Meet Naina, Katya, and Karla

I’m returning to moving out old posts indefinitely stored in my drafts folder. Originally one of a batch of 20 posts I put together and stored in my drafts folder for the now-long-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop on 24 June 2012, this comes from my first Russian historical and has been changed a fair bit. The published version doesn’t use the pedantic accent marks used here, for starts, and some things have been fleshed out while others (like the pointless roll-calling) have been removed. In the published version, sadistic Mrs. Zyuganova also pushes Klara into the snow, not the mud, seeing as it’s December in Minsk.

***

Possibly my favorite subplots in my Russian novels revolve around my orphanage girls. I’d read about how children of “enemies of the people” were treated in orphanages during the Civil War in Felice Holman’s The Wild Children, which I read shortly before beginning the first book in early 1993, but I wasn’t inspired to create a whole series of subplots set in orphanages and playing out over three books till my second major period of working on the first novel.

When I was introduced to what became my favoritest movie, The Inner Circle, in the summer of ’96, and then resumed work on the novel that November [actually September], I knew I had to have orphanage characters too. They include Vera, Natalya, and Fyodora, some of Lyuba’s future stepsisters, and Anya and Leontiy, the children of the couple who took Lyuba and her friends into hiding. Some of the other important orphanage girls include Belarusian Inessa and trio Katya, Naina, and Karla. Naina is the niece of Sonya Gorbachëva, an important secondary character.

Naina and Inessa have always been my favorite of the orphanage girls. Inessa is a very intelligent, headstrong young girl who’s only there because her parents were arrested for an honest, petty mistake, and Naina is as sharp as nails in spite of her young age. Naina first appears in December of 1919, and at barely eight years old is toting a gun.

***

“These three will stay in this bunk to make up for the three who departed.” Mrs. Zyuganova leads three new girls into the quarters. “Names, ages, and nationalities?”

“Naína Antónovna Yezhova, age eight, from Pétrograd.”

“Nice necklace. It’s mine now.” She grabs a citrine necklace hanging around Naína’s neck.

Naína slaps her hands away, reaches under her dress, and pulls a gun on Mrs. Zyuganova. “No it’s not. My mátushka gave it to me when I was four. Steal it and I shoot you. My papa gave me one of his handguns before I was taken away, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

Mrs. Zyuganova struggles to collect herself. “Next?”

“Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, age twelve, from L’viv.”

“L’vov,” Mrs. Zyuganova growls.

“No, it’s really L’viv!”

“Kárla.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I’m two and from Yaroslavl.”

“Last name and patronymic?”

“I don’t know!”

Mrs. Zyuganova picks Kárla up and throws her into a wall. Then she begins beating her.

“Stop beating her!” Naína bites Mrs. Zyuganova. “She’s only two years old! She is Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva. She’s my cousin, and if you hurt her again I will kill you. Remember, I’ve got a gun, and I know how to shoot. It’s not just for show.”

“Quiet that tiny one down!” Mrs. Zyuganova screams.

Naína takes Kárla into another room.

“No, you can’t leave the room you’re assigned to!”

“I am well accustomed to the rules of orphanages by now. I don’t like you. In fact, I don’t think we’ll be sticking around much longer. Just try to stop us. You know you can always get three fresh victims where you found us.”

Mrs. Zyuganova spits in disgust. “We’re ready to round people up to cars. Boys first. Leontiy Ryudolfovich Godimov, Andréy Samuelovich Bródskiy, Ósip Yuriyevich Khrushchëv, Iósif Vasíliyevich Klykachëv, Maksím…”

They go into the car obediently.

“Girls next. Natálya and Fyodora Ilyínichna Lebedeva, Yeléna Vasíliyevna Klykachëva, Svetlána Yuriyevna Khrushchëva, Valentína L’vóvna Kuchma, Irína Samuelovna Bródskaya, Ínna Aleksándrovna Zhirínovskaya, and Ólga Leonídovna Kérenskaya.”

“My brother is on that transport!” Klára howls.

“Tough luck. If you sneak on I’ll beat you. Oh. I would love to get rid of Inéssa my traitor niece. Off you go!”

“Fédya!  Fédya!” Klára screams.

