Sunday, July 24, 2011



“That stranger, Pete McCann—funny that none of the adults know him—he’s made a lot of records. He gave a folk singing concert at school just last night. He’s been way out all day. I suspect he’s going to be trouble.”

--Jeannie Howard to her Fallout Shelter Diary in the civil defense film Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 (1964)

“The Use of This Film is Limited To Case Study Instruction Under the Guidance Of A Trained Shelter Management Instructor.”

--Disclaimer at the beginning of Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 (1964)

“This was a job and that was just about the end of it. The Army was never very good about telling you the why…”

--James R. Hartzer, the director and producer of Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 (1964)



As a result of the National Fallout Shelter Survey and Marking Program that began in 1961, a new subgenre of American civil defense educational film was born—the Public Shelter Occupancy movie. Examples of this cinematic form include Information Program Within Public Shelters (1963), Occupying a Public Shelter (1965) and the movie to be examined in this post, Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 (1964).

Of the three works, Shelter 104 is the most interesting because of the unique and bizarre (for a government training film) counter-cultural conceit of the story. Specifically, the anonymous screenwriter decided to inject a cynical, folk-singing beatnik into the standard issue mix of worried-yet-obedient shelterites. Regardless of the fact that this malcontent will ultimately be converted to the pro-survival cause, his negative, slang-slinging presence is what makes this movie a genuine classic.

Beatnik Entrance-1

“Pete McCann,” who appears approximately ten minutes into the half-hour film (the shelter manager permits his belated, post-attack entry after a police officer explains, “I found this character in the street getting drunk’) wastes little time in belittling the earnest efficiency of the tie-wearing shelter management team:

Contemplating your errors, friends? You know, the fact is, you made a stinking mess out of everything. And now we’re all going to die down here in this black little hole.

Salute Collage

But McCann’s scorn is not targeted solely at the establishment elders – he shoots his nihilistic daggers at everyone, including a perky blonde college student named Jeannie Howard. Jeannie, who keeps a chatty diary that remarks on how the rations of survival biscuits and orange drink help “say goodbye to extra weight the shelter way,” is the optimistic counterbalance to the dark and brooding McCann.

Journal Keeping

The viewer knows from the start that it is only a matter of time before Jeannie’s peppiness carries the day, but it is the conflict between these two polar opposites that keeps us watching. When Jeannie observes McCann sulking (or withdrawing from heroin?), the following dialogue ensues:

Jeannie: The world didn’t end this morning, Mr. McCann. It’s still here.

McCann: Now, it’s not really a world we can live in, is it?

Jeannie: We really don’t know about that, do we? I mean who can say?

McCann: Don’t give me a lecture on the survival of the species, little girl. The species is a flop. And whether it all goes up in one grand whoosh or carries on for another week or drags on for a month… [McCann’s diatribe is interrupted by another shelter dweller who yells at him to “shut up.”]


A little later, when Jeannie tries to give McCann a reality check after he complains about his guitar being stolen the previous evening, he makes a fist and says:

You know, you’re a regular little Salvationist, aren’t you? You’re all fitted up with your power of positive thinking.

Beatnik First

But the indefatigably sunny Jeannie won’t give up and conspires with a young orphan boy named Jeff to present McCann with a makeshift guitar (and a plea to entertain their fellow survivors). Before throwing the instrument across the shelter, the beatnik sneers and says “The whole world is going down the drain and we want a little music.”

Broken Guitar Collage 
McCann’s black cloud rubs other people in the shelter the wrong way, too. In one heated moment a shelter resident points at the morose folkie and declares “I’ll tell you what’s spoiling the atmosphere around here – him! – and I think we ought to send him for a little walk.”

Beatnik Brooding Collage 
McCann’s turning point comes when he realizes—with Jeannie’s help (she’s the daughter of a doctor who may or may not have been atomized in a neighboring town)—that he isn’t dying of radiation poisoning, but is merely suffering from a reoccurrence of his allergies (the out-of-it beatnik laughs as he remembers he offered his bottle of Benadryl to the shelter manager upon his drunken entry several days before).

Jeannie wastes no time in unloading on the suddenly relieved and life-loving McCann:

Confronting Beatnik

There’s something I want to tell you. You’re a liar—to yourself and everyone in here. You don’t want to die any more than we do. The way you’ve been carrying on with your superior attitude and phony cynicism. But when the chips are down, when you thought you were sick with something you could put your finger on – like a germ or scarlet fever, not something invisible and mysterious like radiation, you dearly want to live, don’t you?

After McCann slightly nods, the co-ed concludes her emotional speech:

Well fine. I suppose that makes you a member of the human race, after all. And since you’re in the club, Mr. McCann, and really don’t want to leave us just yet, the least you can do is pay your due.

