Olga Baclanova
Olga Baclanova - publicity.JPG
Baclanova in 1930
Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova

(1893-08-19)19 August 1893
Died6 September 1974(1974-09-06) (aged 81)
Vevey, Switzerland
  • Actress
  • radio host
  • singer
  • ballerina
Years active1914–1925 (Russia), 1925–1955 (U.S.)
Vladimir Zoppi
(m. 1922; div. 1929)

(m. 1929; div. 1935)

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

Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova (Russian: О́льга Влади́мировна Бакла́нова; 19 August 1893[1] – 6 September 1974), known professionally as Olga Baclanova, was a Russian-born actress, opera singer, and ballerina, who found success in Hollywood film and stage roles, an exotic blonde temptress, who was given the title of the "Russian Tigress"[2]

Baclanova spent her early years in her native land and after deducting several years off her age and changing the spelling of her native surname from Baklanova, appeared in silent films from 1914 until 1918a, indeed she was often billed under her surname only, similarly to the surname-only nomenclature of her fellow countrywoman Nazimova.[3][1][4]

She emigrated to the United States in 1925, and started appearing on stage and subsequently in Hollywood films, which she remains most noted for the Universal Pictures silent The Man Who Laughs as the evil Duchess Josiana and in Tod Browning's cult-classic horror film Freaks (1932) at MGM, as scheming circus trapeze artist, Cleopatra.

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

Olga Vladimirovna Baklanova was born on 19 August 1893 (other sources state 1883, 1884 or even 1900, according to her obituary) in Moscow, Russia.[2][1] She was the daughter of Vladimir Baklanov and his wife Alexandra,[1] herself an actress in early Russian films. She had 6 siblings, including later Soviet general and WWII hero Gleb Baklanov. Baclanova studied drama at the Cherniavsky Institute[1] before being accepted into the 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. As a feature actress of plays by Ibsen, Chekhov and Turgenev, and the M.A.T productions of Shakespeare, Dickins and Berger.[1]

In the 1930s, Baclanova who had trained in voice at the Moscow Arts Theatre, 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, often with the F. Zarkerich Orchestra and also made recordings, including an album titled the "Olga Baclanova Album", released in 1946, by Unique Records[5]

In 1925 she was given the award "Merited Artist of the Republic", the highest Soviet artist honour. Baclanova appeared in around 17 films during her career in Russia.

Olga Baclanova (1922)
Olga Baclanova (1922)

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 the following year, she stayed in America.[1] She would appear in a West Coast production of The Miracle, before being cast in a bit part in her debut film, The Dove in 1927. 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 in 1928, directed by Josef von Sternberg. Later that year, she appeared in The Man Who Laughs as Duchess Josiana, the femme fatale love interest to Conrad Veidt's disfigured hero.

Baclanova in Freaks
Baclanova in Freaks

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[6] (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 of natural causes in 1922. She was married three times. Her first husband was a lawyer named Vladimir Zoppi with whom she had her first son. Her second husband was actor Nicholas Soussanin with whom she had her second son. The birth of her second son 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 naturalized American citizen.


Olga's likeness to the American pop singer Madonna in the 1980s has been frequently mentioned as particularly evident in The Man Who Laughs.[7]

In Russia, Baclanova's departure from the USSR is well remembered for its involuntary significant contribution to the unrivaled success of a Soviet movie star Lyubov Orlova, a struggling ex-pianist with a certain likeness to Olga. In 1926, Orlova was promoted from a choir, after two months in a theatre, by the heart-broken Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, a rumored lover and/or admirer of Baclanova, his favorite student.[8] Fashion historian Alexander Vasilyev remembered in 2018: "He [Vladimir] loved her [Olga] in letters, he was thinking deeply about her. The only time he cried [publicly], at the piano in the Art Theatre foyer, was when he had found out about Olga Vladimirovna Baclanova [emigration]... He really began to cry. I'm sure of this, not because I was there but because I was a friend of Sophia Pilyavskaya [ru] who was also closely connected to Nemirovich-Danchenko and could have known this from the wife of the famous director... Lyubov Orlova blossomed as Baclanova's substitute."[9]

Later years

After her retirement she migrated to Switzerland. She died at a rest home on 6 September 1974 in Vevey, aged 81, apparently suffering from Alzheimer's disease, although this is unconfirmed.[2] She was interred at Corsier cemetery, in Corsier-sur-Vevey.


Russian films

Year Title Role Notes
1914 Simfoniya lyubvi i smerti
1914 Kogda zvuchat struny serdtsa
1915 Velikiy Magaraz
1915 Zhenshchina vampir [ru] Title role
1915 Po trupam k schastyu [ru]
1915 Lyubov pod maskoy
1916 Tot, kto poluchaet poshchechiny L'écuyère Consuella, qu'il tue par amour
1918 Khleb

United States Silent Films

Year Title Role Notes
1927 The Dove Minor Role Uncredited
1928 The Czarina's Secret Catherine the Great - The Czarina Short
1928 Three Sinners Baroness Hilda Brings
1928 The Man Who Laughs Duchess Josiana
1928 Street of Sin Annie
1928 Forgotten Faces Lilly Harlow
1928 The Docks of New York Mrs. Lou Roberts [6]
1928 The Woman Disputed Countess (scenes deleted)
1928 Avalanche Grace Stillwell

United States Sound Films

Year Title Role Notes
1929 The Wolf of Wall Street Olga
1929 A Dangerous Woman Tania Gregory
1929 The Man I Love Sonia Barondoff
1930 Cheer Up and Smile Yvonne
1931 Are You There? Countess Helenka
1931 The Great Lover Mme. Savarova
1932 Freaks Cleopatra
1932 Downstairs Baroness Eloise von Burgen [6]
1933 The Billion Dollar Scandal Anna aka GoGo
1943 Claudia Madame Daruschka [6]

Stage roles (US and UK)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Meienberg, L. Paul. "Olga Baclanova biography". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
  2. ^ a b c "Olga Baclanova Is Dead at 74. Starred in Films and on Stage". New York Times. September 11, 1974. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  3. ^ Mank, Gregory W. (1999). Women in horror films, 1930s, p. 118. McFarland; ISBN 978-0-7864-0553-4
  4. ^ Vazzana, Eugene Michael (2001). Silent film necrology, p. 25. McFarland; ISBN 978-0-7864-1059-0
  5. ^ "Olga Baclanova Sound Page".
  6. ^ a b c d Meienberg, L. Paul. "Olga Baclanova--The Ultimate Cinemantrap!". Retrieved 2009-06-07.
  7. ^ Robert, Hanks (August 19, 2020). "The Man Who Laughs' is a cautionary tale about grinning and bearing it". apollo-magazine.com. Apollo. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  8. ^ "Olga Baclanova: by her emigration to Hollywood, she made Lyubov Orlova a star in the USSR". retrospectra.ru (in Russian). Retrospectra. 10 June 2019. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  9. ^ "Alexander Vasiliev: "A Russian personality is known for having a mirror in every room"". muzcentrum.ru (in Russian). Radio Orpheus. 2018. Retrieved 9 September 2020.