The thing about Maria Rasputin is she was very much like her father. In fact, she was the only one of his many children to carry on the family name after it became something of an anathema in Russia. Reports of her life have varied wildly, but Maria Rasputin was one of a handful of women in the early 1900s who was comfortable living in infamy and who also maintained control of her own image.
She was definitely a lion tamer and performer with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. She was definitely a dancer. She was also mauled by a bear, left to work in shipyards, and retired in the neighborhood of Silver Lake in Los Angeles, California, about a 10-minute walk from my old house. In the 60s and 70s when Rasputin lived there, this wasn’t a lush neighborhood with a Pop Physique across the street. It was dirty and dangerous, and by most accounts, she wasn’t a wealthy woman. She did, however, fare far better than her father had in the end.
Throughout her life, she maintained her father’s innocence and espoused on his powers of the mind and sexuality, claiming—as many others had—that he had a very large and active penis. But Maria claimed a lot of things. She wrote three books on her life and her father. She was constantly in the spotlight, and when she needed some money or fame in 1968, she called the newspapers to tell them she had found Anastasia (Anna Anderson), heir to the Russian throne.
The story of Anastasia is still perpetuated, even though Maria later recanted. And that would have been fine. Maria was known to change her tune and wash her hands of things, but her friend Patte Barham—another strong woman who made her name as an ace reporter for Hearst, covering the Korean War from the frontlines—seemed to have other ideas and ended up co-opting Maria’s efforts to control the Rasputin legacy. At the time Maria died, the two were working on a book together, though Barham had run off with the idea: “Her friend Patte Barham is in the throes of a re-write on a second Rasputin book based on Maria’s recollections. She intends to call it, ‘The Rape of Rasputin’ and described it as ‘sexsational and exciting.’ But not funny.”
Despite this, Maria was a multifaceted woman with a broad sense of style and humor. A role model…I’m not sure. But her ability to surmount challenges with flair was unrivaled, and to me, she was a brilliant thinker. Take a look at these three images of Maria. I love that each one is slightly different, conveying three distinct personalities. They’re stills taken from a video I’m including below, but all three have been widely disseminated around the Internet. So which face of Maria do you want to see?
Information on Maria Rasputin is all over the internet. You can even find rare 1970 reprints of her memoir My Father (University Books). Read more about her here, here, and here, or visit her old home (and be respectful of the homeowners) watch some film footage of her below. She’s buried in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, so if you’re in the area, you can pay a visit like I did. Just ask the groundskeepers, who are all very nice, and they might take you in their cart right to her gravesite.