Anatoly Durov

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By Dominique Jando

The Durovs are among Russia’s most prestigious circus dynasties. From the brothers Vladimir and Anatoly Durov, the founders of the circus dynasty, to a host of Anatolys, Vladimirs, Yurys, Natalias, and Terezas, all bearing the Durov name, they have given the Russian circus an impressive number of talented clowns, animal trainers, and entertainment entrepreneurs—and a few actors too.

In Soviet circus lore, Anatoly and Vladimir Durov are often associated with the Bolshevik revolution. As clowns-satirists who took an anarchistic stance against the autocratic tsarist government, they became popular heroes in the waning decades of the Russian Empire. The Soviet regime, always eager to play the populist card, did not hesitate to claim them as its own.

In fact, however, Anatoly Durov—the more virulent of the two brothers—was opposed to any form of authority; it's reasonable to assume, therefore, that, had he lived to see it, he would have rejected the authority of the Soviet regime. As for Vladimir, who became an iconic figure in the Soviet era, he eventually gave up clowning, came to specialize in animal training, and just played the game. For the Durovs were above all true survivors, whatever the regime and the circumstances. As a matter of fact, the Durov family's origins clashed Soviet ideology.

The Durov Family

Anatoly Leonidevich Durov was born on November 26, 1864 to a wealthy aristocratic family in Moscow. He was the fifth child and second son of Leonid Dmitrievich Durov (1832-67), a hereditary Lord of the Province of Moscow, who was an officer in the Moscow Police—a job he did more because he wanted to than because he had to. Anatoly’s brother, Vladimir Leonidevich (1863-1934), was his elder by a year.

The Durov name was well known in Russia; the family had already produced a celebrity. Nadezhda Durova, remembered in Russian history as the Cavalry Girl, was Anatoly’s grandaunt. Dressed as a man, she had enrolled in a cavalry regiment to fight Napoleon’s advance in 1812. She is said to have received a medal from the hand of Field-Marshall Kutuzov, the man who had defeated Napoleon. Celebrated by Pushkin, Nadezhda eventually became a successful writer.

Anatoly Durov had three elder sisters: Margarita (1854-?); Konkordya (1860-?), among whose descendants is Lev Durov, the famous Russian actor; Liudmila (1862-?); and a younger sister, Valentina (1866-1940). Anatoly’s mother, Maria Dmitrievna Durova (1833-66), probably suffered from complications caused by Valentina’s birth: she died soon after, in 1866. Anatoly was only two years old at the time. Devastated, Anatoly’s father began to drink himself to death. He suffered from hallucinations and died a year later, in 1867.

Vladimir and Anatoly were put in the care of their godfather, Nikolai Zakharovich Zakharov, a wealthy and brilliant lawyer and occasional playwright, whose work had been produced successfully at the Maly Theater in Moscow. (He was also an inveterate gambler. He would eventually commit suicide over a gambling debt.) Zakharov sent Vladimir and Anatoly to a military academy. Likely it was at the academy that Anatoly developed his lifelong loathing for all forms of authority.

Circus Beginnings

The brothers much preferred circus acrobatics to academic studies and military exercises. This passion eventually led to their being expelled from the academy. Left to their own devices, Vladimir and Anatoly used the money their godfather had given them to hire as their teacher Angelo Briatore, an Italian acrobat from the troupe of Carl Magnus Hinné. Briatore taught them the basics of acrobatics in the old way: with much whipping. When Zakharov discovered the physical abuse, he got rid of Briatore.

Around 1878, Otto Kleist, a balagan(Russian) A fairground booth or theater. acrobat, taught Vladimir and Anatoly a trapeze act. The following year, the brothers made their performing debut in the balagan(Russian) A fairground booth or theater. of V.A. Weinstok in Tver’, a city north of Moscow. They also worked in the balagan(Russian) A fairground booth or theater. of Rinaldo, a magician, before finally joining the Robinson-Nicolet troupe—a significant step up, given that the troupe worked in circuses. They left Robinson-Nicolet in 1881 after Anatoly had an argument with his employers—the first of many arguments that would plague Anatoly’s career. It was probably because of Anatoly's temperament that the brothers separated.

After leaving Robinson-Nicolet, Anatoly auditioned for the Italian director Massimiliano Truzzi, who had created one of Russia’s most important circus companies and was looking for a solo clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.. Lacking any clowning experience, Anatoly improvised on classic material, mostly spoken, and got the job. He made his debut in 1882 with Truzzi, in his circus in Voronezh, a city Anatoly would eventually make his home.

