Theatre: Stage to Screen to Television – By William Torbert Leonard – London 1981 (ANASTASIA)

Theatre: Stage to Screen to Television

By William Torbert Leonard – London 1981


A play in three acts by Marcelle Maurette, English adaptation by Guy Bolton (1953)


Former Don Cossack General and Aide-de-Camp to Tsar Nicholas II, Prince Arcade Arcadievitch Bounine, becomes intrigued in 1926 with a hospital patient’s story. Claiming she is the youngest daughter, the Royal Princess Anastasia Nicolaevna, and lone survivor of the massacred Russian royal family in an Ekaterinburg cellar on July 16, 1918, Bounine takes the ill woman to his Berlin home after preventing her contemplated suicide in the Landwehr Canal. Bounine conspires with his White Russian friends, Chernov and Petrovin, to prove to residing exiled Russian royalty, including the late Tsar’s mother, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna and her grand nephew, Prince Paul, that the woman Anna Bronin is in reality the Princess Anastasia. Intent on sharing the late Tsar’s millions, deposited in foreign banks, the plotters are astounded to discover Anna’s improving health brings recall of little known facts about the Romanov family. Prince Paul accepts her as Anastasia, his childhood sweetheart, while the Dowager Empress maintains rigid cynicism about the presumed imposter. After relating a childhood episode known only to the regal old lady and her granddaughter, the Dowager Empress accepts Anna. Bounine and his accomplices become believers. A massive reception is arranged to present Anna to the public as the Royal Princess Anastasia Nicolaevna Romanov and announce her forthcoming marriage to Prince Paul. As the Dowager Empress, Prince Paul and Bounine prepare to enter the ballroom, the maid Varya enters carrying Anna’s royal gown. Anastasia/Anna Bronin, Princess/imposter, has gone, possibly to meet Dr. Michael Serensky, her former lover who had visited her earlier pleading for her to return to him in Budapest.

Lillian Gish (standing on platform) and company in the stage production Anya 1965
Lillian Gish (standing on platform) and company in the stage production Anya 1965

Comment and Critique

Parisian playwright Marcelle Marie Josephine Maurette’s exciting play Anastasia was first produced at the Theatre Antoine in Paris in 1951. Presented on television in England in 1953, the English translation of the play by Guy Bolton was optioned by Sir Laurence Olivier, who produced it at St. James’s Theatre in London on August 5, 1953. The play was received with acclaim for 117 performances. Seventy-nine-year-old actress Helen Hayes, who had spent fifty-five of those years on the English stage, was praised for her striking performance as the Dowager Empress, a role that became her greatest triumph in the English theatre.

The riddle, or mystery, of Anna Chaikovski, later known as Anna Anderson, has long fascinated writers and the world. After her release from Dalldorf Mental Hospital, her friend, Mrs. van Rathlef-Keilman, published a biography, Anastasia, in 1929. Glen Botkin, son of the Romanov family physician, wrote The Real Romanovs in 1931, followed by other documentations of Anna’s life.

No recounting of her story, nor her claim to being the surviving youngest daughter of the late Russian Tsar, supported her unsuccessful years of fighting for recognition (and the Romanov fortune) in the German courts. During the years of her struggle for recognition, Anna lived in a shack of a home in Stuttgart, Germany, given to her by her cousin Prince Frederick of Saxe-Altenburg. Today, the woman known as Anna Chaikovski Anderson, or Anastasia, lives in comparative seclusion as the wife of a wealthy Virginian in Charlottesville, Virginia. Anna Anderson’s personal account of her life, I, Anastasia, was published in January 1957 by Harcourt, Brace & Company.

Anastasia was written by Marcelle Maurette, whose play Madame Capet was translated into English by George Middleton and produced at the Cort Theatre in New York on October 25, 1938. Marcelle Maurette was born November 14, 1903, in Toulouse, France and in 1937 became the Comtesse de Decdelievre. Mme. Maurette received the Prix du Cercle de Paris in 1934 for La Bague au Doigt; the Cours de la Pifece en un acte de Socidtfi des Auteurs et Compositeurs for her play Printemps in 1937; France’s 1939 Prix National de Litterature and, in 1964 was made an Officier de la Legion d’Honneur Titre Exceptionnel for playwrighting. Guy Bolton’s absorbing English translation of Mme. Maurette’s play Anastasia opened at the Lyceum Theatre in New York on December 29, 1954, to play 272 performances.

