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Intrigued is the word that best describes how I felt after discovering this photo. The moment I saw the face of Grigori Rasputin, my mind zipped back to 1978. Suddenly, I was 14 years old again and leaping around the living room while “Ra Ra Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen” boomed from the hi-fi speakers. Each time the music skipped, I’d race over to the reset the needle on the vinyl album and begin the song again.

This photograph leaves me with so many questions. Who would look so pleased about publicly aligning herself with such a man?  Matryona Grigorievna Rasputin, daughter of the Mad Munk, is the mysterious subject of the photo. She changed her name to Maria — a more socially upward and marketable name.   And yes, it is a look of pride she’s wearing as she shares the frame with her father’s image.

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Maria Rasputin 1899-1977: Photo credit: Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Maria was born in a Siberian village in 1899 to Grigori Rasputin and Praskovia Fyodorovna Dubrovina. After her father’s notoriety spread, the family moved to St. Petersburg where she attended a private school and socialized in royal circles.  She was 17 years old at the time of her father’s death. How does one survive the exploits of a an infamous parent?

She broke off an engagement, to a Georgian officer, to marry an up-and-comer who was a great admirer of her father. Maria made this decision based on the advice of people who claimed they’d communicated with Rasputin’s spirit during a séance.  He’d reached out from beyond the grave, they said, to tell her that this marriage was meant to be.

Her new husband turned out to be philanderer and an unscrupulous con artist with a knack for making poor financial choices. He died of tuberculosis in 1926, after they’d fled to Paris. Maria supported herself and their two children by working as a governess. She unsuccessfully sued her father’s murderer; the Paris courts dismissed the case and declined involvement in a crime stemming from Russian politics.

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Maria Rasputin: Cabaret Dancer, Animal Trainer, Mystic Photo credit: Hulton Archives, Getty Images
Maria Rasputin continued to lead an eclectic lifestyle. She danced in cabarets in Paris, France and Bucharest, Romania. In the 1930’s, she toured Europe and the United States with Ringling Brothers Circus as an animal trainer and lion tamer. Crowds were attracted by promises that she controlled wild animals with the same hypnotic powers that her father had exacted on the Russian royal family.

 

Photo credit: Hulton Archives, Getty Images
Photo credit: Hulton Archives, Getty Images
She was mauled by a circus bear in Peru, Indiana, but soldiered on until the show reached Miami, Florida where she worked as a riveter in a shipyard during WW2. In 1940, she met her American husband and was granted U.S. citizenship. In the late 1960’s, Maria announced her psychic powers and identified Anna Anderson as being the illusive Anastasia Romonav — a claim she would later recant.

 

Maria published three memoirs detailing the life of her father and his relationship with the Russian royal family. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she said, “My father was a very kind, very religious man. Always he think of others — never himself. Many people were jealous of him.” Maria would tell her grandchildren in the years to come, that their great grandfather was a “simple man with a big heart and strong spiritual power, who loved Russia, God, and the Tsar”.
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Maria Rasputin being interviewed by a journalist from the Spanish magazine Estampa in 1930 Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

So many questions and creative thoughts are swirling through my mind. I’m sipping a cup of tea as I write, trying to think of how to funnel them into one succinct paragraph. I think I’ve arrived at the two words to begin with — resilience and tenacity. No matter what life threw at Maria Rasputin, she bounced back covered in sequins, arms raised above her head, and radiating that “look at me world, I’m back” kind of smile. I find myself reflecting on the nature versus nurture question and heritable traits.

My impression is that she was a larger than life character. Surely, Maria must have inherited some of the personality traits that moved her father from poverty to palace. There are aspects of this woman that will most certainly inspire my pen.

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 “They ask me if I mind to be in a cage with animals and I answer, “Why not? I have been in a cage with Bolsheviks.”” ~ Maria Rasputin

What are your impressions of Maria Rasputin? Is there some trivia you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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