Men Behind the Stars — Richard Boleslawski (1937) 🇺🇸
Less than fifteen years ago a man stood alone on a New York City curbstone, with but fifty cents in his pocket and very little knowledge of the English language, but with a determination that refused to let him “give up the ship” and return to Poland, his native land. Instead, Richard Boleslawski took out his first naturalization papers.
Director of “The Garden of Allah”
The ten following years were not easy for the man who ultimately was to direct such screen successes as “Rasputin,” “Men in White,” “Operator 13,” Clive of India, Les Misérables, “O’Shaugnessy’s Boy,” “Garden of Allah” and his current production, “Theodora Goes Wild,” which launches Irene Dunne as a motion picture comedienne.
Boleslawski’s first objective was to master the English language, which he did by temporarily abandoning his motion picture ideas and pursuing a literary career.
Born in Warsaw, Poland on February 4, 1889, he was educated at the University of Odessa and the Dramatic School of the Moscow Art Theatre. He then spent twelve years with the Moscow Art Theatre, staging productions in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna and Paris.
In 1915 he enlisted in the Polish army and became a lieutenant in the famed Polish Lancers. He also served in the Polish-Bolshevik war until, as he says, “things got too hot for me.” He then returned to Russia and acted virtually as a spy between the Red and White armies.
“I was playing in the theatre while the men who were searching for me were often members of the audiences,” he relates. He was forced to flee to Paris.
There the Shuberts found him and sent him to New York to direct his first production, which ended so dismally that it left him with the fifty cents in his pocket.
Following his literary career he was given directorial assignments on the stage, among which were “Pancho Sanza,” starring Otis Skinner, and The Vagabond King.
With one hundred dollars in his pocket and bills piled up on his desk, Boleslawski went to a Manhattan antique dealer, in whose window hung a wood-carving he had admired for some time. He was determined to own that wood-carving and pay his creditors later. He asked the price. “Twenty-five hundred dollars,” was the reply. Boleslawski’s face fell.
“Give me that little cigar box over there,” he said, and walked out with a five dollar humidor under his arm.
“But I’m always doing such things,” he says today. “When things look dark for me I always do something considered foolish by other individuals.”
He went to Hollywood when the screen was frantically searching for dialogue directors; was given three jobs and fired from them in rapid succession. He was down to his last five hundred dollars and no work in sight. So he took the money, bought a small lot and started to build a house. He still lives in that little house.
Boleslawski, who is six feet tall, weighs 215 pounds and has dark hair and blue eyes, is most informal on the set. He is called “Boley” by everyone, from the electricians to the star. Between scenes he either chats quietly with his principals or resumes a conversation with a “grip” about cabinet-making or wood-carving, two hobbies close to his heart. He is loud-spoken only at the beginning of a scene when, after he has given the players instructions, his “Go!” can be heard all over a sound stage. His signal to end the scene is always a snap of the fingers.
“Boley” lives with his wife, the former Norma Drury, stage actress, and their one-year-old son, Jan. In his home is a completely equipped work-shop where he designs and makes furniture for their use. When not engaged in this manner, “Boley” turns to writing. He has two best-sellers to his credit, “Way of a Lancer” and “Lances Down.”
Boleslawski is an ardent golfer, chooses the theatre for evening recreation, and has proved himself an outstanding success as a man of letters.
Source: Motion Picture Magazine, March 1937