Thursday, May 1, 2008

Birthday Girl

Today, I'm sure you'll happy to know, marks the day that Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst would, had she been possessed of an even more remarkable constitution than whe was, have turned 279. She was once a little girl called "Figchen," and she grew up to live through a startlingly bad marriage before really coming into her own, which she did to a degree rarely seen before in history.

Little Figchen, you see, went on, through a quite unlikely set of circumstances, to become Yekaterina II Alekseyevna, better known as Catherine the Great, Empress of all the Russias, the fine figure of a woman seen here:

I don't know why, but of the Major Historical Ladies, Catherine is the one I have the hardest time picturing in person, as a living, breathing person. One reason might be that she has been portrayed by some of the loveliest, unlikeliest of major performers in vehicles that are almost uniformly unwatchable, for any number of reasons. Essaying on stage and screen Catherine have been performers as diverse as Elisabeth Bergner, Tallulah Bankhead, Mae West, Bette Davis (!), Catherine Zeta Jones (!!), and Julia Ormond.

Perhaps the real reason, though, that I can never get a realistic picture of the Empress is that, to one extent or another, in my mind she'll aways really look like this:

Marlene, of course, in The Scarlet Empress

In honor of the day, I propose that for once in our lives we rise above the petty and eschew, in connection with this great lady, any and all equine jokes that might even rise to the edge of our conciousnessness.

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