A Fake Russian.

I recently watched Jean Renoir’s 1938 movie La Marseillaise; sandwiched as it is between his masterpieces La Grande Illusion (1937) and The Rules of the Game (1939), it inevitably suffers by comparison, but it is a lively and enjoyable view of the French Revolution from below, avoiding the grand spectacles the public expected (the storming of the Bastille is referred to but not shown, and men like Marat and Robespierre are only names bandied about) and therefore a flop when it came out. The most linguistically interesting thing about it is the strong and authentic Marseille accents brandished by the main actors (who are shown making their way north to Paris, spreading not only revolutionary ideas but the titular song), but I confess what drove me to post was the discovery that one of the actresses sported the remarkable name of Nadia Sibirskaïa. Needless to say, I wanted to know more, and when I looked her up I discovered she wasn’t Russian at all — she was born Germaine Lebas, and given a Russian alias by her boyfriend David Kaplan, an émigré from Estonia, who himself took the name Dimitri Kirsanoff, apparently because “the artistic world was strongly attracted by Russian culture at the time.” I wonder if it helped her get roles? It certainly makes her stand out among names like Lefebvre and Larive.


  1. Dmitry Pruss says

    In ballet most definitely adopting a Russian name was the way to get a job. I have some crazy family related story on that…

  2. Please share!

  3. Yes, I think we all want to hear it!

  4. I had this crazy story posted in Russian and it was too long to excite me about translation but it turns out that I already have a synopsis in English. It’s one of the chapters of my wayward 2nd ggf Leo Lapitsky bio. Leo was also a poet, a famous one if you were to believe him. He had an introduction letter from a newspaper spelling out his nomdeplume as Sasha Chorny. This paper saved his life in Baku, Basra and Johannesburg but led him.into trouble in many other places.

    Anyway in the mid 1920s it seems to have landed him a ballet gig in Hollywood, during the short lived Ballets Rousses era there. Leo seems to have gained weight (I got some pictures from a Harbin Russian language magazine) and he never danced anyway, but he was from Russia and enough said. But my vignette goes about the Fake Russians – the two mistresses of the show’s director and a self declared Khan of Tataria Kozloff.

    A brief synopsis in English since this story equally belongs to American history.

    A mining magnate & Mormon girl Winifred “Muzzy” Kimball => a girl “Wink” Winifred Kimball Shaunessy born in Salt Lake City in 1897. Dad was a hard-drinking Irish Catholic Iowan, a hero of Gettysburg who served as a United States Marshal in Mississippi, before a scandalous duel with a senator which forced his reassignment to US marshalship in Utah. Mom was a scion of one of the earliest Mormon polygamist clans. Her father was Heber Parley Kimball I, who made a trek to Salt Lake City in 1848 in his father’s Company, and her uncle is the one after whom Kimball Junction is named.
    At 3, her parents divorce, Muzzie remarries into the bohemian world of Los Angeles and Paris. At 17, Wink enters Kosloff’s dance school in New York, changes her name to Natasha Rambova, and becomes his mistress. Wink-Natasha’s mom, trying to break it up, send her to Britain. In the meantime Kosloff takes another faux-Russian mistress, Vera Fredova, formerly of Anna Pavlova’s Dance Company, and moved to Hollywood, where Vera stars in his productions. Fredova was born in London in 1895 as Winifred Edwards; changing her name to Russian, she also shaved 3 years off her age.
    A year later, Natasha returns and joins them in three-some. Natasha becomes a successful costume designer and Theodore passes her work off as his own. But eventually, it’s discovered, Natasha gets a job and tries to escape Theodore’s mansion, but the guy shoots her with a shotgun; she is saved only by Vera. But Aphrodite, the production she is working on, is ruined by Hollywood’s new (for 1921) push for self-censorship. It’s no longer passable to show lesbian love, and even more so because the movie director, Alla Nazimova, just “stole” Charlie Chaplin’s wife, and Chaplin is suing. They are directed to start working on Dumas’ Camille, and now they need an actor for the star lover role of Armand. Alla invites a gigolo who she knew from New York party scene, a certain Rodolfo Gugliemi de Valentina. Soon, Natasha Rambova takes up with Rodolfo “Valentino”

