Vasily Malyshev/Sputnik; Sputnik

(Valeria Paikova’s article appeared on Russia Beyond, 11/6.)

These committed movie stars became symbols of their era, setting silver screens alight with their charisma and beauty.


1. Lyubov Orlova (1902-1975)

Soviet cinema queen Lyubov Orlova is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful women in the film industry. The blonde bombshell was descended from an aristocratic Russian family on her mother’s side.

The star of 'The Circus', Lyubov Orlova.

Lyubov was a good girl. She studied music at the Moscow Conservatory, showed considerable talent and soon became a member of the Musical Theater led by none other than Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Her parents, meanwhile, wanted their daughter to become a professional pianist. But it was only a matter of time before Orlova addressed her biggest passion, cinema.

Lyubov Orlova starring in 'Springtime'.


Lyubov ascended to stardom in 1936 as Marion Dixon, an American circus performer who gives birth to a mixed-race baby in ‘The Circus’, directed by Sergey Eisenstein’s best student and Orlova’s second husband, Grigory Aleksandrov. Orlova lent her talent to brilliant roles in Soviet film classics, such as ‘Jolly Fellows’, ‘Volga-Volga’, ‘Shining Path’, ‘Springtime’ and ‘Meeting on the Elbe’, all directed by Aleksandrov.

Lyubov Orlova in 'Volga-Volga'.

For good or bad, Joseph Stalin was deeply fond of the actress and particularly liked Orlova’s portrayal of Dunya Petrova in one of the first Soviet musical comedies, ‘Volga-Volga’. After her death, Orlova’s cinematic legacy did not just disappear beyond the horizon. In 1976, a Soviet astronomer discovered a new planet she called ‘3108 Lyubov’, in homage to Orlova. 


2. Faina Ranevskaya (1896-1984)

Faina never took herself too seriously, although she acted in plays by Chekhov and Tolstoy. She was born Faina Feldman into a prosperous Jewish family in the city of Taganrog. Faina’s memorable stage name, Ranevskaya, was inspired by her love of Chekhov’s play, ‘The Cherry Orchard’.

Faina Ranevskaya acted in plays by Chekhov and Tolstoy.

Her name became a byword for wit and wisdom. Ranevskay’s catchphrase from the 1939 comedy ‘The Foundling’ —  “Honey, don’t make me nervous!” — became a common household phrase in the USSR. Ranevskaya was volcanically funny and her quotes were legendary. 

“All my life, I’ve swam in the toilet butterfly style…” 

“Optimism is the lack of information.”

“Lesbians, homosexuals, masochism, sadism are not perversions. In fact, there are only two perversions: hockey on grass, and ballet on ice.”

“Honey, don’t make me nervous!” Faina Ranevskaya in 'The Foundling'.

The actress adored theater and poetry and was friends with Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Vladimir Mayakovsky. According to Anna Akhmatova, Ranevskaya was a kid that is “now 11, and will never turn 12”. 

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