Mrs. Zyuganova pushes Klára into the mud. “Would anybody like to sell his or her place to little Klára Mikháylovna Nadleshina?”

“I would!  I would!” Inéssa screams.

“Stay on that train, Inéssa! I want to get rid of you!”

Inéssa runs to the man approaching and flings herself into his arms. “Dyadya Díma! Take me away and adopt me! I’ve been in this orphanage since my parents got arrested, and Tyotya Dásha beats me sometimes! Adopt me!”

Mr. Zyuganov’s forehead is thrust forward, like a ram’s. He has red-brown hair and gray eyes. “Dásha, is this true?”

“Yes it’s true, now adopt me, Dyadya Díma!”

“Dásha, I saw him! The Leader! He’s promised to bring fair work conditions to the mines in Belarus! Soon you won’t have to work in this hospital anymore!”

“This isn’t a hospital! It’s a phony orphanage! Adopt me!”

“Of course, I’ll adopt my niece if her parents are jailed enemies of the people—”

Mrs. Zyuganova yanks Inéssa from her uncle’s arms and throws her into the girls’ cattlecar. “Goodbye, my traitor niece. I hope they treat you even worse at the new place.”

Klára runs with the train and boosts herself up into the window. Ánya, Véra, and Natálya run with her and boost themselves up next. They all tumble on top of the three newest arrivals.

“We hid under the baggage holds,” Naína says. “We’re very sneaky. After seeing how she treated Kárla, I had to say no and move onto another orphanage!”

Zhang Shichuan

My Masquerade post is here.

Zhang Shichuan (né Zhang Weitong) (1 January 1889 or 1890–8 July 1953 or 1954) was born in Ningbo’s Beilun District, Zhejiang Province. His dad, Zhang Heju, was a silkworm dealer.

Zhang was forced to leave school at sixteen when his dad passed away. He went to live with his maternal uncle, comprador Jing Runsan, in Shanghai. Owing to his uncle’s business, Zhang got a job at the American company Huayang. He studied English at night.

In 1913, Yashell and Suffert, Americans who’d taken over the Asia Film Company, asked Zhang to be their consultant. Though he hadn’t any filmmaking experience, he gamely rose to the challenge.

Zhang enlisted the help of famed playwright Zheng Zhengqiu, with whom he founded the new film company Xinmin. That same year, they produced China’s first feature, The Difficult Couple.

WWI forced Xinmin into bankruptcy, and Zhang’s aunt, newly widowed, asked him to run their family’s New World amusement park.

Zhang didn’t stay away from filmmaking for long. In 1916, when American films came to Shanghai, he founded the Huanxian company.

His new venture quickly closed, and he returned to running the amusement park. That didn’t last long either, as the park sold in 1920.

In 1922, Zhang, his old partner Zheng, and three other people founded Mingxing. From the jump, he and Zheng had quite disparate aims. Zhang wanted to make money from movies, while Zheng saw film as a catalyst for moral improvement and social reform.

Zhang (left) and Zheng (right)

Despite their juxtaposing views on the purpose of film, Mingxing films were very popular through the Twenties. Mingxing became China’s largest film company. After the 1931 invasion of Manchuria and 1932 Battle of Shanghai, Mingxing brought leftist screenwriters on board to keep up with the times.

Troubles increased when Japan occupied Shanghai (barring foreign concessions) in 1937. Mingxing was destroyed by bombs, though Zhang was able to rescue some equipment and material before relocating to the Guohua company.

The noose tightened in 1941, when Japan occupied the Shanghai International Settlement, previously under British and U.S. control, and melded Shanghai’s remaining film companies into China United. Zhang decided to work for them as a director and branch manager.

1930s entrance to Mingxing, known in English as Star Motion Picture Company

After the war ended, Zhang was accused of treason for cooperating with the Japanese occupiers. He was able to find work at Hong Kong’s Great China Film Company and Shanghai’s Datong Film Company, but his reputation never recovered.

Zhang directed about 150 films over the course of his long career, including China’s first talkie, Sing-Song Girl Red Peony (1931); the first martial arts film, The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple (1928); the oldest known Chinese film surviving in entirety, Laborer’s Love (1922); one of China’s first box office smashes, Orphan Rescues Grandfather (1923); and China’s first feature, The Difficult Couple (1913).

