- 29 July 1876
- Tula, Russian Empire [now Russia]
The daughter of a lawyer, Ouspenskaya studied singing at the Warsaw Conservatory and acting at Adasheff's School of the Drama in Moscow. She received her practical training as an actress touring in the Russian provinces. She later joined the Moscow Art Theatre. It was here that she first worked under the direction of the great Konstantin Stanislavski, whose "Method" she would go on to promote for the remainder of her life. She came to America with the Art Theatre in 1922 and, upon their return to Moscow, defected to the US to become a dominant Broadway actress for more than a decade until she founded the School of Dramatic Art in New York in 1929. It was to help keep the school funded that she accepted her first Hollywod film, Dodsworth (1936). She had appeared in six silent movies in Russia earlier in her career. This lucrative association, for Ouspenskaya, Hollywood and the viewing public, would last for more than a dozen years and two dozen films. Thanks to her often-superior demeanor and addiction to astrology, she could prove maddening on the set. She remained in nearly daily communication with L.A. Times' astrologer Carroll Righter who would advise her on the best times to appear on camera along with when and where to travel. As a consequence, most casts and crews disliked the over-bearing, wispy 90-pound actress intensely. She bounced between prestigious A-pictures (Love Affair (1939), Waterloo Bridge (1940)) and B-movies (Mystery of Marie Roget (1942), Tarzan and the Amazons (1945)), performing, and behaving, with equal intensity. She is especially notable for having appeared in the last great Universal horror entry, The Wolf Man (1941) and the interesting Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). A heavy smoker, she fell asleep in bed with a lit cigarette in late November 1949 and suffered massive burns. She died of a stroke in the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital three days later.