    1926 “Schererazade”, Fokin’s ballet presented by Kosloff as his own.
    Music of Rimsky-Korsakoff
    100 dancers, 150 chorus

    LA Times:

    “Theodore Kosloff has prominent Russian actors … roles in the ballet. Nicolai Soussanian, cast for the part of Shah-Riar was for years identified with the Russian stage. Michael Vovich …. role of Sultan, was director of Balieff’s “Chauve-Souris” when it made its first showing in New York under Morris Gest management. Alexander Chorny played in stock repertoire company for twenty years his native land. Kozloff will dance the role of the … favorite Arab which he created in London and New York, Vera Fredova will dance the principal feminine role”
    (Michael is actually Vavich, a Russian-Serbian operetta singer turned Hollywood actor, who did play with Balieff in New York, although he’s listed dead last in the cast.
    A. Chorny is described elsewhere as an impostor of Russian poet better known as Sasha Chorny. The identity of the Armenian actor playing Shahriar has remained unknown)

    “Nicolai Soussanissian, Shah-Riar, King of the East, Michael Vavich, Sultan ab-Dourrakh-man.
    Alexander Chorny, grand eunuch. Alexis Zarambovsky, Jack Manck, Alexander Warde, Alexis Jitkoff guardian eunuchs…”

  5. Wow, that’s amazing stuff! Do you have a citation for the LA Times article? I can’t find it by googling.

  6. Dmitry Pruss says

    I got most of my info from the little snippets of scans which appear in the free (meager) newspapers.com search results. If you creatively manipulate the keywords, then you might be lucky to uncover almost everything in a few shots. Harbin’s “Rubezh” is in the Russian collection of the University of Hawaii.

  7. A similar text appeared in the Los Angeles Times 20 June, 1926 page C5, col. 2

  8. Found it! It’s here, under the headline PAGEANTRY TO ENHANCE ‘SHANEWIS.’ (Just keep hitting the + button until you can read it.) There were over 200 pages in that Sunday paper!

  9. Shanewis, by the (now thoroughly forgotten, as far as I know) American composer Charles Wakefield Cadman:

    The opera, which debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on March 23, 1918, is the first American opera to have been presented at the Metropolitan Opera for more than a single season. Over a two-season span, it was performed eight times. The opera was later introduced to Denver in 1924 and the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in 1926.

  10. Of course, that’s not Scheherazade, but the Internet Archive seems to have a near-complete run of the LA Times from that year, so that review is probably findable as well.

  11. I was recently looking up the contemporary British actor Nicholas Galitzine. Apparently his (thoroughly English) grandfather changed his name to Galitzine, my desultory googling didn’t uncover any reason why.

  12. The London Gazette, 10 April 1956, p. 2118 :

    NOTICE is hereby given that EDWARD RALPH
    ALEXANDER GALITZINE of 1D, Talbot Place,
    Blackheath, a citizen of the United Kingdom and
    Colonies by birth, lately called Edward Ralph
    Alexander Tier has assumed and intends henceforth
    upon all occasions and at all times to sign and
    use and to be called and known by the name of
    Edward Ralph Alexander Galitzine in lieu of and
    in substitution for his former name of Edward
    Ralph Alexander Tier and1 that such change of name
    is formally declared and evidenced by a deed under
    his hand and seal dated the 9th day of December,
    1955, duly executed and attested) and enrolled in
    the Central Office of the Supreme Court of Judica-
    ture on the 9th day of April, 1956.—Dated this 9th
    day of April, 1956.

    Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, E.C.3; Agents for
    WINCH GREENSTED and WINCH, Solicitors
    for the said Edward Ralph Alexander
    (337) Galitzine.

    What an odd thing to do in 1955!

  13. The House of Golitsyn certainly produced some interesting offshoots:

    Mstislav Galitzine, count Osterman (1899-1966) joined Alexander Kolchak after the October Revolution. In 1925 he married the California mystic, author and heiress Aimee Crocker. She was 61 and it was her fifth marriage. She offered him $250 a month if he would marry her in exchange for the right to call herself a princess. Two years later they divorced. He was forced to pay all the court costs of the suit.

