MOSCOW, August 27 (Itar-Tass) — Saturday, August 27 marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of People’s Artist of the USSR Faina Ranevskaya (1896-1984). And this is a wonderful occasion to remember the legendary actress, who, however, is impossible to forget.
People across the country – both young and old – are still in the habit of repeating – on each convenient occasion – her hilarious catchphrase from the 1939 black-and-white comedy The Foundling – “Honey, don’t make me nervous!” It is no accident that today this film will be shown on the non-commercial TV channel Russia-Culture. It is impossible not to admire her characters in such other popular films as Boule de Suif, Wedding, Man in a Case, Spring, Cinderella and others. Although Ranevskaya most often was given episodic, almost wordless parts, she was unable to stay silent on the screen. Endowed with an extraordinary sense of humor, Ranevskaya invented witty phrases for her characters that make even modern viewers laugh to tears.
But she could play serious parts, too. For example, Rosa Skorokhod in the socio-psychological drama by Mikhail Romm, The Dream (1943), impressed audiences worldwide, including the United States. President Roosevelt is said to have been shown the film in the White House to say afterwards that in her opinion it was one of the greatest films on the world, and Ranevskaya, a brilliant tragic actress.
Now it is hard to believe, but in her younger days Ranevskaya was not admitted into any of the drama schools she applied for. The examiners found her clumsy, funny, even ugly. But what was most offensive, they said she was dull. The verdict was harsh and, as it would turn out, unfair. Ranevskaya’s talent was so extraordinary that it simply did not fit into the generally accepted stereotypes.
By the way, Ranevskaya was a pseudonym of the great actress. It is easy to guess that she borrowed it from Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard. The legend has it one day on her way home Faina Feldman (this was her real name) dropped several banknotes she was taking out of her purse. The money was gone with a gust of wind, but she only laughed and said: “Isn’t it beautiful – the way they are flying away!” Her companion then said: “Faina, you sound just like Ranevskaya!” The question of her stage name was settled.
She loved theater. She regarded Stanislavsky as her teacher, though she had never attended his classes. She worked for various companies, but her career at the Mossovet (Moscow Soviet) theater was the longest.
Ranevskaya spent her last years in a small apartment in the very center of Moscow. At home she had no luxurious things, the actress considered the portraits and photographs of people dear to her as the greatest values. Photos of Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, Akhmatova and Kachalov were looking at her from the walls of her room. An autograph left by Dmitry Shostakovich was covered with a strip of paper. “To Faina Ranevskaya – art itself,” the great composer had written. But the person to whom these words were addressed was very shy about this flattering recognition and carefully hid it from prying eyes.
She played on stage up to 86 years. In 1983 she left the theater, saying that she was “too bored to simulate health.” No one then knew that she would live just one more year.
Now, with the passage of years, one can confidently say that Ranevskaya lived a wonderful life, full of wanderings, anxiety, insecurity, loneliness, and people’s love. At the same time she never lost the sense of humor. Even the enthusiastic reaction of her audiences aroused the actress’ s invariable sarcasm.
“One evening, after the performance of And Silence Thereafter (based on Vina Delmar’s Make Way for Tomorrow) an elderly, super-intelligent theatergoer entered my dressing room,” Ranevskaya recalled. “A very old man he was, head shaking slightly. I felt exhausted at the moment, barely able to breathe. The visitor said, ‘Great! Excellent! Sorry, tell me for God’s sake, how old are you?’ I said: ‘On Saturday, I’ll be one hundred and fifteen.’ And what did I hear in reply? ‘Excellent! Excellent! You play so well, and in such an old age!’”
On Saturday, the day of her 115th anniversary, Faina Ranevskaya will appear before the audience again in Anatoly Efros-staged And Silence Thereafter. A televised version of the play will be aired by the Russia-Culture channel. With Faina Ranevskaya as Lucy Cooper. Marvelous, as always.