Truzzi’s troupe, which was mostly composed of German performers, used young Anatoly as the butt of their jokes, for which Anatoly showed precious little sense of humor: he would develop a lifelong anti-German sentiment, even though the mother of his children would be a German equestrienneA female equestrian, or horse trainer, horse presenter, or acrobat on horseback.. As was becoming a habit of his, Anatoly left Truzzi over an argument in 1884. He then hassled the great German director Albert Schumann, who was renting Hinné’s old circus in Moscow, to get a job as a clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.. His insistence paid off. At last he had reached Moscow—the big time. The talented and tenacious Anatoly was on his way to stardom.

Meanwhile, in 1881, Vladimir found work as an assistant animal trainer in Hugo Winkler’s menagerie, which had settled on Tsvetnoi Boulevard in Moscow. He became an able trainer of small animals, and in 1884, following in his brother’s footsteps, he began to perform as a clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team., using trained animals as partners, which greatly irritated Anatoly. From the outset, Anatoly had used a pig and other animals as comedy partners in his act, and they would become a Durov trademark. For the rest of his life, Anatoly would consider his brother a thief and competitor; the relationship between them rapidly deteriorated.

Anatoly vs. Vladimir

The brothers' success as a clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.-satirist came from the fact that, unlike other clowns in Russia, who were mostly Italian or French, or came from the unrefined balagans(Russian) Fairground booths or theaters., he could express himself in crisp, articulate Russian. He also had an intensely Russian sense of humor, and he could easily convey his wit in a manner other clowns couldn’t match. Anatoly used a direct, in-your-face, occasionally insulting brand of humor, without fear of the consequences. As a result, he would often have serious problems with local authorities—and not only in Russia.

Over the years, Anatoly also developed an extravagant off-stage persona: he traveled with an entourage that consisted of his wife (or "legitimate mistress," for he never married his companions, Tereza Stadtler and, later, Elena Gertel), his mistress of the moment, and a pair of twin menservants who were always tall and exotic—Asian, Indian, or African—and who changed every year. When, at the peak of his fame, Anatoly paraded into a new town with his retinue, the local circuses couldn’t hope for a more effective publicity stunt.

In the ring, Anatoly’s clown character evolved over the years from a classic clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.—one not very different, physically, from other clowns of his time—to what would eventually become the Durov image: a traditional whiteface clown costume, with sequin ornaments, a white collerette and a small shoulder cape, and practically no makeup. He would enter the ring with great ceremony, walking around and acknowledging his audience, and then he would launch into a monologue, after which he would play up the attitudes of his animals. Vladimir would adopt a very similar style.

When, around 1884, their godfather saw the brothers perform, he suggested they resume their education—which Vladimir did: he graduated from a teachers’ college and audited the classes of neurophysiologist I.M. Sechenov, "the father of Russian physiology," who, with I.P. Pavlov, studied animal reflexes. In 1887, Vladimir returned to the circus, however, and made his debut as a full-fledged clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.-satirist and animal trainer at Circus Salamonsky in Moscow, Russia’s second most prestigious circus, after St. Petersburg’s Circus Ciniselli.

Vladimir, wittier and more creative than his brother, became in time the more successful of the two; his talent as an animal trainer was also a significant factor in his success. Anatoly's increased use of animals in his act was mostly an attempt to keep pace with his brother, and he was often criticized for promising more than he was capable of delivering: when he was performing at Circus Baranski, for instance, someone complained that instead of the troupe of animals he had advertised, he had “only a couple of rats and a pelican.” Unlike Vladimir, Anatoly used only a handful of animals (pigs, geese, and turkeys were his favorites), and his training methods remained basic. He would always be first and foremost a clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team..

In 1913, Vladimir and Anatoly performed at the same time in St. Petersburg, Vladimir at A. Marshan’s Cirque Moderne, where he had staged Pushkin’s fables, and Anatoly at Circus Ciniselli. Vladimir got better reviews, one of which stated: “The biggest success was Vladimir’s, whose animal training was much better, and jokes were funnier.” This didn’t please Anatoly, whose response showed more spite than wit: since Vladimir was announced as "the Elder Durov," Anatoly asked to be advertised as "the Older Elder Durov."

In And Out of Russia

In the ring, Anatoly remained the more caustic of the two brothers. Vladimir’s true calling was animal training, and this would increasingly become his principal activity. But Anatoly’s acerbic jokes against the police, the bureaucrats, the aristocracy—against any kind of established authority—eventually landed him in serious trouble, to the point where he found it wise to leave Russia for a time.

