"Moscow Art Theater" 1929

"Lubova Yarovaya" 1929

"The Blue Blouse" 1928

"Princess Turandot" 1928

"The Kamerny Theater" 1928

"The Heads Of Russian Theatre" 1928

"Lunacharsky" 1928

The Book That Never Was

Hirschfeld's Lost Manuscript on Soviet Theatre

“The only time I ever saw regret cross Hirschfeld’s face was in talking about this book,” recalled Creative Director David Leopold about Hirschfeld’s heartbreak when his entire illustrated manuscript documenting 1920s Russian Theatre and Film was lost forever.

In 1928, Hirschfeld went to Russia by way of France on his honeymoon and as an international correspondent for the Herald Tribune. He was impressed with the largely experimental and progressive Russian Theatre of the time.. Over five months he went to see productions and films and interviewed the leading directors and producers of the burgeoning scene, which would soon be at its apex. Some of these interviews were first for a series of illustrated articles in the paper, but with his eye to his first book.

One of the most popular of these new plays in the Russian repertory was Armored Train 14-69 by Vsevolod Ivanov. Adapted from his novel, the play is about a group of peasants overtaking a White Army’s armored train. Ivanov himself served in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, and any play that wanted to be well received by the state would be sentimental toward the Bolsheviks. The central figure in the drawing is the peasant leader, portrayed by Kachalov, one of the most renowned Soviet actors, who had played Hamlet in the groundbreaking symbolist production of 1911 directed and designed by Gordon Craig.

The play had its debut in 1927 at the Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of the legendary  Constantin Stanislavki and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchecko. The Moscow Art Theatre was the most respected Soviet theater troupe of its time. New York’s historic Group Theatre had it’s roots with the MAT. After their 1923 American tour, many MAT members stayed in America and trained Group stalwarts such as Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Harold Clurman, who adopted their techniques into the Method Acting.

Upon his return to New York, Hirschfeld gave his only copy of the manuscript and illustrations to his publisher Boni and Liverwright. After some time, he inquired as to the status of the book, whereupon he learned that the entire manuscript and illustrations had been lost. Only a handful of drawings from the Russian trip survived, as they had been sent to the paper with insturctions to have them sent to hang on the walls of the showbiz hangout, Dave’s Blue Room, which sought to be like a modern French café, where caricatures lined the walls. Hirschfeld kept them in the thin green frames from the restaurant for 75 years. Two of them, Lubova Yarovaya and Armored Train 14-69 were featured in the New York Historical Society exhibition, The Hirschfeld Century in the summer of 2015.  While the book they were intended for is now lost forever, we can still enjoy these few drawings that defied all odds and escaped destruction because of the negligence of his publisher. 

Katherine Eastman
Archives Manager

Login or register to post comments.

November 2021
His Career As Seen by Hirschfeld
May 2019
Written by Alan Pally
October 2018
Award Winners Through the Ages
June 2018
Pygmalion and beyond
January 2018
All about Hirschfeld’s earliest-known portrait of an African American jazzman
September 2017
Simple, elegant lines
June 2017
A master class in 20th century entertainment
March 2017
Celebrating Women's History Month
November 2016
Scofield through the years
September 2016
Show Celebrates Golden Anniversary
June 2016
Forgotten Drawings from the Brooklyn Sunday Eagle
May 2016
Hamilton continues tradition
March 2016
Excerpt from "The Hirschfeld Century"
February 2016
Hirschfeld's Lost Manuscript on Soviet Theatre
December 2015
Excerpt from Michael Colby's THE ALGONQUIN KID
November 2015
Shakespeare's Jazz Flop
September 2015
Or The Making of the Musicial Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed
July 2015
See curated collections of Hirschfeld art allover the web
June 2015
An excerpt from The Hirschfeld Century by David Leopold
May 2015
King Kong enters the Hirschfeld Pantheon
March 2015
A Previously Unknown Drawing
January 2015
Hello, Lyndon!
December 2014
Harvard's First Work
June 2011
More Than 70 Years of Album Covers
August 2010