Brooks Atkinson (The New York Times) wrote, “Whatever the truth may be of the Anastasia mystery, the drama about it is superb. “

Lillian Gish, Irra Petina, and Constance Towers during rehearsal for the stage production Anya 65
Lillian Gish, Irra Petina, and Constance Towers during rehearsal for the stage production Anya 65

A decade later, Anastasia was adapted and set to music of Rachmaninoff by Robert Wright and George Forrest, who had performed the same service in 1953 by converting Alexander Borodin’s music into the colorful musical Kismet. Unfortunately, despite all excellent cast, production and the Rachmaninoff themes, the musical translation of Anastasia, called Anya, expired after two weeks at Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theatre.

Yul Brynner, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes - Anastasia
Yul Brynner, Ingrid Bergman, Helen Hayes – Anastasia

Twentieth Century-Fox’s British-made screen version of Anastasia returned the supremely talented Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman to cinema acclaim after virtual isolation following the overblown and over-publicized scandal of her affair, and later marriage, with Italian film director, Roberto Rossellini. Miss Bergman’s superb performance as Anastasia was properly rewarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as 1956’s Best Actress of the Year. Films and Filming admired the “wonderfully controlled” performance of Helen Hayes as the Dowager Empress and Anatole Litvak’s smooth direction. (The Deutschen-London film Anastasia–Die Letze Zaren – tochter, released in Germany in 1956, was not based on Marcelle Maurette’s play but on historical data.) Eugenie Leontovich and Viveca Lindfors appeared on Ed Sullivan’s television program, The Toast of the Town, in the recognition scene from the play on January 23, 1955. Hallmark Hall of Fame’s March 17, 1967, telecast of the play starred Julie Harris and Lynn Fontanne and drew critical raves. Variety opined that the two actresses gave the play “the stature of a classic” and that the Hallmark production was “on the magnificent side. “


St, James’s Theatre, London, England, opened August 5, 1953. 117 performances. Produced by Laurence Olivier; Director, John Counsell; Settings, Hal Henshaw; Costumes, Michael Ellis Mary Kerridge (Anna Broun); Helen Hayes (Dowager Empress of Russia); Ralph Michael (Prince Paul); Laurence Payne (Piotr Petrovsky); Peter Illing (Boris Chernov); Anthony Ireland (Prince Bounine); Ruth Goddard (Lady-in-Waiting); Michael Godfrey (Felix Oblensky); Verena Kimmins (Antonia); Michael Malnick (Sergei); Geoffrey Tyrrell (Sleigh Driver); Susan Richards (Charwoman)

Lyceum Theatre, New York, opened December 29, 1954. 272 performances. Produced by Elaine Perry; Director, Alan Schneider; Settings, Ben Edwards Viveca Lindfors (Anna); Eugenie Leontovich (Dowager Empress of Russia); Hurd Hatfield (Prince Paul); David J. Stewart (Pe- trovin); Boris Tumarin (Boris Chernov); Joseph Anthony (Prince Bounine); Dorothy Patten (Baroness Livenbaum); Sefton Darr (Varya); William Callan (Sergei); Carl Low (Counsellor Drivinitz)- Stuart Germain (Sleigh Driver); Michael Strong (Dr. Serensky); Vivian Nathan (Charwoman)

Road Company (1955). Produced by Elaine Perry; Director, Alan Schneider; Settings, Ben Edwards Dolly Haas (Anna); Eugenie Leontovich (Dowager Empress); John Emery (Prince Bounine); Robert Duke (Prince Paul); Carl Don (Chernov); Kurt Richards (Petrovin); Stanley Pitts (Sergei); Sefton Darr (Varya); George Cotton (Counsellor Drivinitz)- John Hallow (Dr. Serensky); Lili Valenty (Baroness Livenbaum); Frances Ingalls (Charwoman); Allen Joseph (Sleigh Driver)

Kleines Theatre im Zoo, Frankfurt, Germany, opened April 30 1955 Produced and directed by Fritz Remond; Translation by Ernestine Costa; Settings, Lothar Baumgarten; Costumes, Johann Jansen Inge Langen (Anastasia); Else Heims (Dowager Empress)- Herbert W. Boehme (Prince Bounine); Thomas Vallon (Prince Paul); Christian Schneider (Petrovin); Viktor Stephan Goertz (Chernoff)- Reinhold Kalldehoff (Obelenski); Wilhelm Schmidt (Sleigh Driver)

