– November 12
) was a Russian-born actress, who became the most famous, or rather, the most notorious of the many "new Greta Garbos
" of the 1930s.
was born December 3 1908
. Anna's father was a Russian ballet master who died when she was 12. Anna herself worked as a waitress until she was discovered at the age of 15 while acting in an amateur play in Kiev
. Her discoverer was the influential Russian stage director and instructor Konstantin Stanislavsky
, who arranged for her to get an audition at the Moscow Film Academy
. She acted in plays and films in Russia (including Boris Barnet
's 1927 comedy The Girl with a Hatbox
), then traveled to Germany to appear in films co-produced by German and Russian studios, international productions common in the years prior to World War II.
Making a smooth transition to talking pictures, Anna appeared in such German films as Trapeze
(1931) and The Brothers Karamazov
(1931) until she came to the attention of American movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn
. Goldwyn was looking for a foreign-born actress that he could build up as the rival of, and possible successor to, Greta Garbo
. For two years after bringing Sten to America, Goldwyn had his new star tutored in English and taught Hollywood screen acting methods. He poured a great deal of time and money into Sten's first American film, Nana
, a somewhat homogenized version of Émile Zola's scandalous nineteenth century novel. But the film was not successful at the box office, nor were her two subsequent Goldwyn films, We Live Again
(1934) and The Wedding Night
(1935), playing opposite Gary Cooper. Reluctantly, Goldwyn dissolved his contract with his "new Garbo."
Speculation in recent years that Sten's failure to connect with American movie fans was due to a lack of talent is incorrect. Anna Sten could act quite well, but audiences were resistant to her Hollywood-fabricated "exotic" image and Goldwyn's overenthusiastic publicity campaign.
Goldwyn's tutoring of Sten gets a mention in Cole Porter's 1934 song "Anything Goes" from the musical of the same name: "If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction / Instruct Anna Sten in diction / Then Anna shows / Anything goes."
Sten continued making films in the United States and England, but none of them were remarkable, and a few of them - notably a late 1950s "juvenile delinquent" epic produced at cellar-dwelling American International Pictures - were downright horrible. Happily, Sten did not have to rely on acting to support her comfortable lifestyle. She was married to film producer Eugene Frenke
, who flourished in Hollywood after following his wife stateside in 1932. Most of Anna Sten's latter-day film appearances were, in fact, favors to her husband. She had an uncredited bit in the Frenke-produced Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
(1957), and a full lead in her final film (also produced by Frenke), The Nun and the Sergeant
Anna Sten died November 12 1993 at the age of 85.