Yevgeniy Bauer

Yevgeniy Frantsevich Bauer (22 January 1865–9/22 June 1917) was born in Moskva. His dad, Czech immigrant Franz Bauer, was a musician, and his mother was an opera singer. Though most sources give 1865 as his birth year, his biographer believes he was truly born in St. Petersburg on 7 January 1867.

He was interested in the entertainment industry from childhood, and his sisters were professional actors. In 1887, he graduated from the Moskva School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.

Bauer flitted from job to job—cartoonist, satirical journalist, artistic and portrait photographer, theatre director and impresario, scenographer, set designer, pilot—before turning to cinema in 1913.

He started out as a scenic director for the Drankov Trade House’s film on the Romanovs’ triumphant Tercentenary celebration (no one dreaming there weren’t even five more years left for the ruling dynastic house).

After this success, he directed four films for the company, followed by four films for a Muscovite branch of Pathé. He then moved to Khanzhonkov Trade House, Russia’s undisputed leading film company.

After Death, 1915

Bauer specialised in psychological and social dramas, with very dark themes and unhappy endings, though he also made comedies and a series of patriotic war propaganda films. He worked with many of pre-Revolutionary Russia’s leading actors, like Vera Kholodnaya, Ivan Mozzhukhin, Vera Karalli, Vitold Polonskiy, and Ivan Perestiani.

During WWI, he adopted the pseudonym Yegeniy Ancharov to avoid problems regarding his German-origin name. He took it from his wife, dancer and actor Lina Ancharova, whom he married in the 1890s. Lina starred in several of his comedies.

In 1917, Khanzhokov moved to Yalta, and Bauer began working on what would become his last completed film, For Happiness. During shooting, he broke his leg. This injury compelled him to direct his final film, King of Paris (which he wrote the script for), from a wheelchair.

The Dying Swan, 1917

Bauer caught pneumonia during the making of King of Paris, and was taken to hospital, leaving the film to be completed by Olga Rakhmanova. Not long afterwards, Bauer passed away at age 52.

Like many pre-Revolutionary people and things, Bauer’s films too were swept under the rug for decades. The new Soviet authorities dismissed his work as “bourgeois escapism,” though his films so clearly are a damning criticism of the bourgeoisie and wealthy.

After the February Revolution, he was more at liberty to openly express such themes. One of his films from this era was the first Russian film to expose the tyranny of the Okhrana (Tsarist version of the KGB) and the cruelty of Siberian prison.

Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, 1913

Had he not died prematurely, he probably wouldn’t have been automatically damned by association with the old world and may well have gone on to become one of the leading lights of Soviet cinema.

French film critic Georges Sadoul called Bauer “the first true cinematographic artist not only in Russia, but perhaps all over the world,” describing his films as “painting in motion.” Many other film historians and critics consider him one of history’s greatest directors, whose name deserves to stand next to luminaries like D.W. Griffith and Fritz Lang.

The Dying Swan

To date, 26 of his 80+ films are known to survive. In 2003, Milestone released Mad Love, containing The Dying Swan, Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, After Death, and a 37-minute visual essay. Milestone’s Early Russian Cinema series also features his films on volumes six, seven, nine, and ten.

Anna May Wong

This is edited and expanded from an entry in my “Too Young, Too Soon” series on my old Angelfire page, written around 2005–07.

Anna May Wong (née Wong Liu Tsong) (3 January 1905–2 February 1961), the first Taishanese Chinese-American moviestar and female Chinese–American actor to earn international fame, was born in L.A. to second-generation Chinese–Americans Wong Sam Sing and Lee Gon Toy. Her dad owned a laundry.

Her early childhood was spent on Flower Street, a block north of Chinatown, where Chinese, Japanese, Irish, and Germans lived alongside one another. In 1910, the Wongs moved to Figueroa Street. They were the only Chinese family among mostly Mexicans and Eastern Europeans.

Anna May as a baby in 1905

Anna May and her older sister Lew Ying (Lulu) were forced to leave their public school after endless Sinophobic abuse. Their new school was run by Chinese Prebyterians, with English instruction. On afternoons and Saturdays, they attended a Chinese-language school.

