Memories of Soviet actress Lyubov Orlova
by Olivia Kroth
Forty years ago, the Soviet actress died in Moscow, on the 26th of January 1975. She was a famous singer, dancer and film actress. During her life time, Lyubov Orlova received many awards and prizes, among them the Lenin and Stalin Prize.
Lyubov Petrovna Orlova was born in a noble family of Zvenigorod, on the 11th of February 1902, but grew up in Yaroslavl. Later, she studied at the Moscow Conservatory and Ballet School. In 1934, she appeared in her first movie, playing the role of Grushenka in “Petersburg Night”, filmed after a tale by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. She gained fame by performing in several musical comedies under the direction of her husband Grigori Vasilyevich Aleksandrov (1903-1983).
Lyubov Orlova and Grigori Aleksandrov:
Grigory Vasilyevich Alexandrov (1903-1983) worked as co-director with Sergey Eisenstein before directing three Soviet musical comedies in his own name, starring his wife Lyubov Orlova: “Jolly Fellows” (1934), “Circus” (1936) and “Volga-Volga” (1938). She became a glamorous, well-known film star in the 1930s, due to these popular films.
For her performance in “Jolly Fellows” Lyubov Orlova earned the title “Honourable Artist of RSFSR”. The musical comedy was the favourite of Josef Stalin. Lyubov Orlova sang several songs in this film which immediately became classics in the Soviet Union, especially “Serdtse” (Heart). The music was composed by Isaac Osipovich Dunayevsky (1900-1955).
In “Circus” (1936) Lyubov Orlova played the role of a circus artist. Once more, it gave her an opportunity of demonstrating her singing talent. The music was again composed by Isaac Dunayevsky. Lyubov Orlova made the song “Motherland” famous throughout the Soviet Union.
Wide is my Motherland, / With many forests, fields and rivers. / I know of no other such country / Where a man can breathe so freely. / From Moscow to the borders, / From the southern mountains to the northern sea / A man stands as master / Over his vast Motherland. / Throughout life, freely and widely, / Just like the Volga flows, All roads are open to the young, / While the old are always honoured. (…)
In “Volga-Volga” (1938), performers travel on a steamboat on the Volga river. They are on their way to Moscow, where they want to take part in the Musical Olympiad. Charlie Chaplin suggested the title of this film, taken from the folk song “Stenka Razin”. He was a Cossack rebel on the Volga river. In 2010, Russia’s Channel One TV presented a colorized version of the originally black-and-white film.
At the height of her career Lyubov Orlova starred in a movie every year: “Engineer Koshin’s Mistake” (1939), “Bright Path” (1940) and “Work of the Artemons” (1941), filmed after a novel written by Maxim Gorky, in 1925. The actress received the Stalin Prize, in 1941. More movies with the popular star followed: “Family” (1943), “Spring” (1947) and “Encounter at the Elbe” (1949). One year later, in 1950, Lyubov Orlova became the first Soviet woman to receive the prestigious title “People’s Artist of the USSR” for her cinematic works.
Lyubov Orlova’s last movies were “Melody of Life” (1950), “Song of the Homeland” (1952) and “Russian Souvenir” (1960). “Melody of Life” is a biography of Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky (1839-1881). “Song of the Homeland” shows the life of Russian composer Mikhail Ivanovich Glinka (1804-1857). In this film Lyubov Orlova played the role of Lyudmila Ivanovna Glinka. In 1953, it won the Golden Leopard Award at the International Film Festival in Locarno, Italy. The film star received the Soviet “Order of the Red Banner” twice for her outstanding lifetime work.
Lyubov Orlova in the winter of 1953:
On the 26th of January 1975 she , died of pancreatic cancer and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. In 1972, a minor planet, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Zhuravlyova, was named in honour of the late actress, “3108 Lyubov”. In 1976, a cruise ship, built in the Soviet Union, was named “Lyubov Orlova”. Last but not least, her husband Grigory Alexandrov produced a biographical movie about his famous wife, with the title “Lyubov Orlova”, in 1983.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog: