How much did you know about Mischa Auer (below, second from left) and Leonid Kinskey (above)? Both were Russian natives, born two years apart in St. Petersburg.
Both were fascinating characters in their own rights, and had plenty of international experience in addition to long Hollywood tenures. Their parts were definitely supporting roles, usually brief. But each left a distinct mark.
Kinskey, for example, spent performing time in Europe and South America even before he made it to Hollywood. During his Hollywood time before World War II Auer would often take breaks and shift his attention to European movies and live stage performances. (He died in Rome in 1967.)
For his part, Kinskey lived a long life (he died in Arizona in 1998 at the age of 95), and claimed the distinction at the end of being the last surviving member of the Casablanca cast.
Ok, on to the answers to our “Mad Russians” Quiz.
Question 1) Auer most famously won his one and only Oscar nomination thanks to his performance in which one of the following titles? a) 1938’s You Can’t Take It With You; b) 1935’s The Lives of a Bengal Lancer; c) 1937’s One Hundred Men and a Girl; or d) 1936’s My Man Godfrey.
Answer: d) My Man Godfrey, which costarred William Powell (second from the right in the group photo above) and Carol Lombard (left). Auer plays a phony nobleman/social hustler in this screwball comedy so deftly that it’s easy to see why he received an Oscar nomination as supporting actor. The winner that year, by the way, was Walter Brennan. In any case, the nomination propelled Auer’s Hollywood career.
Question 2) One Auer’s most popular pictures today (see below) is the one he made in the Fifties directed by none other than Orson Welles. Can you name its title?
Answer: 1955’s Mr. Arkadin, an underrated Welles film that has developed an appreciative audience today. Auer plays The Professor who runs a down-at-the-heels flea circus featuring, literally, performing fleas.
Question 3) Before becoming an actor, Auer made occasional appearances as (a) a musician; b) a circus acrobat; c) Radio Free Europe radio broadcaster; or d) none of the above.
Answer: a) a musician. Auer was the grandson of violinist Leopold Auer, who encouraged him to study piano and the violin as a youth. The actor proved quite good on both.
Question 1) Kinskey was most famous playing the character named Sascha, an amorous bartender at Rick’s in 1942’s Casablanca. How did he get the part? a) Because of was funnier than the actor first considered for the role; b) Because he was a drinking buddy of star Humphrey Bogart; c) Because he was friendly with studio boss Jack Warner; d) None of the above.
Answer: a) and b). The part of the bartender had originally been given to another actor, Leon Mostovoy. But it turned out that Kinskey was funnier. That, and the fact that he and Bogart were friends, landed him the part.
Question 2) Amazingly, this Russian-born actor introduced the song, I’m an Old Cowhand From The Rio Grande, in the 1936 film Rhythm On The Range. Which one of the following helped him deliver the song? a) Georgie Jessel; b) Gene Autry; c) William Boyd; or d) Bing Crosby.
Answer: d) Bing Crosby.
Question 3) Kinskey was in line to play a principal part in the Sixties tv series, Hogan’s Heroes. Yet, he back out and turned the role down. Why?
Answer: The actor firmly believed that comedy simply could not take place in a German prisoner of war camp, which is the premise of the 1965 series.