Star that shines for all
Here is the final scene of “The School of Love” stage-adapted version of “Harold and Maude” in the Maly Hall of the Central Theater of the Russian Army. Enter Maude, an
80-year-old woman who had passed through many trying experiences. She loves this world, albeit the world is not always kind to her. A young Harold gets charmed with her tenderness, kind heart and helpfulness, and falls in love head over heels…
A touching love story… The curtain falls and the audience erupts in a torrent of applause. Everyone is on one’s feet paying tribute to the Star, People’s Artist of the USSR Lyudmila Kasatkina. On one of such nights, the famous actress agreed to answer some questions of VIP-Premier.
During this jubilee season Kasatkina will turn 85. With all the festivities ahead, we remember a jubilee party held in our Theater Parlor and words of congratulation by her stage partner, the patriarch and generalissimo of the Theater of the Russian Army, Vladimir Zeldin: “Thank you for the honor to speak today and congratulate our actress Lyudmila Kasatkina, People’s Artist of the USSR, an actress of our Theater of the Russian Army. I remember her joining our troupe upon graduation from the Academy of Theater Art and her ascending to the top of the theatrical profession. The charming blonde immediately was involved in the production of “The First Thunder” by Margarita Aliger. A modest girl came to the first rehearsal, listened attentively and soon was an organic part of the production. Three weeks ahead of the first night our leading actress Popova suddenly fell ill. It was necessary to find a substitute and Kasatkina was offered to try it. So, we started to rehearse and shortly after that our chief director Alexey Popov wanted to see what was coming out. Like everybody in the theater, I was really amazed by her unusual sincerity, wholeness, artistic temperament and stage presence. She proved that she was fit for that role and made this brilliantly. It is so important to start well in the theater! From the very beginning she set extremely high standards for herself. Lyudmila is a wonderful actress with very special individuality, charm and credibility.
I was happy to be her stage partner in “The Dance Teacher,” “The Last Ditches” and many other productions. She was in some marvelous cinema roles loved by all of you. She is exceptionally obedient to commands of her profession, which is in fact her lifestyle. It’s my happiness to be side by side with her during our long artistic life.”
– Years go by but your charm does not fade. What is the secret of the youth of your soul?
– Perhaps, it is in my nature. I was born near (the ancient Russian town of) Vyazma. My roots are there as I came from a peasant family. It is very important! My personality was built on a solid ground of peasant life-style and morality. There I was formed as a human being and a professional. My grandfathers and grandmothers, my mother Varvara Nikolayevna and my father Ivan Alexeyevich, were all kind-hearted people. In the village I’ve met such people far more often than those wicked and greedy. People there tried not to create difficulties; they were full of inspiration, joy, sun and love for children, nature and people. Old people always seemed very interesting to me but young people also were kind not wicked. Some old people used to come to a bench near out house and asked me to read a newspaper. Many could not read and some had bad eyes. I read and read to them until it was too dark to see. Every summer I went to my grandmother from Moscow where we lived in the basement of the former house of Prince Obolensky in Borisoglebsky Lane. What a bliss it is to live in countryside! We swam in the river, picked cranberries… My duty was to bring the cow home from the meadow. Grandma came from the work, milked the cow and we had a late supper. The food was simple and unpretentious. Grandma knew I did not like ham. “Fried eggs for you, darling, and no ham,” she used to say. So caring and so tender it was. I will never forget a meeting with an old peasant. Grandma awakened me early and sent to buy bread, seven miles to go. I walked and saw a copse ahead, not too dark but still frightening. An old man, as grey as a badger, was standing on the edge of the forest. He understood my fears:”Don’t be afraid, daughter. Go ahead and I will be standing here until you pass through. Don’t be afraid.” Years and decades have passed but I cannot forget that old man. Grey, with the warm smile of the colorless eyes, with a small walking stick in his wrinkled hand, he stands before me as the Goodness of my native land itself, the unbelievable goodness penetrated by the sunlight. Thus the goodness was born together with the desire to share it with loved ones. The goodness penetrated the souls of my parents too. When mother asked dad to play balalaika, he did this and sang marvelously. “Why don’t you go dance?” he asked, and we all joined in the feeling of joy. Those musical moments and maybe hours added peace and goodness to our souls. Kids were never abused for wrongdoing. When I happened to spill a pot of milk, mother used to say:”Look, you’ve spilled it. Well, what of this? Today you are without milk. Take bread and sugar instead.” They did not abuse kids, they understood them. My son Alexey also possesses this feeling of goodness. He is a musician and a very kind person. He hosts a weekly radio program about jazz. He is popular with musicians, young talents, who show him their works and ask him to play them. And he always responds to their wishes. My granddaughters Lyudochka and Anechka are the same species.
– This year our country celebrates the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory. What do you remember about May 9, 1945?
– Like all the people, I felt enormous happiness. All around were happy and excited. I was a student and on that day together with my fellows we walked and walked across Moscow. We even were not hungry, a rare thing when you are young especially during wartime. It was such a joyful event – the Victory! I also remember the first victory salute in Moscow in honor of the liberation of the cities of Orel and Belgorod on September 1, 1943, my first day at the institute and the first day of my professional life.
– Films about WW2 directed by Sergei Kolosov "Drawing the Fire upon Ourselves," “Remember Your Name,” “Mather Maria” and others were immensely successful. With their dramatic force, naturality and high spirituality, your heroines were so adorable and emotionally appealing that many generations, and not only in this country, have kept them in their hearts. Was it difficult to get into those roles?
