Step aside Clark Gable....Leonid Kinskey has entered the room, and woe to any man who has to battle with him for center stage! This scene-stealer will win any match hands down.
Kinskey did not have the gentlemanly charm of Cary Grant, or the rugged physique of Johnny Weissmuller, or even the crooning voice of Ol' Blue Eyes, but what he did have was confidence....heaps and bounds of the stuff. And with enough of that, and a good dose of vodka in your system, you can go anywhere.
It doesn't matter that Kinskey didn't have good looks, he thought so and whether you did or not made no difference. In real life, he knew how to flatter like a Frenchman and how to cater to a woman's inner desire, so it comes as no surprise that Ladykiller Kinskey was married three times. Why, even when he was 80-years old he turned on that old-fashioned Russian charisma and fetched himself another mate.
Kinskey was a native-born Russian, stemming from the great city of St. Petersburg. Unlike his acting comrades who portrayed characters of other nationalities as well as their own, Kinskey took pleasure in playing just pure Russians. Alright, a few French, German, and South American characters can be thrown in the mix, but primarily it was Boris, Ivan, Vladimir, Gregor, or Mischa that he was playing. And why not? He was proud of his heritage and enjoyed sharing the characteristics of his culture with the American public. Even the United States government relied on his thoroughly good Russian taste and, during WWII, chose him to select the Hollywood films to be shown in the USSR.
For this post we want to select a few of our favorite characters that Kinskey often played and share them with you:
Kinskey loved to flash that enormous grin of his in roles where he had to woo the women. He rarely snagged the Betty Grables, Alice Fayes, or Sonja Henies onscreen but that never bothered him. Afterall, he was the fellow that was out looking for a good time...and for a rich woman who could afford to give him one. But in the end Kinskey's characters were just as happy to settle for the Charlotte Greenwood-types and make a day of it. Off-screen, he was more particular and remained true to his wives...taking them one at a time of course. His second wife loved him so much that she married him four times over. "It started in Mexico City", he explained, "and then over 20 years of our happy marriage we celebrated every five years by taking a new marriage license in a different country".
The Creative Genius :
Whenever Kinskey played a composer or an artist, he couldn't keep it straight, but loved to exaggerate the mannerisms one associates with the artistic set. Mussed up hair, flailing arms, temper tantrums, baggy pants, wrinkled tails....these were all the little cliches that Kinskey resorted to when creating the master effect. Cafe Metropole (1937 ), On Your Toes ( 1939 ), Broadway Limited ( 1940 ), and Presenting Lily Mars ( 1943 ) were just some of the films where he played an artist or composer. Too bad Leonid was never selected for the part of a magician, it would have suited him to perfection.
The Professor :
When Kinskey wasn't chasing women or chasing the elusive creative thought, he was chasing down students as a college professor. In Ball of Fire ( 1941 ), Professor Quintana ( Kinskey ) was one of the ivory-tower profs who rescues the nightclub singer from the mob. He was Professor Vladimir Smitken in Cinderella Swings It ( 1943 ) and years later, after he retired from film, portrayed Professor Overbeck in the Batman television series ( 1966 ) and Professor Hammerschlag in My Favorite Martian.
And of course...as Sascha!
After seeing Rick fix a roulette game so that a young Hungarian couple could win enough money to pay for an exit visa, bartender Sascha kisses him and exclaims "Boss, you've done a beautiful thing!" Rick snarls back, "Go away, you crazy Russian".
During the making of Casablanca ( 1943 ), it was decided that Leon Mostovoy, the actor cast as the bartender at Rick's Cafe, needed to be replaced because he did not have that added touch of humor that the role required. The producers needed a man like Leonid Kinskey...and a man like Kinskey is what they got. Leonid just happened to be a drinking buddy of Humphrey Bogart and so he pulled him into the cast midway through production. Leonid Kinskey was great for the part of the "crazy Russian" and it remains his most famous role to this day.
This post is our contribution to the Russia in Film Blogathon being held over at Movies Silently and sponsored by Flicker Alley. To read more about Russian actors and films, head on over to Movies Silently and check out all the posts!