Paul Orleneff<ref>Also Anglicized as Paul Orlenev, Paul Orlenoff, or Paul Orlenov.</ref> was a Russian-American actor, director and producer early in the 20th century. He was married to the Ukranian-American actor and silent film star Alla Nazimova in 1904<ref>FilmReference.com: Alla Nazimova</ref>; he was a friend of the Anarchist writer and drama critic Emma Goldman, who promoted his work in her journal Mother Earth.
From "Paul Orleneff," in Emma Goldman's Mother Earth, Vol. VI., No. 11 (January, 1912)
- But there is another Russia, the Russia of Gogol, Nekrassov, Turgeniev, Dostoyevski. Tolstoy,--the Russia of the heroic men and women, the Russia of the steppes and of the muzhiks, dreaming of brotherhoood and freedom.
- It is this Russia which sends to us her greetings through the dramatic genius, Paul Orleneff, who, with a small company of players, is giving performances at the Garibaldi Theatre, 35 Fourth Street. Though, indeed,
performancesis but an inadequate expression for the rare artistic experience which awaits the audience.
From Emma Goldman's Living My Life (1931)
- During the hot summer months [of 1905] many of my patients left for the country. Stella and I decided that we also needed a vacation. In our search for a suitable place we came upon Hunter Island, in Pelham Bay, near New York, [...]
- A friend of mine, Clara Felberg, together with her sister and brother, joined us. We ere just beginning to settle down on our island and enjoy its peace and beauty when Clara brought back from New York the announcement that the Paul Orleneff troupe was stranded in the city. Its members had been thrown out of their apartment for failure to pay the rent, and they were without means of livelihood.
- Pavel Nikolayevitch Orleneff and Mme Nazimova had come to America in the early part of 1905, taking the East Side by storm with their wonderful production of Tchirikov's The Chosen People. It was said that Orleneff had been prevailed upon by a group of writers and dramatists in Russia to take the play abroad as a protest against the wave of pogroms then sweeping Russia. The Orleneff troupe arrived at the very height of our activities for Babushka, which had prevented my getting in touch with the Russian players. But I had attended every performance. With the exception of Joseph Kainz, I knew no one to compare with Paul Orleneff, and even Kainz had created nothing so overwhelming as Orleneff's Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, or his Mitka Karamazov. His art was, like that of Eleonora Duse, the very living of every nuance of human emotion. Alla Nazimova was very fine as Leah in The Chosen People, as she was in all her rôles. As to the rest of the case, nothing like its ensemble acting had ever been seen on the American stage before. It was therefore a shock to learn that Orleneff's troupe, who had given us so much, should find themselves stranded, without friends or funds. We might pitch a tent for Orleneff on our island, I thought, but how help his ten men? Clara promised to borrow some money, and within a week the entire troupe was on the island with us. It was a motley crowd and a motley life, and our hopes for a restful summer soon went by the board. During the day, when Stella and I had to return to the heat of the city, we regretted that Hunter Island had ceased to be a secluded spot. But at night, sitting around our huge bonfire, with Orleneff in the center, guiter in hand, softly strumming an accompaniment to his own singing, the whole troupe joining in on the chorus, the strains echoing far over the bay as the large samovar buzzed, our regrets of the day were forgotten. Russia filled our souls with the plaint of her woe.
- When I returned to our camp that afternoon, Orleneff was the first to notice my feverish excitement. "You look inspired, Miss Emma," he cried: "what wonderful thing has happened to you?" I told him about Sasha, of his youth in Russia, his life in America, his Attentat and long years in prison. "A character for a great tragedy!" Orleneff exclaimed enthusiastically; "to interpret him, to visualize him to the people--I'd love to play the part!" It was balm to see the great artist so carried away by the force and beauty of Sasha's spirit.
- Orleneff urged me to help him get in touch with my American friends, to be his interpreter and manager. Like the genius he was, he lived only in his art; he knew and cared for nothing else. It was enough to watch Orleneff saturate himself with the part he was to play, to realize how truly great an artist he was. Every nuance and shade of the character he was to interpret was created by him beforehand inch by inch, agonized over for weeks, until it assumed a complete and living form. In his efforts for perfection he was relentless with himself and equally so with his troupe. More than once in the middle of the night the obsessed creature would tear me out of my sleep by shouting and yelling outside my tent: "I have it! I have it!" Drowsy with sleep, I would inquire what the great find was, and it would prove to be a new inflection in Raskolnikov's monologue or some significant gesture in Mitka Karamazov's drunkenness. Orleneff was literally afire with inspiration. It gradually communicated itself to me, causing me to scheme how to make the world see his art as it was unfolded to me in the unforgettable weeks on Hunter Island.
- For some time I could do little except take care of Pavel Nikolayevich and his numerous guests. Several dependable newspapermen whom I knew interviewed Orleneff about his plans, and meanwhile work began on the Third Street hall that was being remodelled into a theatre. Orleneff insisted on going to town every day to direct this work, which necessitated disputes with the owner over every detail. Paul could not speak anything except Russian, and there was no one but myself to interpret for him. I had to divide my time between my office and the future theatre. In the late afternoon we would return to our island, half-dead with heat and fatigue, Orleneff a nervous wreck from the thousand petty irritations with which he was entirely unfitted to cope.
- The superabundance of poison ivy on Hunter Island and the legions of mosquitoes finally drove us into the city. Only the troupe of sturdy peasant actors remained, compelled to defy both pests because they had no other place to go. After Labour Day the number of my patients increased and the preliminary work for the Russian performances began, involving a large correspondence and a personal canvass of my American friends. James Huneker, whom I had not seen for several years, promised to write about Orleneff, and other critics also pledged support. Our efforts were aided by a number of wealthy Jews, among them the banker Seligman.
- The members of the East Side Committee on their return from the country set to work in earnest to fulfil their promise to Orleneff. There were readings of plays in some of their homes, especially at Solotaroff's and at Dr. Braslau's, the latter now the host of Pavel Nikolayevitch. Themselves the parents of an artist daughter, Sophie, who had already begun to train for an operatic career, Doctor and Mrs. Braslau could well understand the psychology and moods of their guest.
- They had much feeling for him and patience, while some of the East Siders talked about him in terms of dollars and cents. The Braslaus were charming people, genuine, hospitable Russian souls; the evenings in their home always gave me a feeling of freedom and release.
- The radical Jewish press actively aided the work of publicity. Abe Cahan, of the socialist daily Forward, often attended the readings of plays and wrote a great deal of the significance of Orleneff's art. Considerable publicity was also given him by the Freie Arbeiter Stimme and other East Side Yiddish papers.
- ... The next day we returned to New York and prepared the copy for the initial number of the magazine. It appeared on the first of March 1906, in sixty-four pages. It's [sic] name was Mother Earth.
- Paul Orleneff sailed back to Russia soon afterwards, leaving a large part of himself in the hearts of all of us who had exulted in his genius. The American theatre and what passed as drama in the country seemed, thereafter, commonplace and vulgar to me. But I had new work to do, fascinating and absorbing.