Maria Ouspenskaya

Active - 1936 - 1949  |   Born - Jul 29, 1876   |   Died - Dec 3, 1949   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Mystery

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Biography by AllMovie

One of the most dynamic, and tiniest, of character actresses, Russian-born Maria Ouspenskaya had originally dreamed of an operatic career. She studied in both Warsaw and Moscow until money ran out, then switched gears and decided to concentrate on acting. Though she was past 30 when she entered Adasheff's School of Drama, Mme. Ouspenskaya was the school's most energetic and ambitious pupil; after graduation, she toured Russia in stock company, no mean feat in those pre-airplane days, then starred with the Moscow Art Theatre of Konstantin Stanislavsky. The Revolution and the famine that followed only strengthened her reserve to make something of herself. Remaining as a performing and instructor with the Moscow Art Theatre after the Communist takeover, the actress toured Europe and America, settling in the latter country for good in 1924. A fellow Stansilavsky pupil, Richard Boleslawsky, found work for Ouspenskaya on the faculty of the American Laboratory Theatre; She branched out to form her own acting school in 1929. Maria's role as the wise old mother of a titled fortune hunter in the stage play Dodsworth led to her recreation of the role in Sam Goldwyn's 1936 film version. Thereafter, if a wizened matriarch of any nationality was required for a movie - French, Polish, East Indian - Mme. Oupenskaya was among the first to be called upon. Despite her steady work in A-pictures, it was for a medium-budget horror film that she is best remembered today. In The Wolf Man (1941), it is Ouspenskaya as mournful gypsy woman Maleva who breaks the news that poor Lon Chaney Jr. has been bitten by a werewolf; the actress' chilling recital of the famed Wolf Man curse ("Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night") is enough to give adult viewers nightmares. She repeated the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), to which she brought the same degree of artistry that she invested in such prestigious assignments as King's Row (1942). While her earlier deprivations in Russia had made her nearly impervious to illness and infirmity, Maria Ouspenskaya was unable to survive one of mankind's oldest scourges. In 1949, she fell asleep while smoking a cigarette in bed; the resultant fire led to her death from burns and a stroke at age 73.

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