Road Company (1956). Produced by S. M. Handelsman; Director, Albert Lipton; Settings and costumes, Charles Evans Signe Hasso (Anya); Gale Sondergaai’d (Dowager Empress)- Stiano Braggiotti (Prince Bounine); John Hallow (Prince Paul); Boris Marshalov (Chernov); Jan Kalionzes (Varya); Charles Randall (Petrovin); Ted Gunther (Sergei); Ullo Kazanova (Baroness Livenbaum); Simon Oakland (Dr. Serensky); Mervin Williams (Counsellor Drivinitz); Ludmilla Toretzka (Charwoman); Charles P. Thomp¬ son (Sleigh Driver)

Westport Country Playhouse, Westport, Conn., opened August 13, Produced by Lawrence Langner, Armina Marshall and John C. Wilson; Director, Boris Tumarin; Sets and lighting, Marvin Reiss Dolores Del Rio (Anastasia); Lili Darvas (Dowager Empress); Stephen Elliott (Bounine); Alan Shayne (Prince Paul); Boris Tumarin (Chernov); Ellen Cohn (Vanya); Paul Stevens (Petrovin); Clark Warren (Sergei); Hal Gerson (Counsellor Drivinitz); Frank Marth (Dr. Serensky); Sylvia Davis (Baroness Livenbaum); George Ebeling (Sleigh Driver); Clarice Blackburn (Charwoman)

Cambridge Theatre, London, England, opened September 22, 1976. Produced by Robert Sidaway and Mark Furness;Director, Tony Cra¬ ven; Settings, Pamela Ingram; Costumes, Hugh Durrant; Lighting, Howard Eaton Nyree Dawn Porter (Anya); Elspeth March (Dowager Empress); Peter Wyngarde (Prince Bounine); Brian Poyser (Plouvitch); Ray Gatenby (Drivinitz); Ron Alexander (Sergei); David Nettheim (Boris); Brian Poyser (Dr. Michael Serensky); John Locke (Prince Paul); Jo Anderson (Baroness Livenbaum); Jeanette Lewis (Peasant Woman); David Griffin (Piotr Petrovin)

George Abbott anya
Lillian Gish and George Abbott – Anya

ANYA, Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, opened November 29, 1965.

16 performances. Produced by Fred R. Fehlhaber; Director, George Abbott; Scenery, Robert Randolph; Costumes, Patricia Zipprodt; Lighting, Richard Casler; Dances and musical numbers, Hanya Holm; Book, (based on the play Anastasia), by George Abbott, Guy Bolton; Musical director, Harold Hastings; Orchestrations, Don Walker;

Music (based on themes by Rachmaninoff), and lyrics, Robert Wright, George Forrest

Constance Towers (Anya); Lillian Gish (Dowager Empress); John Michael King (Prince Paul); Ed Steffe (Petrovin); George S. Irving (Chernov); Michael Kermoyan (Bounine); Margaret Mullen (Baroness Livenbaum); Irra Petina (Katrina); Boris Aplon (Josef); Lawrence Brooks (Count Drivinitz); Adair McGowan (Count Dorn); Jack Dabdoub (Sergei); Walter Hook (Yegor); Karen Shepard (Genia, the Countess Hohenstadt); Laurie Franks (Olga); Rita Metzger (Masha); Lawrence Boyll (Sleigh Driver); Elizabeth Howell (Anouchka); Barbara Alexander (Tinka); Maggie Task (Mother); Michael Quinn (Father); Elizabeth Howell (Countess Drivinitz); Bernard Frank, Lawrence Boyll (Policemen); Howard Kahl (Police Sergeant); Patricia Hoffman (Nurse); Konstantin Pioulsky (Balalaika player); Barbara Alexander, Ciya Challis, Patricia Drylie, Juliette Durand, Kip Andrews, Steven Boockvor, Randy Doney, Joseph Nelson (Dancers); Laurie Franks, Patricia Hoffman, Rita Metzger, Mia Powers, Lourette Raymon, Diane Tarleton, Maggie Task, Darrel Askey, Lawrence Boyll, Les Freed, Horace Guittard, Walter Hook, Howard Kahl, Adair McGowan, Richard Nieves, J. Vernon Oaks, Robert Sharp, John Taliaferro, Bernard Frank (Singers)

