Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Birthday Girl: The Volga Vamp

Happy birthday to Olga Baclanova, a tempestuous Russian diva who came to Hollywood in the late '20s and all too quickly found her promising career stymied by the coming of sound (she had an accent so thick it makes Natasha Fatale sound like Audrey Hepburn).

Paradoxically, it was during the steep decent that by 1935 had taken her out of movies (and, on the sunny side, to a solid transatlantic stage presence) that she made the picture she's best remembered for, Tod Browning's magnificently twisted epic of circus life, Freaks. Everything that made her not work in most talkies - the accent, of course, but also her larger-than-life presence, her flashing eyes and heavy, exotic beauty - made her the perfect evil, grasping circus acrobat, and so she carved out her little slice of celluloid immortality as Browning's Cleopatra.

Sharing the day? Among them are another silents survivor, ur-flapper Colleen Moore; Mademoiselle herself, la Chanel; half-a-duo Alfred Lunt; and That Somewhat Different tennis pro, Dr. Renée Richards. I hope, in one way or another, here or in the hereafter, they're having fun.


  1. Renée Richards! Now there's a blast from the past!!

  2. This reminds me to ask when you're going to tackle the Lyda Roberti problem. Take a number from one to ten?

  3. Immediate flashback to SNL's Weekend Update with Jane Curtin saying something like, "In related news, Dr. Renée Richards describes her surgery at the US Open," accompanied by a photo of the athlete with her thumb and forefinger very close together (probably to show the line judge or the crowd how in or out a ball was...but you get the joke).

    I was 12ish at the time and found it hilarious, scandalous, fascinating and thrilling.

  4. Goodness, RJ - do tell! The only Lyda Roberti problem I know is that Ginger stole her part in Roberta, and I can't complain about that because Roberta is just about my favorite FredandGinger.

  5. I often quote Olga's great line from Freaks: "Midgets are not strong...." It's important to pronounce it as Meed-jayts and to roll all the R's.