Vera Vasilyevna Kholodnaya is called the legendary idol of the Russian cinema and is titled the Queen of the Screen. Although most of her films are lost, her haunting beauty and untimely death have made her a figure of enduring interest.
Vera Kholodnaya seems to be almost more famous in death than in life. Though Vera Kholodnaya was into filming for only three years, it was enough for her to become immensely famous. Unluckily, only five films starring her are extant nowadays out of the fifty to eighty films she played in. They are: "Children of the Age" (1915), "The Mirages" (1916), "A Life for a Life" (1916), "The Living Corpse" (adapted from Tolstoy's play, 1918), and "Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent" (1918). She is most associated with the films of early director Evgenii Bauer.
Vera Levchenko was born on August 5, 1893 into a respectable well-to-do family in Poltava and was largely raised by her grandmother in Moscow. At 17 she married Vladimir Kholodny, a professional auto racer, but when he was conscripted into the Russian Army at the start of World War I she was left alone with a daughter to support, she began appearing in bit parts at the A.A. Khanzhonkov movie studio in late 1914.
In 1915 Yevgeni Bauer was going to direct the film "Pesn torzhestvuyushchey lyubvi"("Song of Triumphant Love"), a mystical love drama after Turgenev's story, and was looking for a woman of outstanding beauty. When Vera Kholodnaya was introduced to the director, he was spellbound and at once approved her for the role. The film made her a star overnight.
That first film was followed by "Plamya Neba" ("Flame of the Sky"), a typical saloon melodrama. The film went on screen and brought fame to Vera Kholodnaya. The next picture was "Deti veka" ("The Children of the Age"), a drama with pretensions to revealing social problems. This film is the earliest of the five extant works with the actress. Tremendous success was Pyotr Chardynin's tragic melodrama "Mirazhi" ("The Mirages") (1916) (the film has come down to us), followed by the fancy drama "Krasota dolzhna tsarit v mire" ("Beauty Must Reign in the World") by Bauer, melodrama "Ognenny Dyavol" ("Fiery Devil"), and another melodrama "Zhizn za zhizn" ("A Life for a Life"). New Vera's film "U kamina" (By the Fireplace), released in 1917 was a triumph and outshined all the films shot in Russia before that.
However, there was no other film enjoying such a huge success as "Molchi, grust... molchi" ("Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent") (1918). Even though this film was criticized, it turned Vera Kholodnaya from a popular actress into a true phenomenon of the Russian cinema.
In 1919, at the age of 25 Vera died in the Spanish Influenza epidemic which she caught during her performances in Odessa. However rumours that she was poisoned, either by a romantic rival or by the Bolsheviks are still part of her legend. Her Odessa funeral was filmed for posterity. Ironically, this seems to be her best known film.
As a leading pop culture symbol of the late Czarist era, Kholodnaya was discredited and her work banned by the new Soviet government. Following the fall of the USSR in 1991, historians (especially in Ukraine) took steps to restore Kholodnaya's long-neglected memory. A Ukrainian postage stamp was issued to commemorate her centenary in 1993, and in 2003 a life-size bronze statue of the actress was dedicated near her last home at Odessa's Cathedral Square.
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