Not To Be Confused With: Name And Title Difficulties in Emigre Cinema

Steven P. Hill, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

“Anna Sten" (AKA Hanna or Anna Petrovna Fesak, 1908-1993), one of the few Russian film actresses who became a star in Germany and the USA, found herself beset by onomastic confusion involving both her name and the titles of her films. To this day, in fact, many serious sources (print and electronic) claim Sten's true name had been Anel' Sudakevich -- even though Soviet film actress Anel' Alekseevna Sudakevich (1906-2002) was in fact a totally different person, unrelated to the emigree Ms Sten. And when the Hollywood star Sten went to England to play the lead in a fictional "Russian" historical film in 1936, it was only to encounter confusion in titles. Her one British film, "Two Who Dared," was also exhibited under the title "A Woman Alone" -- the latter of which was also the title of a totally different 1936 British film, a Hitchcock thriller adapted from Joseph Conrad's "Secret Agent"! One can hardly blame Anglo-Saxon audiences for their state of confusion.

This presentation will examine and attempt to set right a variety of transcultural onomastic problems, including those which befell Anna Sten, problems which arose when Russian and other East European cinematic expatriates' names and/or film titles underwent adaptation (sometimes necessary, sometimes not) into Western languages and orthographies. Americans' and West Europeans' unfamiliarity with Russian and other East European "exotic" languages, sound systems, orthographies, and ways of naming led to many strange results.

Father and son could be merged into one Methuselah-like individual known simply as "Feodor Chaliapin," yet "Sr." (Fedor Ivanovich) lived 1873-1938, while "Jr." (Fedor Fedorovich) lived 1907-1992. For decades, Russian history of Catherine's era experienced distortion at the hands of movieland illiterates, who committed to paper the credits of the famous Dietrich-Sternberg biographical drama "Scarlet Empress" (1934). Most subsequent Western filmic references (print and electronic) to "Scarlet Empress" obediently identified in the film's cast one of the major bishops of Catherine's time under the name "Simeon Tevedovsky" [sic], instead of the expected "Todorsky."

Humorous outcomes were sometimes even intentional, as when the witty actor and joker Walter "Matthau" (1920-2000) claimed, tongue-in-cheek, that his inherited real name, from Eastern Europe, had been "Matuschanskayasky" [sic]. Note the improbable affixation of both fem. and masc. endings to the same stem. Jack Lemmon, eat your heart out.

The ubiquitousness of the "Internet" in recent years even infects post- Soviet Russian sources with Western orthographic eccentricities. A Russian film-history site, evidently using a computerized system of "back-transliteration," fails to recognize the real name of Russian-born emigre director, Viacheslav Turzhanskii (1891-1976, written in France as "Victor Tourjansky"). Alas, the Russian web site mechanically renders Viacheslav Turzhanskii back into Cyrillic as "Viktor To-ur-ian-ski" [sic]. Presentation illustrated by a few brief video clips.