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 Faina Ranevskaya

Born:   27 August 1969
Deceased:   19 July 1984



Legendary Faina Ranevskaya (1896–1984) went down in history as the most eccentric actress of Russian cinema of the Soviet epoch. A creator of whole gallery of inimitable farcical characters, a philosopher with a cigarette, a scandalous persona, a caustic lady, and a sensitive person – all this was Faina Ranevskaya. Much has been written about her, whereas her witty aphorisms and gags remain popular till date.

Here is what one of the stories about the beginning of the actress career of the great Ranevskaya says: “In 1915 a young lady of quite a peculiar appearance visited the director of one of the theatres in the Moscow Region. She had a letter of recommendation from a Moscow impresario Mr. Sokolovsky, the director’s friend. “My dear Vanyusha – he had written – I am sending this dame to you just to get rid of her. Please, hint her in some delicate way that she’s no business to do on stage, she has no prospects. I feel uneasy for some reasons to do it myself, so you, my dear, somehow talk her out of the actress’ career – it will be better both for her and the theatre. She is hopeless; she plays all the roles in the same way; her surname is Ranevskaya…” Fortunately, the theatre director did not follow Sokolovsky’s advice.


Faina Ranevskaya (real surname Feldman) was born on August 27, 1869 into a rich Jewish family in Taganrog city.

Faina was enamoured with cinema from the age of twelve. A bit later her passion for theatre started. Her first visits to the city theatre left unforgettable impressions, yet the strongest of them was produced by her seeing of A. P. Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard on stage of the Moscow Artistic Theatre in 1913. The pseudonym Ranevskaya was taken after the main character of this very play.

Once when she had received money and was holding it in her hands a gust of wind blew it away; in return she only smiled and said “Oh how beautifully it is flying!” Her companion then mentioned: “You are just like Ranevskaya”. Thus the surname stuck to her, later becoming her official pseudonym.

In 1911 Faina as a schoolgirl got acquainted with the art of the then well-known provincial actress Pavla Leontievna Woolf during the latter’s tour with a theatre company from Rostov-on-Don. The second meeting with this actress on the threshold of the revolution of 1917 decided the destiny of Ranevskaya. In spring 1917 the entire Feldman family migrated overseas, whereas Faina stayed in Russia and became a disciple and a family member of Pavla Woolf.


The Foundling (1939)
Faina moved to Rostov-on-Don and debuted on stage of a drama theatre with the role of the Italian singer Margarita Cavalini from E. Shelton’s play chosen on advice of Pavla Woolf. However, it was the part of Charlotte from Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, in which Ranevskaya unfolded the peculiarity of her own gift, where eccentricity and tragedy, lyrical clownery and a delicate psychological pattern came together. Faina Ranevskaya played about 200 roles while working in provincial theatres.

The Moscow period of Ranevskaya started in 1931 with the role of Zinka from Pathetic Sonata written by N. Kulish and staged by A. Tairov in the Kamerny (Chamber) Theatre. The character of a prostitute dreaming of a better life, rather typical for Russian literature, was a godsent material for the actress, who brought into proper correlation the outside appearance, somewhat awkward and irregular, with the dynamics of the inner life of the heroine.

The year 1934 saw the successful film debut of Faina Ranevskaya. Mikhail Romm, then a beginning film-director saw her playing on stage and offered her the role of Mme. Loiseau in his silent black-and-white movie Pyshka based on the novel Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant.


Cinderella (1947)
After the debut, however, in spite of the film’s international success, Ranevskaya decided not to appear on screen any more, since “that’s all too much tormenting”. Nevertheless, three years later she accepted the offer of film-director Igor Savchenko to play the priest’s wife in Duma pro kazaka Golotu (The Song of the Cossack Golota) (1937). At that moment the actress was left without theatre roles and thus she was captivated by filming.

In 1939 Faina Ranevskaya played in three films at once. She performed the Wife of school superintendent in Chelovek v futlyare (Man in a Shell) directed by Isidor Annensky, and the wife of tailor Gurevich in Oshibka inzhenera Kochina (Engineer Kochin's Error) by Aleksandr Macheret; by true acclaim was brought to her by Tatyana Lukashevich’ comedy Podkidysh (The Foundling).


Caricature by Joseph Igin
In The Foundling Faina Ranevskaya starred as a determined and self-confident woman ordering her henpecked husband about. Specially for this role the actress invented several scathing phrases. One of them – “Mulya (her husband’s diminutive name), don’t you make me nervous!” turned winged and was after the actress till the end of her life. When boys noticed her in the street, they would shout: “Mulya (her husband’s diminutive name), don’t you make me nervous!”

Even Brezhnev, when attaching the Order of Lenin to Ranevskayas chest, could not refrain from quietly saying to her: “Mulya, dont you make me nervous!” When she retorted: " Leonid Ilyich, boys or hooligans tease me this way", he apologized in a touching manner: “Sorry, but I love you so much!”.

In 1940 Mikhail Romm invited Faina Ranevskaya to act in his social and psychological drama Mechta (Dream). The actress said afterwards: “Throughout all my long life I never felt such joy in theatre or in cinema as that during our second meeting with Mikhail Ilyich”. In this film she played Madame Rosa, a landlady. This work unleashed the enormous tragic basis in the talent of Faina Ranevskaya.

When the war started, the actress was evacuated to Tashkent, and in 1943 she returned to Moscow and was engaged to play on stage of the Drama Theatre (now Mayakovsky Theatre). She also took part in several ordinary movies, and only after it chanced to play Mother of the bride in Svadba (The Wedding) (1944). For many years this comedy was one of the viewers’ favorites.


In Easy Life (1964) with N. Rumyantseva
After the war Faina Ranevskaya played several big roles, among them the Stepmother in the famous fairy-tale Zolushka (Cinderella) (1947) by Nadezhda Kosheverova. This film was one of the few that the actress truly enjoyed. Among her other works one should mention the role of the Grandma in Slon i veryovochka (The Elephant and the String) (1945), in which the actress for the first time played together with Natasha Zashipina, then a 6-year old girl yet. Ranevskaya appreciated the young actress and communicated with her like with a grown-up person.

In 1949 Ranevskaya left the Drama Theatre for Mossovet Theatre, where she played very little. In 1955 she changed it to Pushkin Theatre, the former Chamber Theater, where she had once started her career. However, nothing was left of the old Tairov’s theater there. She worked there till 1963 and then left it also…


In the 50-60s Ranevskaya played in films very seldom. About those few works she wrote: “I play in rubbish. The filming is like penal servitude. Sheer humiliation of human dignity, and ahead there is failure and shame, if the film comes out on screen”. One of her well-known utterances says: “Playing in a bad movie is like spitting into eternity”.

In the mid-60s Ranevskaya broke off with cinema and returned to Mossovet Theatre, where she worked till the end of her life. In 1970 she performed the famous Freken Bok (voice) in the animation Karlson vernulsya (Carlson is Back).

The actress who was very lonely all her life, who never married and had no children, used to joke: “Family is a very serious thing. Family can replace everything. So, before starting a family, one should think what's more important: family or everything”.

Faina Georgievna Ranevskaya died on July 19, 1984 after a heart attack and pneumonia. She was laid to rest in necropolis of Donskoy Monastery (Moscow) alongside her sister Isabella. One of the streets in her native Taganrog city is named after Ranevskaya.


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