Rasputin’s Daughter: A Circus Legend and Lost Feminist Icon

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

That's me a couple years ago at Maria's grave. There is always a small bottle of vodka placed at the site, a loving little memorial of poison.

That’s me a couple years ago at Maria’s grave. There is always a small bottle of vodka placed at the site, a loving little memorial of poison. © Georgia Hartman

 

 

 

3 responses to “Rasputin’s Daughter: A Circus Legend and Lost Feminist Icon

  1. Actually, Grigory Rasputin only had four children: the first died in infancy; Matryona (Maria); Varvara (Varya); and Dmitri (Mitya). Maria was the only Rasputin to survive, as Varvara was killed by the Bolsheviks after the revolution, and Dmitri and his mother (Rasputin’s wife) died in poverty after the Bolsheviks confiscated their farm and banished them to Siberia.

    Maria’s granddaughter, who lives in France, tours Europe and Russia giving lectures about Rasputin, in an effort to dispel the nasty myths fabricated about him by the aristocracy, clergy and bureaucracy.

    Grigory Rasputin was a spiritual healer with subversive ideas like equal rights for all citizens, including the Jews who were severely oppressed and forced to live in the Pale of Settlement. Anti-Semitism was government policy, with numerous laws prohibiting Jews from education, travel, and many occupations. Since Jews were equated with vermin, Rasputin’s humanistic ideas and concerns were seen as treason. Thus, horrible myths were generated to discredit him.

    Read “Rasputin and The Jews: A Reversal of History” and
    “Rasputin: The Memoirs of His Secretary”
    See the website: The Real Rasputin: http://therealrasputin.wordpress.com/ with articles describing how Rasputin acquired the undeserved evil image.

    • It’s true, Rasputin did earn a somewhat undeserved reputation. This article is about Maria, however, who did claim her father had several children out of wedlock and that his sexual appetite was quite large. It’s about Maria attempting to control her image and her father’s image for her own benefit.

  2. I’ve read Maria’s books, among hundreds of others about him. She also wrote that IF there had been orgies at the apt. in St. Petersburg where she and her sister lived with their father, she’d certainly have known about it.

    Maria sometimes flip-flopped on her information, from one book to another. The ‘sexual appetite’ was a bragging point for Maria about her father’s virility, but was a propaganda tool she bought into. She never witnessed any sexual activity. Certainly, he was a party animal (away from home) and loved to sing, drink and dance. And women threw themselves at him.

    You’re certainly right about Maria trying to forge her father’s image for her own benefit. She was a performer and savvy in the ways of P.R. She knew that sex sells and could help promote her books, but all she really knew was hearsay.

    It is interesting to note the hypocrisy behind the nobility’s accusations that Rasputin was a drunken womanizer. The aristocrats themselves consumed French champagne and vodka by the case, and were so promiscuous that venereal disease (especially syphilis) was rampant among them. The newspapers of the time were filled with ads for ‘the cure’ and there are tons of medical records documenting those bureaucrats and nobles who were being treated for the disease. Gregory Rasputin was not among them.

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