Nina Vanna (1925) 🇬🇧
Filming beneath a Mediterranean sun is one of the most delightful experiences of a screen star, and Nina Vanna is one of the luckiest of all, for just now she is travelling all over Europe making films, and has just finished making a wonderful production on the Cote d’Azur.
I met this young Russian actress at her mother’s pretty little villa near Nice. Only twenty-four years of age she is most attractive. She is beautiful, and there is an air of wistful charm about her that does not pass unperceived.
At most times she is very pensive, and it was in this mood that I caught her reclining in a hammock strung between two elm trees at the back of the villa, the silence broken only by the rippling of the tiny brook nearby, and the chirruping of birds.
“I left Russia at the time of the revolution,” said Nina Vanna abstractedly nibbling her string of pearls, a thing she always does while ruminating reminiscences, “and then things went so badly with me that I had to accept any employment.”
Nina once filled a job as waitress in a restaurant. Things were going from bad to worse then, until finally she was discovered. By whom, I do not know. All I know, however, is that Adrian Brunei, that most excellent British producer, is responsible for her present position to-day, when she has reached that coveted position of an Ufa star.
One of her most interesting productions was “The Man Without Desire” directed by Adrian Brunei, and photographed by Henry Harris, when she played opposite Ivor Novello. Nina Vanna has also played with Matheson Lang in “Guy Fawkes,” in the Commonwealth Production “The Money Habit,” and in many others.
Her next big chance came, however, when she went to Paris to play in the Vandal production “The Pitfalls of Love” which was adapted for England by Oscar M. Sheridan. She achieved such success in this picture that she was immediately engaged by the famous French film producer Jacques de Baroncelli, who gave her the leading role in “In the Night Watch” from the famous play by Percy Hutchison.
“This is undoubtedly the finest production I have ever been in,” continued Nina Vanna, “Most of the story takes place on board a ship. I am shut in on the ship in one of the cabins and I am only discovered when the man-o’-war is in the middle of the ocean and fighting with an enemy vessel. It is a most thrilling story and I am sure everyone will like it.
“For one of the scenes in this picture I had to stand five hours in cold water while the whole cabin turned upside down. The boat is sinking, you see, and so as to have as much realism as possible, gallons and gallons of water were being poured in through the windows across the decks and everywhere, drenching me to the skin.
“All the while this was happening bombs and shells are exploding on deck and creating an infernal row. So you see that the life of the film star is not always an enjoyable one. When I had finished that scene Mr. de Baroncelli took me over to a corner and explained the next scene, but all I heard was a weird jarring noise and not a word of what the director told me.”
Nina Vanna’s experience in The Pitfalls of Love, however, was almost as bad. She had to climb to the top of a rock, thousands of feet above the sea, in a raging storm. Below, the angry waves were crashing against the foot of the rocks making a noise like rumbling thunder. All the while the taunting waves were cruelly lashing her with foam. There was about half a mile of rocks to climb, and Nina Vanna had to do the scene twenty times.
Marcel Vandal, the producer, who, by the way, made that interesting film “The Battle” with Sessue Hayakawa, told me that never in his long experience of films has he met an artiste with so much courage. In this picture Nina Vanna’s climb on the treacherous rocks is a thrilling achievement, but it is also an incident that many others would have done their best to avoid.
“I am now leaving for Italy,” Nina Vanna told me, “where I am to play the lead in “Graziella, a Girl of the Hills.” We shall visit Rome, Naples, Florence and ever so many other places for our exteriors. I have received ever so many offers for appearing in continental productions, including one from Abel Gance, who made J’accuse, to play an extremely important role in Napoleon.
“This I have refused and I have now signed a contract with the famous German firm Ufa, but I do not yet know in what picture I shall play. They are keeping this a dead secret and although I have vague ideas what it is, I do not like to tell the world the good news.
“All I know is that I shall be cast opposite Emil Jannings, who achieved such great fame in The Last Laugh, and perhaps make a film with Warwick Ward with whom I have already played in The Money Habit.”
The Ufa studios in Berlin where this young Russian star is going to work are probably the finest in the world. Situated not far from Potsdam they lie in the midst of extensive and beautiful pine forests.
Here the sky is everlastingly blue, and the lighting and atmosphere so perfect in these gigantic studios that production goes on throughout the year with no stop.
An idea of how big these studios are may be gathered when it is known that a railway takes the extras from one set to another, transports all the material and brings the director and his staff to and from the various lots.
The grounds are immense and towns almost entire are built here. How convincing these sets are can be imagined by seeing The Last Laugh, “The Nibelungs” and films produced at Ufa City.
In one corner of the studios is a menagerie where all kinds of animals are stocked, and as a matter of fact it rivals many a public zoo. The lighting equipment is undoubtedly the finest in Europe, and a staff of several thousands are sometimes at work at Ufa City.
O. M. S.
Nina Vanna and Henry Krauss in “The Pitfalls of Love.”
On the sinking battleship (“In the Night Watch”).
Above: Nina Vanna has often been told that she is a dark edition of Lillian Gish. She is not averse to hearing it, for Lillian is her ideal film star. As seen above, in In the Night Watch, there is a distinct resemblance. She has the same delicate appeal as the American blonde star, as exemplified in the portrait below which shows her in The Pitfalls of Love.
Two scenes from “In the Night Watch”
The Court Martial: In the Night Watch.
Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, July 1925
Nina Vanna was born at Minsk, and educated at Astrakan, beside the Volga. She looks like a dark haired edition of Lillian Gish, and has played in “Guy Fawkes,” “The Money Habit,” “The Cost of Beauty,” “In The Night Watch,” and “The Man Without Desire.”
Photo by: Soulat Boursus
Collection: Picturegoer Magazine, May 1925