Leonid Kinskey

Active - 1932 - 1956  |   Born - Apr 18, 1903   |   Died - Sep 9, 1998   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Musical, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Forced to flee his native St. Petersburg after the Bolshevik revolution, Russian-born actor Leonid Kinskey arrived in New York in 1921. At that time, he was a member of the Firebird Players, a South American troupe whose act consisted of dance-interpreting famous paintings; since there was little call for this on Broadway, Kinskey was soon pounding the pavements. The only English words he knew were such translation-book phrases as "My good kind sir," but Kinskey was able to improve his vocabulary by working as a waiter in a restaurant. Heading west for performing opportunities following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Kinskey joined the road tour of the Al Jolson musical Wonder Bar, which led to a role in his first film Trouble in Paradise (1932). His Slavic dialect and lean-and-hungry look making him ideal for anarchist, artist, poet and impresario roles, Kinskey made memorable appearances in such films as Duck Soup (1933), Nothing Sacred (1937) and On Your Toes (1939). His best known appearance was as Sacha, the excitable bartender at Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca (1942). The film's star, Humphrey Bogart, was a drinking buddy of Kinskey's, and when the first actor cast as the barkeep proved inadequate, Bogart arranged for Kinskey to be cast in the role. During the Red Scare of the '50s, Kinskey was frequently cast as a Communist spy, either comic or villainous. In 1956 he had a recurring role as a starving artist named Pierre on the Jackie Cooper sitcom The People's Choice. Kinskey cut down on acting in the '60s and '70s, preferring to write and produce, and help Hollywood distribution companies determine which Russian films were worth importing. But whenever a television script (such as the 1965 "tribute" to Stan Laurel) called for a "crazy Russian", Leonid Kinsky was usually filled the bill.

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