1965 Press Photo Lillian Gish - Little Hands
1965 Press Photo Lillian Gish – Little Hands


Anya; A Song from Somewhere; Vodka, Vodka!; So Proud; Homeward; Snowflakes and Sweethearts; On That Day; Six Palaces; Hand in Hand; This Is My Kind of Love; That Prelude!; A Quiet Land; Here Tonight, Tomorrow Where?; Leben Sie Wohl; If This Is Goodbye; Little Hands; All Hail the Empress

Sitting Composerlyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest- Standing Lillian Gish, director George Abbott, Constance Towers, and unidentified man during rehearsal for the stage production Anya
Sitting Composerlyricists Robert Wright and George Forrest- Standing Lillian Gish, director George Abbott, Constance Towers, and unidentified man during rehearsal for the stage production Anya


20th Century-Fox, released December 14, 1956. Produced by Buddy Adler; Director, Anatole Litvak; Screenplay, Arthur Laurents; Camera, Jack Hildyard; Art directors, Andrei Andreiev, Bill Andrews; Music, Alfred Newman; Russian music arranged by Michel Michelet; Assistant director, Gerry O’Hara; Costumes, Rene Hubert; Dialogue assistant, Paul Dickson; Editor, Bert Bates; Set decorator, Andrew Low Ingrid Bergman (Anastasia); Helen Hayes (Dowager Empress); Yul Brynner (Prince Bounine); Akim Tamiroff (Chernov); Martita Hunt (Baroness von Livenbaum); Felix Aylmer (Russian Chamber- lain); Sascha Pitoeff (Petrovin); Ivan Desny (Prince Paul); Natalie Schafer (Lissenskaia); Gregoire Gromoff (Stepan); Karel Stepanek (Vlados); Ina de la Haye (Marusia); Tamara Shayne (Zenia); Peter Salles (Grischa); Olga Valery (Countess Baranova); Polycarpe Pauloft (Schiscken); Katherine Kath (Maxime); Hy Hazell (Blonde Lady)

SONG: Anastasia by Alfred Newman; Lyrics, Paul Francis Webster

Helen Hayes and Ingrid Bergman – Anastasia

ANASTASIA, DIE LETZE ZARENTOCHTER, Deutschen-London Film, released 1956. Produced by Max Koslowski; Co-producer, ALFU- Corona-Hansa; Director, Falk Harnack; Screenplay, based on historical data, by Herbert Reinecker; Camera, Friedel Behn-Grund; Settings, Fritz Naurischat, Ernest Schone, Arno Richter; Camera and lighting, Georg Mahr, Felix Lehmann; Assistant director, Fritz Martin Lang; Choreography, Tatjana Gsovsky; Music, Herbert Trantow; Editor, Kurt Zeunert Lilli Palmer (Anastasia); Ivan Desny (Gleb Botkin); Susanne von Almassy (Mrs. Stevens); Dorothea Wieck (Grand Princess Olga); Tilla Durieux (Mother of Czar Nicholas II); Margot Hielscher (Crown Princess Cecilie); Ellen Schwiers (Princess Katharina); Adelheid Seeck (Princess Irene); Franziska Kinz (Duchess of Leuchtenberg); Otto Graf (Duke of Leuchtenberg); Hans Krull (Prince of Sachsen-Altenburg); Kathe Braun (Frau von Rathleff- Keitmann); Eva Bubat (Gertrud Schanzkosky); Emmy Burg (Ple- gerin Schwarzkopf); Erika Dannihoff (Frau von Pleskau)

Julie Harris and Lynn Fontaine - Hallmark 1967
Julie Harris and Lynn Fontaine – Hallmark 1967


Hallmark Hall of Fame, televised March 17, 1967. NBC. 90 minutes. Produced and directed by George Schaefer; Television adaptation, John Edward Friend

Julie Harris (Anastasia); Lynn Fontanne (Dowager Empress);

Charles D. Gray (Prince Bounine); Brenda Forbes (Baroness von Livenbaum); George S. Irving (Chernov); David Hurst (Petrovin); Paul Robeling (Prince Paul); Robinson Stone (Drivinitz); Robert Burr (Dr. Serensky)

Anastasia Romanov - Romanov Family - Russia
Anastasia Romanov – Romanov Family – Russia

Back to Lillian Gish Home page