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Vera Vasilyevna Kholodnaya (Вера Васильевна Холодная; August 30, 1893 - February 16, 1919) was the first star of Russianmarker silent cinema. Only five of her films still exist and the total number she acted in is unknown, with speculation ranging between fifty and one hundred.

Early life

Born in Poltavamarker, Ukrainemarker as Vera Levchenko, she went to live in Moscowmarker with her widowed grandmother at the age of two. As a girl she dreamed of a career in classical ballet and even enrolled at the Bolshoi Theatremarker ballet school.

Career Rise

In 1908, Vera attended a performance of Francesca da Rimini, with Vera Komissarzhevskaya in the title role. She was deeply impressed with Komissarzhevskaya's artistry and decided to venture in film acting. She approached Vladimir Gardin, a leading Russian film director, who cast her in a minor role in his grand production of Anna Karenina.

In 1910, she married Vladimir Kholodny, said to be one of the first Russian car racers and the editor of a daily sport newspaper. Vera would often accompany him in races which resulted in road accidents. She also adopted his surname, which translates to "the cold one". Later, many took it for a well-chosen pseudonym. Their daughter Evgeniya was born in 1912, and they adopted another child a year later.

World War I and the Russian Revolution

After her husband was drafted to fight in World War I, Kholodnaya signed with a rival Khanzhonkov studio. She starred in The Song of the Triumphant Love (after Turgenev), which proved to become a major box-office hit. At first she imitated the acting of Asta Nielsen but gradually developed her own style. Vera's extravagant costumes and large gray eyes made her an enigmatic screen presence which fascinated audiences across Imperial Russiamarker.

Tremendous success was Pyotr Chardynin’s tragic melodrama The Mirages (1916), followed by the ‘fancy drama’ Beauty Must Reign in the World by Bauer, melodrama Fiery Devil, and another melodrama A Life for a Life, which turned one of the most popular films in Vera Kholodnaya’s career and brought her the title ‘the Queen of Screen’. The author of this title was Alexander Vertinsky who venerated the actress and frequented her house. In 1916 Khanzhonkov’s company started making the film Pierrot with Vertinsky and Kholodnaya playing the leads. Unfortunately, the film was not completed.

By the time of the Russian Revolution, a new Kholodnaya film was released every third week. At the Fire Side was her massive commercial success: the movie was run in cinemas until 1924, when the Soviet authorities ordered many of the Kholodnaya features destroyed. Her last box-office champion was titled Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent: like many of her films, it was based on a Russian traditional love song.
During the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik authorities requested film companies to produce less melodrama and more adaptations of classics. Accordingly, Kholodnaya was cast in a screen version of Tolstoy's The Living Corpse. Her acting abilities in this film were applauded by Stanislavsky, who welcomed Vera to join the troupe of the Moscow Art Theatremarker.

By that time, the actress had determined to move with her film company to Odessamarker, where she died at the age of 25 in the 1918 flu pandemic. On learning about her death, Alexander Vertinsky, wrote one of his most poignant songs, "Your fingers smell of church incense, and your lashes sleep in grief..." A director with whom she had worked for several years filmed her large funeral. Ironically, this seems to be her best known film today.

The other five extant films with Vera Kholodnaya are: Children of the Age (1915), The Mirages (1915), A Life for a Life (1916), A Corpse Living (1918), and Be Silent, My Sorrow, Be Silent (1918).

Circumstances of her Death

Official Russian records state that Vera Kholodnaya died of the Spanish Flu during the pandemic of 1919. While that seems quite likely, there is much speculation around her death. Оther stories claim she was poisoned by the Frenchmarker ambassador with whom she reportedly had an affair with and who believed that she was a spy for the Bolsheviks.

Her life was dramatized in Nikita Mikhalkov's movie Slave to Love (1975). A documentary on her life was filmed in 1992. A year later, her image was depicted on a postage stamp and in 2003 a life-size bronze statue of her was erected in Odessamarker, Ukraine; created by the artist Alexander P. Tokarev.

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