    Leo Alexandrovich Galitzine, count Osterman (1904–1969) escaped from Soviet Russia and came to settle in Canada by 1929 in Edson, Alberta. He and his wife, Marguerite Therese Reynaud-Carcasse, purchased 420 acres of land, mostly bordering the McLeod River. The Galitzines started an airplane charter company at Great Bear Lake. After his wife died (in Alexandria in 1934), Leo moved to Hollywood where he was acting in various films as an extra, including in The Razor’s Edge and The Chocolate Soldier.

    Prince George Vladimirovich Galitzine (1916–1992) served with distinction in the rank of Major, Welsh Guards 1939–45. He was subsequently a diplomat and businessman. Following retirement he was active as a researcher, author and lecturer on Russia. In his memory The Prince George Galitzine Memorial Library was founded in 1994 by his widow, Princess George Galitzine (formerly Jean Dawnay), and his daughter Princess Catherine (Katya) Galitzine.

    Bishop Alexander Golitzin (1948-) is Archbishop for Dallas, the South and the Bulgarian Diocese for the Orthodox Church in America. He is also emeritus professor of theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His academic work focuses on the discerning the roots of eastern Christian spirituality in Second Temple Judaism.

    Grigori Galitsin (1957–2021) was a former erotic photographer.

  14. J.W. Brewer says

    I was puzzled pragmatically by the statement that Grigori Galitsin (1957–2021) was a “former” erotic photographer. Obviously former on account of being deceased, but the “former” suggests a noteworthy segue out of that line of work while still alive? The wiki article about him does suggest that after a 2006 arrest and criminal charges (allegedly some of the nude models were underage, which the local authorities in Volgograd took a dim view of) he may have retired from that line of business.

    But the “former” still seems unnecessary, because his post-photographic career raising “rare breed pigs and chickens” on an “experimental farm” in the Kalchyovsky District doesn’t really seem to be what makes him “notable” for wikipedia purposes, and indeed the wiki article about him omits “former” in its opening explanation: “Grigori Aleksandrovich Galitsin (Russian: Григо́рий Алекса́ндрович Гали́цын, Sci: Grigorij Aleksandrovič Galicyn; also known as A. Obolenski[1][2]) (1957 – 13 November 2021) was a Russian erotic photographer.”

    hat’s summary of interesting members of the family inexplicably omitted:

    ‘Mikhail Alekseyevich Golitsyn (1687–1775) nicknamed “the fool” was punished by Empress Anna of Russia for converting to Catholicism in order to marry an Italian or German woman. This marriage was declared illegal and she appointed him court jester in 1738, serving kvass to the guests. Two years later she forced him to marry either a Kalmuck or a female jester from Kamchatka. The “mock wedding” which took place inside a two-room ice palace on the Neva in February 1740 during an extremely cold winter remained famous. He moved to his estate and was buried near Pushkino.’

    Or (do your own googling if you want the whole story) the one who is commemorated in the name of Gallitzin, Pennsylvania (about 12 miles west of Altoona).

  15. Good find! I was looking only at the 20th-century examples.

  16. Absolutely terrific stuff! I knew about Kaplan (very good filmmaker) and Rambova, but much of the other material is new to me. Thank you, all!

  17. I guess some time after Grigori’s death, somebody changed the article


    “Grigori Galitsin (born 1957) is a former erotic photographer.”


    “Grigori Galitsin (1957–2021) was a former erotic photographer.”

    instead of to

    “Grigori Galitsin (1957–2021) was an erotic photographer.”

    I have previously noticed multiple Wikipedia articles saying something like “Lee Young (1957–2021) was emeritus professor of history at State University”. In those cases the post mortem editor might not understand what “emeritus” means and why it would better have been deleted.

  18. Stu Clayton says

    the post mortem editor might not understand what “emeritus” means

    Perhaps he thought it was Latin for “meritorious”. Similarly, caveat emptor is the Latin for “past sell-by date”.

