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Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood’s Russians
Biography of an Image
Harlow Robinson

Northeastern University Press
2007 • 304 pp. 28 ht. 6 x 9"
Film, TV, Visual Culture / Hollywood / Biography

$29.95 Hardcover, 978-1-55553-686-2

“Although numerous studies have treated individual emigres who acted or directed in Hollywood, Robinson is the first to take on the group as a whole . . . The select bibliography demonstrates the originality of Robinson's work . . . Highly recommended.”Choice

The story of Russian émigrés in Hollywood and the depiction of Russians in Hollywood films

This book is the first look at the colorful yet largely unknown story of Russian émigrés who worked in the American film industry, and the representation of Russians and Soviets in Hollywood movies. Among the artists who gravitated towards Hollywood in the 1920s and ’30s were the legendary directors Lewis Milestone and Rouben Mamoulian, composers Dmitri Tiomkin and Constantin Bakaleinikoff, and actors Alla Nazimova, Akim Tamiroff, and Maria Ouspenskaya. Many had to overcome obstacles of heavy accents, being cut off from their cultural base, being forced to work beneath their talents, and taking roles that promoted ethnic stereotypes. As with most Hollywood stories, there are also great artistic and personal triumphs; many relished the opportunity to pursue their crafts largely free of political entanglements. In addition to the story of Russian émigrés, Robinson also discusses the impact of such Soviet artists as Sergei Eisenstein and Sergei Prokofiev and their visits to Hollywood.

The book is also an informed and entertaining analysis of the representation of Russians and Soviets in American cinema. Rarely has a country loomed so large in the American zeitgeist yet remained so unknown. As a result, it was mainly through the medium of film that Americans’ images of and attitudes towards Russia were shaped. From the 1920s to the 1950s these depictions often mimicked the contemporary state of U.S./Soviet relations at that time: the anti-Soviet Ninotchka, establishing the trope of the seduction of a Soviet by Western charm; the WW II films such as Mission to Moscow and Days of Glory which lent a positive spin to the tribulations of our erstwhile ally. The Cold War brought a slew of Red-baiting genre films (along with notable action and spy films), while the intermittent post-Stalin “thaws” are represented by such classics as David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago and Warren Beatty’s Reds. Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood’s Russians is an original contribution to our knowledge of the early Hollywood film community and a lively blend of film analysis and social and political history.


"Hollywood has long been a melting pot, drawing talent from around the world in response to wider changes in history. This proves a very appropriate starting point for Harlow Robinson's "Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood's Russians," perhaps the most comprehensive work to date on the place of Russian emigres in U.S. and world cinema. It also leads to Robinson's second, and more interesting,focus: how the image of Russia has fluctuated depending on political currents and allegiances."—Moscow Times

"Robinson fell in love with Russia watching "Doctor Zhivago" at the little theater in Elmwood, Conn., in 1965. For him, Russia would be forever after associated with "waltzes, wars, gigantic hydroelectric dams, endless train trips, ice palaces, flowering Siberian fields and humorless revolutionaries equipped with dramatic facial scars." Affectionately and in great detail, Robinson describes the careers of several Russian filmmakers, as well as Hollywood's changing portrayal of Russians, in all their poorly accented, grossly caricatured glory. (He also dwells at length on Russian scores -- a mysterious obsession until you remember he's written a biography of Prokofiev.) He shows how Hollywood has responded to the ideological battle between the free market and Communism with graceful films like "Ninotchka" (1939) as well as ludicrous ones like "Red Dawn" (1984), in which a former high school football player (Patrick Swayze) saves a small town from a Russian invasion. Not surprisingly, at the end of most American films about the Soviet Union, "steak, swimsuits and sex have prevailed over socialism." Today's Russian characters are liable to "sweat profusely and smoke far too many cigarettes," but Robinson predicts an ever-evolving characterization of Russians in future Hollywood films, one of which will apparently star Johnny Depp as the poisoned former spy Alexander Litvinenko. One thing's for sure: Depp is bound to do a better Russian accent than Sean Connery." —New York Times Book Review

"Robinson's plot summaries of dozens of movies--from blockbusters like Dr. Zhivago, Reds and Gorky Park, to sleepers such as Forty Shades of Blue--are entertaining and insightful, and his assured style guides the reader effortlessly through a sometimes convoluted subject. The depth of his research should also make this book useful for cultural historians." —ForeWord


“A treat from start to finish, this lively and highly readable volume benefits from Harlow Robinson's unsurpassed historical rigor and gift for colorful observation, bringing to life the indispensable role played by Russian émigré artists in the complex, exciting, and glamorous development of Hollywood.”—Catherine Portuges, Professor of Film Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts

“That rare film survey that manages to be effortlessly engaging without shortchanging on scholarship, “Russians in Hollywood, Hollywood’s Russians” is an essential cross-cultural synthesis of historical milestones and cinema iconography.”—Jan Stuart, Newsday

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HARLOW ROBINSON is Matthews Distinguished University Professor of Modern Languages and History at Northeastern University. He is the author of Sergei Prokofiev: A Biography (Northeastern, 2002), The Last Impresario: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Sol Hurok (1995); and editor and translator of Selected Letters of Sergei Prokofiev (Northeastern, 1998).

Wed, 5 Nov 2014 15:27:01 -0500