Owing to many movie studios moving from New York to L.A., Anna May had the opportunity to watch films regularly being shot in her area. She loved going to nickelodeon shows, which she skipped school and used her lunch money to attend.

Her dad wasn’t very pleased with her newfound love, but she continued going to the movies. By age nine, she was begging filmmakers for roles. She created her stage name at age eleven.

In 1919, when she was working at Hollywood’s Ville de Paris department store, she answered a call for 300 female extras for Alla Nazimova’s The Red Lantern. A well-connected friend of her dad’s helped her to get one of those parts in secret.

She spent the next two years as an extra, until St. Vitus’s dance forced her to miss many months of both school and acting. After her recovery, Anna May dropped out of school to focus on acting.

In 1921, she got her first credited role, as Toy Sing in Bits of Life, the first anthology film (an amalgamation of four different stories). Lon Chaney, Sr., was her screen husband. Anna May fondly remembered this as the only time she played a mother.

She scored her first leading role in 1922, at age seventeen, in the two-strip Technicolor film The Toll of the Sea. Though she earned rave reviews, the powers that be were loath to cast a Chinese woman as a leading lady.

Anna May had little choice but to accept supporting roles (sometimes to white actors playing Chinese characters), providing an exotic atmosphere.

Her breakthrough film was Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.’s The Thief of Bagdad (1924), where she played a Mongol slave. Her brief appearance catapulted her to widespread public awareness among both critics and regular moviegoers.

Off-camera, she and director Tod Browning had an affair. This was very hushed-up at the time, since Browning was 25 years older than 19-year-old Anna May, and miscegenation was against the law.

Anna May’s career was severely limited by said anti-miscegenation laws. Actors of different races were forbidden to kiss onscreen, and the only Asian leading man in this era was Sessue Hayakawa. This law also applied to Asians kissing whites made up to look Asian.

In 1928, Anna May moved to Europe for greater opportunities. However, she was still legally barred from onscreen love scenes.

She returned to Hollywood in 1930, and found the same prejudices waiting for her. She later began speaking out against the stereotyping of her people, and how Asian roles were routinely given to white actors.

Finally, in the late 1930s, Paramount gave her the chance to portray sympathetic, successful Chinese–American characters.

Anna May died of a heart attack at age 56, on the eve of returning to film in Flower Drum Song.

Lenore Ulric

Lenore Ulric (née Ulrich) (21 July 1892–30 December 1970) was born in New Ulm, Minnesota. Her dad, U.S. Army hospital steward Franz Xavier Ulrich, reportedly named her after the tragic lost love in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

As a teen, Lenore began acting with a Milwaukee stock company. She also acted with companies in Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Schenectady, NY. In 1911, she made a few films for Chicago’s Essanay Studios.

Lenore’s big break came when David Belasco, famed theatrical producer, director, playwright, and impresario, discovered her in The Bird of Paradise in 1913. He came to see the show after Lenore wrote him a letter.

Belasco frequently went on “fishing trips” to discover talented actors, and hadn’t had a “bite” for a long time. Though he didn’t find stars so often, he enjoyed the chance to “hook a big one.” And that he did on that night.

Belasco offered her the lead role in The Heart of Wetona, and became her manager. He saw true, raw, natural, born talent, which was all the more remarkable because Lenore wasn’t from an acting family or pursuing acting out of vanity, exhibitionism, or desire for money. Acting was her inborn calling.

Lenore quickly became one of America’s biggest theatre stars. On both stage and screen, she usually played Vamps (i.e., femme fatales). People went to her shows just to see her, and cared less about the actual plays.

Though she did most of her acting onstage, Lenore made seven more films from 1915–17, this time for Paramount. Her final silent, Tiger Rose (1923), was made for Warner Brothers.

Her first two talkies, 1929’s Frozen Justice and South Sea Rose (made for Fox), are lost. Lenore’s Fox contract paid her $650,000.

Lenore’s next foray into film was a supporting role in the 1936 version of Camille, starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor. She made four films during the Forties.

Lenore starred in two more Broadway shows in 1940 and 1947. Her swan song was a revival of Antony and Cleopatra.

Lenore died of heart failure at age 78, in Orangeburg, NY. Most of her surviving films are only available at the Library of Congress.