  19. There is a famous painting of the ice house wedding.

  20. that’s amazing, Dmitry!

    if i remember some production research from a decade back, nazimova* and rambova were a pretty public romantic item for a while, as well as artistic collaborators. their film of wilde’s Salomé (nazimova directed & starred, rambova wrote and directed) is amazing – watch it as a double feature with ken russell’s Salome’s Last Dance for maximum wilde/beardsley effect! and clive barker’s Coldheart Canyon is a tasty horror novel with their polymorphously perverse hollywood scene at its heart.

    * née marem-ides leventon (in yalta), self-named after (iirc) the protagonist of a korczak novel.

  21. David Kaplan, an émigré from Estonia, who himself took the name Dimitri Kirsanoff, apparently because “the artistic world was strongly attracted by Russian culture at the time.”

    o, and: i suspect kaplan’s name change may have had a lot less to do with an artistic fashion for things russian and a lot more with french antisemitism making it more sensible to have a distinctively russian name than a quite noticeably jewish one – as was likely true for nazimova when she adopted her lasting name at stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theater.

  22. Dmitry Pruss says

    Ashkenazi Jews as a rule didn’t experience any attachment to their government-approved surnames well into the XXth century, so their surname changes “for the slightest convenience” were the norm. But it had nothing to do with acting jobs, of course (well, a branch of my Chernitsky’s have the famous surname Stanislavsky and tell tall tales about their relationship with the famous director, but it’s a whole different story).

    To give one example of “avoiding association with disliked nations”, the Australian branch of my Prusses (who actually used to be Prusovs until 1840s overdraft avoidance made them flee and hide) changed into Prusoffs in WWI, when Russia sounded a lot nicer than Prussia, and then into Prossers in the 1950s when it stopped sounding nice.

  23. o, of course! one side of my family had at least three surnames in two generations at the turn of the 20th century, between a bit of draft evasion and a move from ades to new york city. our argentinian cousins have kept the original one, but have permuted it through two or three spellings.

    but a move to moscow would be a very good reason to adjust one’s name to a folks-rusish one, even if you wouldn’t be passing in face to face situations. i don’t know much about the situation of jews at the Moscow Art Theater specifically, but the context of a restricted city, where jews required special permits to live and would be moving in almost entirely goyish circles in a period of intensifying antisemitic policies (formal and informal), wouldn’t be counterbalanced even by a lovely work environment. there’s a similar pattern in hollywood, even several generations later – the star & producer of Spartacus, after all, is not known to history as issur danielovitch.

  24. @Brett: The article at the link says: “Historians aren’t quite sure the fate of Golitsyn and Buzheninova, but they likely carried on in much the same way they had before their wedding—Golitsyn to jesting and Buzheninova to serving.”

    To the best of my knowledge, Anna died a few months after the Ice House wedding. The regent Anna Leopoldovna (the mother of the unfortunate Ivan VI) dismissed all the court jesters. Mikhail Golitsyn was allowed to settle in one of his ancestral estates (after all, he was the grandson of Vasily Golitsyn, whom you may remember from Khovanschina). Avdotya and Mikhail lived as wife and husband but she soon died after giving birth to their second child. According to Brockhaus and Efron (1893), “this marriage produced Prince Andrei (1740-1777), whose progeny exists to this day.”

    @rozele: Everything about Nazimova is more complicated than it may seem at first glance. I’ve looked at her biography by Gavin Lambert: way too fictionalized but leaving no doubt that she grew up in a family that was both culturally cosmopolitan and seriously dysfunctional.

    Taking stage names was a common practice at that time, e.g., Stanislavsky and Kachalov. A Russian stage name wouldn’t have changed Nazimova’s legal status as a Jew. After skimming the first pages in Lambert’s bio, I suspect that Nazimova’s father converted in order to marry his second wife. At any rate, Nazimova would have to convert to marry Sergei Golitsyn in 1899. From that moment on, she became gospozha Golitsyna and was no longer considered Jewish by the Russian authorities. As for “Alla,” that’s what her mother and father used to call her, at least according to Lambert.