In 1890, Anatoly and his usual menagerie embarked on a successful Western European tour that took them to Austria-Hungary, Germany, Spain, Italy, and France. Durov’s old prejudices came out in Germany, a country that revived memories of his debut at Circus Truzzi and whose authoritarian regime rubbed him the wrong way. At Zirkus Renz, in Berlin, Anatoly played with his usual porcine partner, whom he had named Will for the occasion. According to the clown Béby Frediani, the pig wore a Prussian helmet (Helm, in German) in the ring, and tried desperately to get rid of it. In his feinted attempts to keep him in check, Anatoly shouted at his pig, “Will, Helm!” Wilhelm, of course, was the name of the Kaiser. Durov was arrested and not-so-politely asked to leave Berlin immediately.

Back in Russia, Anatoly began gradually to lose his appeal. His critical attitude toward the powers that be was purely negative. He appears to have been, by disposition, a disgruntled man who took pleasure in insulting those who made his life difficult—whether that be the mayor of a city or a simple policeman. But when the political landscape began to shift in ways one would think he would have approved of, he didn’t know what to make of them. He was by no means a revolutionary, just a grouch and a rebel. Anatoly Durov was actually quite conservative in his tastes. When Max Reinhardt presented his spectacular, avant-garde production of Oedipus Rex in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1911, Anatoly deemed it decadent. He then went on to perform a heavy-handed parody of Reinhardt’s spectacle: it was a huge flop, and a sign that Durov had lost touch with his public.

The Final Years

By the end of his life, Anatoly had become bitter and lonely. Once, for the New Year, he sent a telegram to the management and artists of Circus Ciniselli: “Anatoly Durov congratulates the Director and Artists on this New Year”—an unusual gesture on his part, and a disguised way of reminding them that he was free for the upcoming season and looking for contracts.

The clown Alperov, who performed with Anatoly at Circus Salamonsky at the time, recalled: “When I came to his dressing room, he was sitting on his chair, his head thrown back, not speaking to anyone. It was a shocking sight. Twenty days later, there was a benefitSpecial performance whose entire profit went to a performer; the number of benefits a performer was offered (usually one, but sometimes more for a star performer during a long engagement) was stipulated in his contract. Benefits disappeared in the early twentieth century. for Durov, and the Box Office was shedding tears. Then someone threw a broom wrapped in newspapers into the ring.” It was a sad reminder from the audience that it was time for Anatoly Durov to leave the ring. In Moscow at least, Anatoly Durov had become a has-been.

Anatoly died of typhus in Mariupol, Ukraine, during an engagement with the circus of V.Z. Maksimiuk. True to himself until the end, Anatoly had just argued with his director. “Business is good, thank God!” wrote Maksimiuk to a friend. “Anatoly Durov worked in my circus, and I had one hundred and twenty problems with him. Right now Durov is very ill. A few days ago he made a scene and didn’t come to work, and he sent me a medical certificate through an attorney. Then I gave to the same attorney a letter in which I said I would call for a counter-examination. The forfeit sum was 1,000 rubles. Then Durov placed 30 cupping glasses on his back, which only increased his blood tension, and now he is really sick!” Indeed, Anatoly Durov was very sick: he was eventually sent to the hospital, where he died on January 7, 1916.

Of his first union (out of wedlock) with Tereza Stadtler (1866-1934)—a German equestrienneA female equestrian, or horse trainer, horse presenter, or acrobat on horseback. who was the daughter of Johannes Stadtler, owner of the Bavarian Circus—Anatoly had three children: Maria Anatolievna (1891-?), who married the hand-balancer Vasily Vasilievich Milva (1884-1962); Anatoly Anatolievich (1894-1928), who would be a virulent clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.-satirist like his father before becoming an animal trainer; and Evlampiya Anatolievna, who married a pharmacist, Grigory Efimovich Schvenchenko. All three continued the Durov dynasty. Anatoly had no children with his second pseudo-wife, Elena Gertel (1873-1967), a German show swimmer.

Anatoly Durov was well-educated, an artist and a sculptor in his spare time, an occasional writer, and an art collector. In 1931, his remains were exhumed, incinerated, and his ashes were transferred to his house in Voronezh, which had been transformed into the Durov Museum. The museum still stands today.

Suggested Reading

Анатолий Дуров (текстологическая полготовка В. В. Бойкова), В жиӡни и на арене (Moscow, Искүсство, 1984)