by her daughter
Tatiana Otzoup Guliaeff

      Alexandra was born to Maria and Alexander Cvikevich on September 17, 1899 in the town of Baranovichi, Belarus.  A frail and shy child, she was the eldest of her siblings, Anna, Anatoly and Evgeni.  When her parents divorced and eventually remarried her father’s new family included Alexandra’s half sister Galena and half brother Yuri.  Her mother’ youngest child was Nicholas.  What made the family so interesting is that Maria married the brother of Alexander’s new wife;  so the subsequent children were first cousins.  When Maria’s second husband Ivan died, Alexander adopted Nicholas to facilitate their escape from post revolutionary Russia.

     Alexandra was a dreamer,  wrote poetry and composed music.  Her dream was to be a concert pianist.  But, alas, it was not to be.  Maria insisted that Alexandra become a dentist.  In those days, dentists had to have at least two years of medical school. So Alexandra was shipped off to St. Petersburg for her studies as soon as she turned 16 years old.  Alexandra was very lonely, the only true friend was her sister Anna who worshiped her.  Alexandra found solace in walks through the forests that belonged to her family and talked to the trees;  each tree had a special name.  Thus she improved her diction and perfected her ability to communicate, albeit with an inanimate audience.

     Alexander had built a small stage in a gazebo near their house.  The children were encouraged to recite poetry, sing songs, and put on sketches. In the winter Alexander made an ice pond in the middle of the meadow, where the youngsters could skate and learn graceful movements. When the children visited Maria, they rode horses and befriended all the domestic animals.  Alexandra’s tale of a sickly calf that was brought into the family kitchen, a dog that had been wounded and partially paralyzed, a cat that had been blinded in battle and a chicken with a broken wing who shared the sleeping quarters and were the best of friends, always brought smiles and tears from her audience.

     Shortly after the Revolution of 1917, the family escaped with much difficulty to Poland, the place of Maria’s birth.  There Alexandra opened her dental office and worked in her mother’s restaurant in her free time.  No sooner had she established her practice, as she received an offer from a Polish film studio asking her to play the lead in an upcoming film. The film was so successful, that Alexandra was approached by the German film company UFA with an offer to come to Germany to make a film.  After much trepidation, Alexandra left her family in Poland and went to Munich. Soon the political situation in Poland became too dangerous for the family to stay and Alexandra brought all of them to Germany.  Her mother and her siblings settled in the Czech Republic;  her father and his family came to Berlin to be with her. Alexandra put all of her siblings through school and supported the large family on the income from the films she made.  In 1922 she met Sergio Otzoup, a film producer, who courted her for ten years.  They were married in 1932.  After her marriage she gave up her film career to devote herself to the new family.  In 1935 she gave birth to a daughter and named her Tatiana.  Alexandra also took on the role of stepmother to Sergio’s son Pedro.

     In 1939 Sergio took a business trip to Spain.  Alexandra with her daughter were to follow, but World War II broke out.  They never saw each other again.  Through Alexandra’s connection with the movie industry she was much in demand as an interpreter and working on subtitles for various films. At that time the rest of her family had joined her and once more Alexandra supported them for the most part.  In 1943 the house she lived in was destroyed by a bomb and Alexandra fled to the outskirts of Berlin. When the danger of falling into the hands of the Soviet troops became imminent, her sister Anna organized an escape from Berlin. From one refugee camp to another, she led Alexandra and her family to the last refugee camp near the town of Kassel.  Amongst other necessities, a theatrical troupe was organized and Alexandra stole the show by playing an English governess in a play by Alexander Pushkin. That was her last role.

     In 1947 the allied forces moved many of the refugees to the shores of the river Rhine, where Alexandra worked in the fields and vineyards, her labor as a barter for food and other necessities.  In 1949 she immigrated with her family to the United States.  She lived in San Francisco, working as a nanny, as a kitchen helper in a major hospital and finally as a label machine operator, until she retired to take care of her ailing mother in San Anselmo, California.

     In all the years of her contact with such famous personalities as Feodor Chaliapin, Beniamino Gigli (who sang lullabies to me), Vladimir Nabokov, poet Sergei Yesenin (husband of Isadora Duncan), and various movie stars, including Gustav Fröhlich (who was my godfather), Emil Jannings and Otto Gebühr.   The only one with whom she corresponded to the end of her days was the Russian poet Klenovsky. Alexandra did not talk much of her film career; she shied away from crowds and once again became the shy and fragile person of her youth.

     In 1973 she lost her battle with cancer and is buried in the town of San Rafael, California.  She left behind one daughter, son-in-law, and three grandsons, as well as her siblings.

 "I have left out many things, but it is impossible to encompass everything.  I did not speak much of her character, of her gentleness, her caring, her sentimentality, her completely being subservient to her mother, not out of fear, but out of great love she bore her.  Many people loved and adored Alexandra Sorina, yet she slipped into an anonymous oblivion."  -- Tatiana Guliaeff

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Copyright © 2003 by Tatiana Otzoup Guliaeff
Published June 21, 2003 by Gilda Tabarez.
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