Maria Ouspenskaya, who as an elderly woman starred in only a couple dozen Hollywood films, left her mark as one of the most distinguished and recognizable character actresses of Hollywood’s golden era.
She was born in Russia in the 1870s, studied singing in Warsaw and acting in Moscow, and became a member of the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre. There Mme. Ouspenskaya was directed by the renown Constantin Stansilavski. His system, which she would advocate in her acting schools in the US, later became “method acting.”
She came to Broadway in the 1920s and founded the School of Dramatic Art in New York. She went to Hollywood mainly to help finance her school, and quickly won nominations for Best Supporting Actress both in Dodsworth (1936), which was her first Hollywood film role, and in “Love Affair” (1939). That she is also remember for playing scornful Gypsies in a couple of Wolf Man pictures was for her a practical matter of needing money, and a delightful irony to her fans.
She was in “Love Affair” for a total of about ten minutes, and yet her appearance is indellible. Her total screen time in “Dodsworth” was even less. She was that good.
As a drama instructor, some of her famous students include John Garfield, Anne Baxter, Stella Adler, and Lee Strasberg. Since Miss Adler went on to teach Marlon Brando, and other students went on to teach Robert Duvall and Meryl Streep, we can see Mme. Ouspenskaya’s influence on American acting was far reaching.