeps.
Nothing is necessary to us any more,
Nobody to feel sorry about now.
And when in early spring
You go to the far end,
God himself up the white staircase
Will lead you into a bright paradise.
Vera Kholodnaya first Russian cinema star