    “self-named after (iirc) the protagonist of a korczak novel”

    Yes, you do remember correctly – I’ve read the same – but this simply can’t be true. Korczak’s Dzieci Ulicy only appeared in 1901, and there’s no Nazimova in it.

  25. Ida aka Adelaida Leventon was baptized on Sep 8 1896 in a rural church of Podolsk uezd just South of Moscow. It may have been in preparation to her marriage or a as way to get residency papers in Moscow, I am not sure. Baptisms before marriages were usually conducted only a few days before wedding (Imperial Russian law didn’t recognize civil marriages, and conversion was a requirement for a cross-faith marriage).
    Adelaide was her “modern / Westerm” name substituting the old-fashioned Ida, and Alla was the name she was christened to.

  26. @Alex K: thanks for the fact-check on the korczak! i wonder where that account of the pseudonym came from, and whether it’s some kind of mangling of another literary source.

    and, with mild apologies for saltiness: nothing i’ve been saying has had anything in the least to do with legal status, with any notion that nazimova was unusual, or with anything at all of any kind about her parents’ cultural navigation. to see what i have been talking about, you might consider why i pointed to the late reb danielovitch as a very close parallel, across a half-century/half-planet distance in space-time and two completely different legal regimes (or just read what i wrote). or perhaps consider the more proximate case of one henryk goldszmit, the author of Gasn-kinder.

  27. Stu Clayton says

    the star & producer of Spartacus, after all, is not known to history as issur danielovitch.

    What the … TIL.

  28. Dmitry Pruss says

    Alla Nazimova doesn’t seem to have based her scenic name on any novel. A search in Google Books doesn’t show anything in the time period in question. Well if you don’t count an unremarkable story “Развязаный узел” by certain Ignaty Potapenko. But outside of the fiction books, the surname was shared by many remarkable people who totally dominate the search results.

    I can’t find a record of her marriage with Sergey Golovin, but I see that he remarried soon, in 1902. Judging by the timing of the events, Alla did convert to get residency in Moscow rather than to marry. The year, 1896, coincides with her move from Odessa to Moscow.

  29. PlasticPaddy says
  30. Dmitry Pruss says

    slightly older military man stationed in Odessa
    probably too unremarkable as of 1896 to inspire a scenic name. Wilno governor’s wife, notable in charitable causes, or a political exile in Eastern Siberia might be more like it… but it wasn’t a super rare surname. Incidentally Alla’s brother also adopted a nom-de-plume Nazimov…

    Yeah, and it’s “Mockba” or rather was … not a connection to be excited about nowadays.

  31. Mockba: a verbal noun formed from English “mock” by means of Russian suffix -ba.

    I recently saw another Pruss online, I think it is the second time I see someone with this surname.

  32. Only related via orthography: I discovered a couple days ago that the “mockball” technique* used by Super Metroid players, which preserves movement speed when Samus Aran morphs into her ball form, should actually be spelled “machball.”

    * Unlike obvious exploits like ice clipping and x-ray climbing, it is not considered a glitch for the purposes of evaluating glitchless speedruns. The reason is that, while it was probably not intended by thr game’s programmers, the machball, like single-sided wall jumping, is a natural consequence of the game’s movement physics.

  33. The reason is that, while it was probably not intended by … .. . is a natural consequence of the game’s …

    Now I wonder what God considers a “glitch” and what sees as “a natural consequence”. (Or rather which natural consequences humans are allowed to use. The universe is glitchless froim the theological perspective)

  34. Gott würfelt nicht!

  35. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks, and sorry for misreading/misinterpreting the former “handle”.

  36. If we’re doing video-game mondegreens, I’m not the only person to have called mana “manna”.

  37. Which reminds me of “Mah Nà Mah Nà.”

  38. @Dmitry Pruss Ignaty Potapenko was very popular in the 1890s, rivaling Chekhov. In the mid-1890s he also had an affair with Lidia “Lika” Mizinova, who had been in love with Chekhov just before then.

    Potapenko’s father was born Jewish. He got drafted into the army as a boy (a kantonist under Nicholas I) and rose through the ranks to become a commissioned officer. Unbelievably, he was later ordained as an Eastern Orthodox priest.

Speak Your Mind