Olga Baclanova

Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova (Russian: О́льга Влади́мировна Бакла́нова; 19 August 1893 – 6 September 1974), known professionally as Olga Baclanova, was a Russian-American actress of stage and screen, radio host and performer, operatic singer, and ballerina.[1] 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.[2][3][4]

Olga Baclanova
Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova

(1893-08-19)19 August 1893
Died6 September 1974(1974-09-06) (aged 81)
  • Actress
  • radio host
  • singer
  • ballerina
Years active19141925 (Russia), 19251955 (U.S.)
Vladimir Zoppi
(m. 1922; div. 1929)

Nicholas Soussanin
(m. 1929; div. 1935)

Richard Davis (m. 1937)
RelativesGleb Baklanov (brother)

An exotic blonde temptress, she was known as the "Russian Tigress". She emigrated to America in 1925, and started appearing in Hollywood films, which she remains most noted for portraying the fictional Duchess Josiana in the Universal Pictures silent The Man Who Laughs and slimy circus trapeze artist Cleopatra in Tod Browning's cult horror movie Freaks (1932), which features a cast of actual carnival sideshow freaks.

Early life, Moscow Arts Theatre and Russian career (radio, stage and film)

Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova was born on 19 August 1893 (other sources state 1884, 1896 or even 1900, according to her obituary) in Moscow, Russia.[1][3] She was the daughter of Vladimir Baklanov and his wife Alexandra,[3] herself an actress in early Russian films. Baclanova studied drama at the Cherniavsky Institute[3] before being accepted into the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre with contemporaries such 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 1930s, Baclanova 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, having 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. Baclanova appeared in around 17 films during her career in Russia.

American career

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 in America.[3] 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[5] (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.

Personal life

Baclanova's father died a natural death in 1922 according to her family. She was married three times, firstly to lawyer Vladimir 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 was 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 Baclanova 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.

Later years

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 is unconfirmed.[1] She was interred at Corsier cemetery, in Corsier-sur-Vevey.

Partial Hollywood filmography

Year Title Role Notes
1914Simfoniya lyubvi i smerti
1914Kogda zvuchat struny serdtsa
1915Velikiy Magaraz
1915Zhenshchina vampirTitle role
1915Po trupam k schastyu
1915Lyubov pod maskoy
1916Tot, kto poluchaet poshchechinyL'écuyère Consuella, qu'il tue par amour
1927The DoveMinor RoleUncredited
1928The Czarina's SecretCatherine the Great - The CzarinaShort
1928Three SinnersBaroness Hilda Brings
1928The Man Who LaughsDuchess Josiana
1928Street of SinAnnie
1928Forgotten FacesLilly Harlow
1928The Docks of New YorkMrs. Lou Roberts[5]
1928The Woman DisputedCountess(scenes deleted)
1928AvalancheGrace Stillwell
1929The Wolf of Wall StreetOlga
1929A Dangerous WomanTania Gregory
1929The Man I LoveSonia Barondoff
1930Cheer Up and SmileYvonne
1931Are You There?Countess Helenka
1931The Great LoverMme. Savarova
1932DownstairsBaroness Eloise von Burgen[5]
1933The Billion Dollar ScandalAnna aka GoGo
1943ClaudiaMadame Daruschka[5]

Stage roles (US and UK)

  • The Miracle (west coast production,1926)
  • The Farewell Supper (After on anatol), 1929
  • Silent Witness (1931)
  • Grand Hotel (1932)
  • Twentieth Century (1932)
  • The Cat and the Fiddle (west coast, 1932)
  • $25 an Hour (Germaine Granville, 1933)
  • 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, 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, summer stock, 1947)


  1. "Olga Baclanova Is Dead at 74. Starred in Films and on Stage". New York Times. September 11, 1974. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  2. Mank, Gregory W. (1999). Women in horror films, 1930s, p. 118. McFarland; ISBN 978-0-7864-0553-4
  3. Meienberg, L. Paul. "Olga Baclanova biography". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
  4. Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent film necrology, p. 25. McFarland; ISBN 978-0-7864-1059-0
  5. Meienberg, L. Paul. "Olga Baclanova--The Ultimate Cinemantrap!". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
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