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Overview (3)

Born in Kiev, Russian Empire [now Ukraine]
Died in Leningrad, RSFSR, USSR [now St. Petersburg, Russia]  (acute heart failure)
Birth NameAleksandr Nikolayevich Vertinsky

Mini Bio (1)

Aleksandr Verrtinsky was a famous Russian actor, singer and songwriter who suffered traumatic experience during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and expressed himself through acting, singing and songwriting. Vertinsky created a cross-genre style of his own, by blending such styles as Russian folk-song with French chanson and American stand-up comedy, and created his image as a "Russian Pierot", becoming a cult figure among Russian émigrés.

He was born Aleksandr Nikolaevich Vertinsky on March 19, 1889, in Kiev, Russian Empire (now Kiev, Ukraine). His father, Nikolai Petrovich Vertinsky, was an attorney and also wrote a satirical column in a Kiev paper. His mother, Evgenia Stepanovna Skolatskaya, was not married to his father because his father could not get a divorce from his previous marriage. Both parents died before Vertinsky was 5 years old, so he was brought up by his father's sister in Kiev. Although he dropped out of Alexandrinskaya Gymnasium in Kiev, Vertinsky established friendship with a teacher, named Sofia Zelinskaya, who was married to the brother of Anatoli Lunacharsky who would later become the Commissar for Culture in the Soviet Union. At that time Vertinsky made his stage acting debut at a Jewish Club on Podol in Kiev, but his first performance was a failure. He worked a variety of jobs, including that of a salesman, a hard laborer at the Dneper river-port, and an accountant at a local hotel, he also published his first short stories in a Kiev paper.

In 1910 Vertinsky came to Moscow and started as a stand-up comedian and singer-songwriter, then tried to get an acting job at the Moscow Art Theatre, albeit he failed an audition. In 1912 Vertinsky made his film debut in the role as an Angel who falls into a pile of snow in a silent film 'Chem lyudi zhivi', based on the eponymous story by Leo Tolstoy and directed by the writer's son Ilya Tolstoy. Vertinsky worked as a crew member and a part-time actor with the film studio of Aleksandr Khanzhonkov, and played about a dozen supporting and cameo parts in silent movies. At that time Vertinsky began his life-long friendship with film star Ivan Mozzhukhin, and later met and fell in love with the film star Vera Kholodnaya to whom he dedicated many of his popular songs. From 1914-1915 Vertinsky worked as a male nurse treating the wounded in the Russian Tsar's Army during the World War I. At that time he became addicted to cocaine, but managed to overcome the addiction and continued his stage and film career. Vertinsky made success with his smooth, touching and witty songs, and became a popular actor and singer, having toured with concerts in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, and Kiev before the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the Communist Revolution, in 1918 he moved from Moscow to Kiev, trying to escape from the disaster.

During the Russian Civil War of 1918-1920 Vertinsky was on the side of the White Russians, and against the Soviet Communists. He suffered from the loss of his property and saw the destruction and degradation of life under the rule of the Soviet Communists. In 1920 Vertinsky boarded one of the last ships leaving Crimea and emigrated from Russia to Constantinopol, and was struggling to survive as an actor. By chance he obtained a fake Greek passport which became his only document allowing him to travel and work. He further suffered through more traumatic experiences in emigration, and struggled to survive as an actor, trying to express himself through singing and songwriting. Eventually Vertinsky polished his stage image with flying gestures of his unusually expressive hands with elongated fingers, his smooth manners and aristocratic face. He emerged as one of the most popular Russian actors and singers along with such stars as Feodor Chaliapin Sr. and Ivan Mozzhukhin. During the 1920s he lived in Romania, Poland and France, and made many concert tours all over Europe, gaining substantial popularity among the growing numbers of Russian émigrés. He was a personal friend of impresario Sergei Diaghilev and choreographer Mikhail Fokin. In 1930s he made concert tours in the United States, where he had personal meetings with Sergei Rachmaninoff, Marlene Dietrich and Charley Chaplin. He also gave a private performance for the Vanderbilt family in the USA. At that time Vertinsky was offered to play a role in a Hollywood movie. However, after he struggled with his rudimentary English for two months, he quit any further efforts to have a career in Hollywood, and continued singing and acting in Russian and French.

