Eugenie Leontovich; Star of Stage and Film Was 93
Eugenie Leontovich, stage and film actress, writer, director and acting teacher, has died in New York City at 93.
Noted for her Broadway roles in “Grand Hotel” and “Anastasia,” Miss Leontovich died Friday at a nursing home in Manhattan of cardiac arrest and pneumonia.
Her best-known film role was probably that of the Maharani in “The Rains of Ranchipur” with Richard Burton and Lana Turner in 1955.
Born March 21, 1900, in Moscow, Miss Leontovich was a member of the Moscow Art Theater before the Russian revolution. A staunch anti-Communist, she fled to Paris after the revolution and moved to the United States in 1922, making her U.S. debut in “Blossom Time.”
She secured her place on the American stage in 1930-32 when she played Grusinskaya, the ballet dancer, in Broadway’s original version of “Grand Hotel.” She quickly followed that role with Lilly Garland in the hit “Twentieth Century.”
In 1935, Miss Leontovich made her London debut as the Archduchess in the long-running “Tovarich” opposite Sir Cedric Hardwicke.
Segueing into writing, she penned “Dark Eyes,” a comedy about three destitute Russian actresses who find temporary shelter with a Long Island, N.Y., family. The play, starring Miss Leontovich, opened on Broadway in 1943 and ran for 230 performances. It was performed for Southern California audiences in 1948 at the Newport Harbor High School Auditorium.
Miss Leontovich created the role of the Dowager Empress, who has the knowledge and power to determine the true identity of the czar’s youngest daughter, in the 1954 Broadway production of “Anastasia.” She performed the role at Los Angeles’ Huntington Hartford Theater (now the Doolittle) in 1956.
Directing herself, Miss Leontovich performed her own adaptation of Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” off-Broadway in 1972, calling it “Anna K.”
Known by her students as “Madame,” Miss Leontovich operated an acting school on Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles and taught in Manhattan as well. She spent seven years as artist in residence at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
Her English remained heavily accented, adding to the charm of the five-foot-tall woman with patrician bearing who once told The Times: “English is the most eloquent language, so comfortable for one’s mouth.”
Married briefly in her youth to Paul A. Sokolov, a member of the Russian nobility, Miss Leontovich married 20th Century Fox director Gregory Ratoff in 1923. They were together for 21 years. Ratoff interested her in films and was largely responsible for her long residency on the West Coast.
“Each we have our work in which we are happy,” was how she described the marriage for The Times in 1937. “Parted we are, so that meetings again are always so beautiful. And we love greatly. I want to tell women to love with devotion. It is more important to love than to be loved, to give more than is given.”
The couple became estranged in 1944 when, she said decades later, Ratoff ran off to Italy with another Russian woman. Miss Leontovich divorced him in 1949.
She appeared in her first film, “Four Sons,” about a Czechoslovakian mother who loses three of her four sons in World War II, in 1946. Times entertainment critic and columnist Edwin Schallert noted at the time that Miss Leontovich, unlike many stage actresses, had no problem adapting to the subtleties of film acting.
“What she can say with eyes and thought registered in facial expression is naught short of momentous,” he wrote. “Indeed, here is a discovery for the studios of the first water.”