Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova (Russian: О́льга Влади́мировна Бакла́нова;pronounced Bahk LAH no Vah) 19 August 1893 – 6 September 1974) was a Russian-born naturalized American actress of stage and screen, radio host and performer, operatic singer, and ballerina. She achieved prominence during the silent film era, after taking several years off her age and changing the spelling of her Russian surname from Baklanova. She was often billed under her last name only, as Baclanova, similarly to the surname-only nomenclature of her fellow countrywoman Nazimova.
An exotic blonde temptress, she was billed as the "Russian Tigress" and remains most noted by modern audiences for portraying the fictional Duchess Josiana in the Universal silent The Man Who Laughs and trapeze artist Cleopatra in Tod Browning's horror movie Freaks (1932), which features a cast of actual carnival sideshow freaks.
Early life and Moscow Arts Theatre
She was born on 19 August 1893. (other sources state, 1896, 1898 or 1900) in Moscow, Russia. Baclanova was the daughter of Vladimir Baklanoff and his wife Alexandra, herself an actress in early Russian films. Baclanova studied drama at the Cherniavsky Institute before being accepted into the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre with such contemporaries as Maria Ouspenskaya in 1912. Over the next decade she appeared in Russian films, and also performed extensively on stage, touring and performing in many countries of the world, in the 1930"s had a program called Olga Baclanova's Continental Review and she often appeared as a guest on radio programs singing songs in her native Russian, she had trained in operatic voice at the Moscow Arts Theatre. In 1925 she was given the award "Worthy Artist of the Republic" the highest soviet artist honour. Baklanova appeared in around 17 films in her native Russia, including th efirst Soviet agitprop. dil Bread, before heading to the United States
Baclanova first came to New York City with the 1925 touring production of the Moscow Art Theatre's Lysistrata. Though the rest of the company returned to Russia in 1926, she stayed to pursue career in the United States. She would appear in a West Coast production of The Miracle', before being cast in a bit part in her debut film, The Dove. A statuesque blonde, Baclanova quickly established herself as a popular actress in American silent movies and achieved a notable success with The Docks of New York (1928), directed by Josef von Sternberg. Later that year, she also appeared in The Man Who Laughs as Duchess Josiana, the femme fatale love interest to Conrad Veidt's disfigured hero.
The introduction of talking films proved difficult for Baclanova, as audiences did not respond to her heavy Russian accent. She no longer secured leading roles, and was relegated to supporting parts. Her career was in decline when she was offered the role of the cruel circus performer Cleopatra in Tod Browning's film Freaks (1932) This horror movie, which featured actual carnival freaks, was highly controversial and screened only briefly before being withdrawn. It would be 30 years before Freaks gained a cult following. The movie did not revive Baclanova's film career, which ended in 1943.
Baclanova worked extensively on stage in London's West End and in New York, for about 10 years starting in the mid-1930s. In 1943 she appeared in "Claudia" at the Moore Theatre in Seattle, Washington.
Baclanova's father died a natural death in 1922 according to her family. She was married three times, firstly to lawyer Vladlimir Zoppi and bore two sons with her first and second husbands. The birth of her second son with actor Nicholas Soussanin was front page news and covered quite extensively in the press in 1930. Her third marriage was to Russian-born David Judovitch, better known as Richard Davis (1900-1984), who owned the Fine Arts Theatre in New York. In 1931 Baclonava, became a naturalised American citizen. Her likeness to the American pop singer Madonna in the 1980s has been frequently mentioned as particularly evident in The Man Who Laughs.
After her retirement she migrated to Switzerland. She died at a rest home on 6 September 1974 in Vevey, Switzerland, aged 81, apparently suffering from Alzheimer's disease, although this cannot be confirmed. She was interred at Corsier cemetery, in Corsier-sur-Vevey.
Selected Hollywood filmography
- The Dove (1927)
- The Czarina's Secret (1928)
- Forgotten Faces (1928)
- The Man Who Laughs (1928)
- Three Sinners (1928)
- Street of Sin (1928)
- The Docks of New York (1928)
- Avalanche (1928)
- The Wolf of Wall Street (1929)
- The Man I Love (1929)
- A Dangerous Woman (1929)
- The Great Lover (1931)
- Freaks (1932)
- Downstairs (1932)
- The Billion Dollar Scandal (1933)
- Claudia (1943)
Stage roles (USA and UK)
- The Miracle (west coast production,1926)
- The Farwell Supper (After on anatol), 1929
- Silent Witness (1931)
- Grand Hotel (1932)
- Twentieth Century as Lilly Garland, 1932)
- The Cat and the Fiddle (west coast,1932)
- $25 an Hour (Germaine Granville,1 933)
- Murder at the Vanities (Broadway Production, 1933)
- Mahogany Hill, Broadway, 1934)
- Going Place (London debut, 1936)
- Idiot's Delight (US tour), 1936
- Twentieth Century (US Tour revival, 1937)
- Claudia 1941-1943 Claudia, US tour
- The Cat and the Fiddle (revival, New Jersey), 1945
- Louisiana Lady (summer stock, East Coast production, mid 1947)
- A Copy of Madame Aupic, (East Coast, New Milford, sumerstock, 1947)