Posted in Movies, Silent film

Vera Kholodnaya

Words on Paper

Thursdays in Blog Me MAYbe are themed “May I tell you something about someone else?” Today’s spotlight is on Vera Vasiliyevna Kholodnaya, née Levchenko.

Véra Vasíliyevna Kholodnaya (née Levchenko), who lived from 5 August 1893 till 17 February 1919, was the preeminent Russian moviestar in early Russian cinema. She was born in the Ukraine, a schoolteacher’s daughter, and moved with her family to Moskvá at the age of two. She began attending private school at the age of ten, and her acting skills became very noticeable.

In 1910, at her graduation party, she met her future husband Vladímir Kholodny, a racecar driver and editor of a sports newspaper. (The surname is Russian for “cold.”) In the fall of 1914, trying to support her two young daughters, Véra took a bit part in a film, but the director felt nothing would ever come of it. Was he ever wrong.

The very next year she got picked up to do a film based on a Turgénev story, under the direction of the Khonzhonkov Studios Company, and it was a huge hit, propelling Véra to superstardom. The next year alone she was in thirteen movies (don’t believe IMDB; they’re WAY off on the number of movies she acted in!). A short retirement occurred during WWI when she was nursing her wounded husband back to health.

Everyone was in love with her, and loved both her movies and her stage roles. Even if she were just acting in a bit role or a walk-on extra part in a play, it was guaranteed to draw a full house.

In addition, Aleksándr Vertinskiy, a famous balladeer and a private in the Army, delivered Véra one of her husband’s letters shortly after she returned home from nursing him. Vertinskiy was so madly in love with her he dedicated some of his songs to her.

At the peak of her popularity, she moved to the Kharitonov Studios and began making more serious art films, as opposed to the earlier type of films she’d been making, just popular entertainment or sentimental melodramas. She also began giving concerts around this time.

Sadly, most of her films are lost not only because of the general poor care taken to preserving early films, but also because of the general destruction of the Civil War. In 1924, Soviet authorities ordered many of her films to be destroyed. Only five of her films are known to survive.

At the age of twenty-five, in February of 1919, she died of influenza, the same malady that claimed between fifty to a hundred million lives around the globe (including prominent casualities such as actor Harold Lockwood and swimmer Harry Elionsky). She died despite being treated by the best doctors Odessa had to offer at the time.

Because she’d died so tragically young and suddenly, and because she’d been so damn popular, tons of rumours began surfacing as to the true cause of her demise, such as being poisoned or strangled by a lover, suicide (the cause the notoriously inaccurate IMDB lists), and being shot by the White Guards because she’d been a Bolshevik spy. Huge crowds came to her funeral to pay one last final tribute to a truly great star and legend.

Like with Olive Thomas or Harold Lockwood, one can only speculate about what might’ve been had she lived longer, long enough to be around for the next era of silent cinema (particularly considering she would’ve been in nationalised propaganda cinema) and the early sound era.

(Information not included in my original bio: In 1931, her grave was destroyed when the First Christian Cemetery in Odessa was razed, in spite of her family’s protests. She was persona non grata under the Soviet régime till 1991. There is now a bronze statue of her near her final home at Odessa’s Cathedral Square.)