(Евге́ния Леонто́вич; March 21 1900, Moscow
, Russian Empire
– April 2, 1993, New York City
) was a Russian
-born stage actress
with a distinguished career in theatre
. Reportedly, she "was one of the most colourful figures of the 20th-century theatre, a successful actress, producer, playwright and teacher."
Reportedly, "born in Moscow
in 1900, Leontovich studied at that city's Imperial School of Dramatic Art
, and then under Meyerhold
at the Moscow Art Theatre
, which she subsequently joined." As she was a daughter of an officer in the Russian Imperial Army, Leontovich suffered greatly during the Revolution with her three brothers (White Army officers like her father) being killed by the Bolsheviks
and her family lose everything. In 1922, she reportedly "found her way to New York
and set about mastering the English language." Her success in doing so led to Broadway
After touring the country in Blossom Time,
she was cast as Grusinskaya in an adaptation of Vicki Baum
's novel Grand Hotel.
An enormous success, the play, which opened in 1930, was later filmed with Garbo in the part created by Leontovich.
The first she embodied as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia, a role she created on Broadway in 1954; the second as the Archduchess Tatiana in Tovarich, a comedy about a pair of Russian aristocrats who survive in Paris by going into domestic service. It was in this play that she made a highly successful London debut at the Lyric Theatre in 1935, with Cedric Hardwicke as her co-star.
After Grand Hotel it looked for a while as though Leontovich would be typecast as the kind of soulful Russian to whom misfortune is second nature, but as soon as she finished the tour of the play, she was given the role of Lilly Garland (nee Mildred Plotka) in Twentieth Century, the fast-moving comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur that was later transformed into a musical. With Twentieth Century, Leontovich established herself as a first-rate comedian. During the war, she played on Broadway in Dark Eyes, a comedy she wrote with Elena Miramova about three Russian exiles in New York. The play was produced in London after the war with Eugenia Delarova and Irina Baronova.
Reportedly, "Leontovich liked appearing in Britain." In 1936, she played Shakespeare's Cleopatra at the New Theatre, returning to London in 1947 as a female Russian general in a crude but funny farce she wrote with George S George, Caviar To The General, which temporarily displaced Phyllis Dixey at the Whitehall.
A year later, she moved to Los Angeles, where for the next five years she had her own theatre, The Stage, where she both produced and performed. In 1972, she adapted Anna Karenina for off-Broadway, calling it Anna K. and appearing in it with success. Leontovich made a handful of films, "none of any distinction", though her performance in Four Sons (1940) is considered "touching". For most of her long professional life she was identified with the theatre, however.
Also, Leontovich was reportedly, "for seven years in the 1960s . . . an artist in residence at the Goodman Theater in Chicago and also taught acting in California and New York."
Reportedly, Leontovich, "whose students addressed her and referred to her as 'madame,' lived in a Manhattan apartment surrounded by family pictures and icons." Leontovich's two marriages reportedly ended in divorce. According to her official biography, her first husband, Paul Sokolov
, was a member of the Russian nobility. Her second husband was the actor, producer, and director Gregory Ratoff
(the two were married in 1923, but divorced).
Broadway Plays and Filmatography
Leontovich made her Broadway
debut in 1922 in Revue Russe
, appearing with her future husband, Gregory Ratoff
. She also appeared in Bitter Oleander
(1935), Dark Eyes
(1943) which she co-wrote, and Obsession
Her most notable role was that of the Dowager Empress in Anastasia (1954). She was nominated for a Tony Award for William Saroyan's The Cave Dwellers.
Her films include Anything Can Happen (1952), The Rains of Ranchipur (1955) (a 1955 remake of The Rains Came (1939), with Richard Burton and Lana Turner), The World in His Arms (1952) and Homicidal (1961). She also appeared on an episode of Naked City.