– Of course, it was difficult. I tried to feel all this. Imagination helps but it was necessary to feel it with all your blood, heart and tears. I wanted true naturality. In order not to be off-key I wanted to know what physical pain is, what intrusion into your life is, what hunger is. I challenged myself not to eat for 12 days and to do without water for days. It was very difficult.
– This jubilee year, you and Sergei Kolosov will also celebrate the 60th anniversary of your wedding and creative work together. The history of your union could serve as an original plot for a serial. It contained so many interesting events and encounters, didn’t it?
– It was the luck of my life to meet a young man who had just returned from the frontline, a man who understood human pain, had compassion and a very kind heart. That man was Sergei Kolosov, my beloved, my husband. I also believe that a creative union of two people who had the same teacher, Alexey Popov, and who believe in one idea, in the psychological research of the epoch and its people, cannot fail to be a success. And that is what we are proud of.
Over many years of working together, Kasatkina and Kolosov have come to understand each other without words. Practically every their joint production was an event in the cinema world. The film director was not afraid to exploit the talent of his wife in very opposite roles.
Therefore, Kasatkina appeared on the screen in a variety of bright female characters with absolutely different life stories. Her talent is beautifully displayed through the chain of roles in theater and movies. She is loved, respected and admired for roles in “The Lady Tamer of Tigers,” “The Honeymoon,” “Honeybun,” “Roads of Anna Fierling” “The Drummer Girl,” “The Elegy,” “Your Sister and Prisoner,” “The Curious Savage,” “The School of Love” and many other productions. And of course, it was her charming and razor-tongued Katharina from the unforgettable production of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” by Alexey Popov and Sergei Kolosov. “Inimitable, strong, ireful, almost exasperating Katharina and Petruchio (Andrei Popov) do not tame each other, they are rather self-tamed by love,” Alexey Popov said. Kasatkina played her best roles in films directed by her husband. In 1960, Kolosov staged “The Taming of the Shrew” for Soviet television. He invited Kasatkina who already played Katharina in the Central Theater of the Soviet Army. It was their first joint project. For this role she was awarded the Golden Nymph Prize at the Monte-Carlo Film Festival.
Kasatkina joined the Theater of the Soviet Army in 1947 and today she still serves the company of her favorite and only theater “about the Army and for the Army,” as she puts it. “My love and gratitude to the theater that was and remains the only one in my professional life are unbreakable,” said the devoted leader on the scene, the actress who played more than 60 roles, the star of the theater, Lyudmila Kasatkina.
– Lyudmila, are you a happy woman?
– Yes, maybe... But it is all so difficult. I have a hypertrophied sense of responsibility...
Indeed, her colleagues were more than once stunned by her sense of responsibility. In his book “Kasatkina and Kolosov: Fate for Two” Kolosov recalls what happened during the shooting of the “Remember Your Name” film in Poland.
«We were shooting a long panoramic scene: Zinaida (Kasatkina) together with other prisoners (of a Nazi camp) is returning from the works. She runs towards the barracks trying to take from Nadezhda medicine for sick Gennady before lights are out. The column of female prisoners is herded by SS-men with dogs. Suddenly a dog gets loose and is after you. It barks, pushes you to the barrack wall and sinks all its teeth into your leg. I will never forget your desperate cry. The film crew stands paralyzed. Nobody is near you. My assistant rushes to you through the mud but gets stuck. The crew starts to recover from the shock. Some go for the doc, some look for telephones, some run around to get to you. Shrieks of ambulance and then of police cars are approaching. Poor Lyuka (a diminutive from Lyudmila – Eds.), you were so pale lying on the ground and even not trying to cry… After some injections paramedics take you to the ambulance and rush to the hospital accompanied by sirens of police cars. Heartfelt thanks to doctors of the city hospital. The operation was quick and successful.
The other morning the film crew was not in a haste to start working. All knew that the planned shooting was canceled. Together with the cameraman and the production designer we strolled around Brzezinka looking for details that could be filmed without you, but we could not get anywhere. Suddenly we hear again the siren of a police car. An ambulance escorted by a police car arrives in the film-shooting ground and stops not far from me. The door of the ambulance swings open and we see Lyudmila Kasatkina dressed for shooting and leaning on a walking stick, her leg wrapped in bandages and adhesive tape.
– Good morning, Panstvo! Why aren’t you shooting the film?
– Our Pani actress has fallen ill, - cameraman Boguslav Liambach replies in a matching tenor.
– Pani actress is all right, – Kasatkina parries. – Come on, let us go shooting!
At the end of the working day Lyudmila received an ovation from our Polish colleagues. Later into the night, in the hotel Russian and Polish film makers raised a few glasses to her health but next morning everyone was ready to work.”
To this day the actress is on the stage. She continues to play albeit new roles are not so often. But her Missis Savage in “The Curious Savage” is stunningly contemporary. Her love is deep and penetrating. Like an invisible wave it envelops the audience and builds excitement. Kasatkina is magnificent, especially in the final scene when she steps down from the stage and walks through the crowd. Raindrops on her umbrella and tears on her cheeks are teardrops of the crying soul.
On the night when we met with Kasatkina, a regular performance was canceled due to actor’s illness. It was substituted by “The School of Love” and Kasatkina, with a cold herself, played Maude marvelously. Once again she showed her responsibility for work, colleagues and loved ones. This is the shine of love, kindness and happiness. And this is the STAR that shines for all.
By Veronika TETERINA