From 1927-1934, while living mainly in Paris, Vertinsky kept concertizing around the world. After having a few successful tours in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, Vertinsky's career suffered during the Great Depression. However he managed to get performances before such dignitaries as the Prince of Whales, King Gustav of Sweden, King Alfonce of Spain, Baron von Rothchild, and others. Despite the steady success in his acting and singing career, Vertinsky was not really happy in his personal life. He often performed in the stage image as "Russian Pierrot", a "melancholy clown" who lost his country, was nostalgic, depressed and homesick, albeit was able to survive due to his wit and wisdom. His first marriage to a Polish lady did not last. From 1935 - 1943 he lived in Shanghai, China, where he opened his cabaret called "Gardenia" catering to a small Russian community. There, after two years of courtship and romance, Vertinsky married young Lidiya Vertinskaya (nee Lidia Vladimirovna Tsirgvava), also a Russian émigré who was born into a Georgian-Russian family in Kharbin, and the couple had their first daughter, Marianna Vertinskaya, born in 1943, in Shanghai, China. He was still homesick, longing for the image of "Old Russia" of his youth, and petitioned to the Soviet authorities, ".. let me come back, please. My heart yearns for Russia, my home, which has been through such hardship ..", so permit to return was granted. But he did not know much about the Soviet reality until he was there.

Vertinsky returned to the Soviet Union during the World War II, in December of 1943, and was allowed to settle in Moscow. His most popular songs were banned by the Soviet censorship under the rule of Joseph Stalin. Vertinsky was sent to perform at hospitals to entertain the wounded Red Army troops and proletarians with an official instruction to sing mostly patriotic songs in order to receive redemption. Regardless of the political restrictions on his creativity and acting career, Vertinsky managed to support his family. His second daughter, Anastasiya Vertinskaya was born in 1944, in Moscow, during the World War II. In 1948, when the Soviet leadership launched massive attacks on Russian intellectuals, Vertinsky was blacklisted by the Soviet Communist ideologist, Andrei Zhdanov, and his life and career was at risk. Joseph Stalin decided to leave Vertinsky alone and personally crossed his name out of the dangerous "black list", so Vertinsky was spared. After that he was allowed to resume his film career. In 1951 he was awarded the State Stalin's Prize for the supporting role as Brinch, an anti-Communist Cardinal in Zagovor obrechyonnykh (1950) by director Mikhail Kalatozov.

However, Aleksandr Vertinsky still remained under suspicion and was banned from recording of his songs as well as from publications of his writings for the rest of his life in the Soviet Union. He was also restricted from performing before big audiences, while the Soviet censorship put pressure on many Russian cultural figures, such as Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, among others. After the death of Joseph Stalin things began to change because Nikita Khrushchev initiated the "Thaw" and eased a few bans and restrictions. During the last decade of his life Vertinsky gave over two thousand concerts. Every year Vertinsky was making concert tours in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), the city where he had successful performances as a young man, before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Years later, in 1953 he wrote to his wife that Leningrad looked like a "dead city with empty palaces of the Tsars, as if a giant cemetery with beautiful monuments, ... where people still listen to the songs of Vertinsky." He died of a heart attack on May 21, 1957, at the Astoria Hotel in Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

Even after his death the official ban on Vertinsky's songs was enforced for many years, and his name was banned from being mentioned in publications and critical reviews. However, his unofficial recordings were popular among the underground intellectuals in the former USSR. His first legal vinyl album was released in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Vertinsky's book of memoirs and poetry, titled "Dorogoi dlinnoyu", was published in Russia in 1990.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Steve Shelokhonov

Spouse (1)

Lidiya Vertinskaya (? - 21 May 1957) ( his death) ( 2 children)

Trivia (3)

Father, with actress Lidiya Vertinskaya, of actress Anastasiya Vertinskaya and actress Marianna Vertinskaya.
Made his stage acting debut at a Jewish Club on Podol in 1909, in Kiev.
Published his first short story in 1909, in Kiev.

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