Appreciation: Maria Ouspenskaya

maria ouspenskaya

I usually write these “appreciations” about hunky guys like Channing Tatum and Victor Mature and Aldo Ray.



Well, this time it’s a tiny little old lady.



Maria Ouspenskaya was a small regal actress who graced a number of classic films. She came from Russia, studied in Poland, and came to the USA in the 1920s. She liked it here so much that she decided to stay.



Her heart was in the stage, but the financial troubles of the late 1920s / early 1930s made it necessary for her to look toward Hollywood.



Her first film was “Dodsworth,” with Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton. She plays a steely old European martinet who forbids Ruth to marry her son. She’s terrific, and she got an Academy Award nomination for the role.



Many more roles followed. She played Charles Boyer’s darling grandmere Janou in “Love Affair.” She’s the mysterious Maleva the gypsy in “The Wolfman” with Lon Chaney, who intones:



Even a man who’s pure of heart

And says his prayers at night

Will become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms

And the autumn moon is bright.



Ouspenskaya was reputedly difficult. She was scornful of her fellow actors. She knew herself to be a brilliant actress, and acted accordingly. According to her IMDB biography, she relied on celebrity astrologer Carroll Righter to tell her when she should and shouldn’t perform.



This did not endear her to directors and fellow cast members.



My favorite Ouspenskaya performance is in 1939’s “The Rains Came.” She is (to perfection!) the bejeweled Maharani of Ranchipur, smoking her cigarette in a long holder and playing bridge. She is dryly ironic, and she is wonderful.



She was injured in a fire in 1949, which was (probably) caused by her smoking in bed.  She was taken to the hospital, and died of a stroke a few days later.



Poor thing.



Honor her memory by seeing one of the movies cited above.



You’ll thank me for it.


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

3 Responses to Appreciation: Maria Ouspenskaya

  1. starproms says:

    She’s a real character isn’t she.

  2. Bob Trivero says:

    I am confused, can you please tell me the exact scene in which she utters the famous lines “Even the pure of heart? I cannot find it anywhere. it is not said by her in the Wiolfman movie, but i remember her saying it somewhere..Help

    • I did some checking and found that at least three other characters in the movie say the rhyme – but Maleva the gypsy never does. Funny how our memories trick us . . . . (They fixed this in the 2010 remake – in which Maleva does recite the rhyme.)

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