Ossip Runitch

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Ossip Runitch (1889-1947) was a Russian-Jewish silent film actor, producer and stage director.

Also known as Ossip Runitsch, Osip Runich and Giuseppe Runitsch


According to Wikipedia[], he was born Ossip Iliych Runitsch (Russian: Осип Ильич Рунич) in 1889 in St. Petersburg, Russia, of an assimilated family from Vitebsk. However, there is some contention about his early years. For example, Russian film historians believe that his surname was actually Fradkin. In a late 1920s interview, for example, he stated that he was adopted by a Serbian engineer at the age of three. That's how he came by his Slavic surname. (In the 1920s, he had a Yugoslav passport). Also, the place of birth is a matter of contention, for he came from a Jewish family and St Petersburg was outside the Pale of Settlement. His brother, Mihail Chernov, is said to have been born in Odessa and Runich's colleagues remembered that Runich spoke like a true Ukrainian. He also began his acting career in Kharkov and Kiev, two of Ukraine's largest cities.

However, in 1917 he was working at the Moscow Drama Theatre, which was - at the time - the city's third most popular theatre, after the Stanislavsky's Moscow Art Theatre and the Maly Theatre. Their building was at the Hermitage Garden in Moscow (not the Hermitage in St Petersburg, as many sources believe, claiming that he "began his acting career at the St. Petersburger Eremitage theatre"). He was soon in demand as a stage actor, and went on to become a star of Russian silent cinema in the period 1915-1919, appearing in a number of silent films including Molchi, grust... molchi ("Be silent, sorrow ... be silent") and Posledneiye tango - in which he plays a dancer from Argentine, alongside Vera Kholodnaya. (It was one of the last films he made in Russia, and only part of the film survives[1]).

In 1919, after the Russian Civil War, he fled Russia for Italy, where he acted in a number of films before moving to Germany to work in German films. Among the better known were Die Bestie im Menschen (1920), Danton (a supporting actor, with Emil Jannings star, 1921), and Düstere Schatten, strahlendes Glück (1924) and supporting roles in three films by Robert Wiene (of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari fame), also in the 1920s. He also continued working in operas and stage plays (e.g. in 1921 and again between 1925 and 1928 in Paris).

His adoption enabled him to live outside the Pale of Settlement. He thus did not speak Yiddish and did not have anything to do with Jewish art until the 1920s, when he began to take part in Yiddish theatre performances in Germany and Latvia.

In 1925 he began a relationship with Nina Pavlishcheva, a dancer and actress, despite both of them being married at the time. By the late 1930s, they were living in Riga, Latvia, where he was part of a Russian theatre company (possibly known as the Russian Drama Theatre). As a full-time employee, he acted and produced plays for Jewish theatre as well. (See for instance https://collections.lib.uwm.edu/digital/collection/yiddish/id/37/).

It seems that being aware of the impending Second World War, he accepted an invitation from his local Jewish friends to tour South Africa in 193*. He ended up staying in South Africa, marrying Nina Pavlishcheva there in 1931, and working in theatre and opera till his untimely passing in Johannesburg on 6 April 1947.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

On his arrival in South Africa, Runitch became a pioneer of professional Yiddish theatre in South Africa and was one of the earliest professional opera producers in the country.

In 1943 he produced a play called Soviet Wife for the benefit of the South African Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, starring in it with his wife.

(According to the Wikipedia[2] and IMDb[3] entries on Runitch, he "became a founder of one of the first professional theatre companies in a country. Besides, he produced operas for the State Theatre in the mid-1940s." Both these statements are patently wrong and need to be rectified: there had been numerous professional opera companies in the country since the late 19th century, many of them professional, and the first 'State Theatre' theatre in the country - the National Theatre Organization - was only founded in 1947, the year of his death.)


Personal correspondence from Boris Gorelik. (15 June 2019)



Percy Baneshik, 1998.

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