The film concludes with a now smiling Pete McCann strumming the reconstructed, but somehow longer-necked guitar that he had destroyed earlier. The wildly appreciative shelter audience appears to dig the pro-survival message of McCann’s presumably new folk composition. The unlikely lyrics—“No more fears and no more talk of dying / we’re going to spread the word…”—fade out over the Department of Defense and Army Pictorial Center end titles.

Beatnik Sings


When CONELRAD first saw the civil defense masterpiece described above we wanted to try and track down the actor who had played the role of Pete McCann with such surly finesse. We are still looking for the elusive Fallout Shelter beatnik, but we did manage to locate the man who directed and produced Shelter 104 —James R. Hartzer.

Hartzer, now in his seventies, confessed to being “stunned” about our inquiry, but was more than happy to discuss what was, in fact, his very first movie. The retired filmmaker and businessman explained to CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart that he knew from his early teenage years that he wanted to work in television. “I knew I was going to New York to direct television.” And, to that end, the young man spent his college summers pushing a broom as a custodian at Chicago’s WGN-TV (it was close as he could get). After graduating from DePauw University in Indiana in 1959 and after some graduate work at Michigan State, Hartzer bluffed his way out of a possible forward position in Vietnam and into a slot with the Army Pictorial Center in Astoria, Long Island City, Queens, New York. It was where he was meant to be.[1]

Hartzer recalled that it was literally his first day on the job in late 1963 when a superior called out to the assembled workforce: “Does anyone here know how to switch [cameras]?” The aspiring young director brashly volunteered and offered that he had “worked at WGN.” By omitting the janitorial nature of his position at the station, Hartzer had satisfied the higher-ups that he knew what he was doing. He was immediately handed the screenplay for Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 and ordered to shoot it.

Fallout Sign

“I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember who wrote the script,” Hartzer told CONELRAD, but added that he did not change it. “I thought it was very good and whoever wrote it had done a great job on it.” With regard to the folk song that concludes the film, Hartzer allowed that the lyrics may not have been in the screenplay and that the tune may have been recorded later.

Smoking collage 
The set for Shelter 104 had already been built, so Hartzer concentrated on casting the movie. The Army Pictorial Center had a casting department that arranged auditions based on the criteria producers provided to them. According to Hartzer, officers would frequently attend these try-outs and occasionally attempt to dissuade him from choosing a particular actor. Hartzer stated that he always stuck to his guns and went with the performer he thought could best carry off a role. With regard to Pete McCann, the star character of Shelter 104, Hartzer could not remember the actor’s name, but agreed that he brought a memorable intensity to the part.

When asked about whether he looked to any outside inspiration for creating the fearful, claustrophobic mood of shelter life for his movie, Hartzer said that he had the 1959 movie version of The Diary of Anne Frank in mind.

Anne Frank collage

The young director was aware of the controversy surrounding civil defense at the time he was preparing to film Shelter 104, but he was agnostic about its efficacy. As Hartzer explained in his interview, any opinion he might have held on the issue would not have mattered much. “This was a job and that was just about the end of it. The Army was never very good about telling you the why. We shot the film in a week or two television style and it was converted to 16mm (Kinescope).”

Hartzer edited the film with a skilled professional named “Jerry” who later went to Hollywood to work on major studio motion pictures.[2] On the afternoon of November 22, 1963 Hartzer and Jerry took a short break from their work when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. A few hours later, they were told by the Army to get back to work. When it was all over and the film was in the can, Hartzer remembered that “I was just pleased to get though it.”

Film Can

The director worked on many other training films during his stint in the service and it wasn’t until his superiors were trying to get him to reenlist that he paused to think back to his first project. “Whatever happened to that film?” he asked of one of the people lobbying him to re-up. It was at this point that Hartzer discovered the surprising fate of Shelter 104. “Once these training films were completed,” Hartzer explained to CONELRAD, “they were sent down to Washington. Some colonel liked it and had it submitted at Cannes.”

Representatives of the Cannes Film Festival did not reply to CONELRAD’s request for additional details, but in the 1967-1968 edition of the Directors Guild of America Directory, the entry for James R. Hartzer states that the film was submitted to Cannes in 1964.


James R. Hartzer went on to work on numerous other film and video projects as a civilian, mainly in an executive capacity, but he still has a 16mm copy of Shelter 104 in his Connecticut home. He has not watched it since it was completed nearly a half century ago, but he told CONELRAD that it still occupies a special place in his heart.


Just before Pete McCann’s dramatic entrance into the shelter, the shelter occupants are listening to a radio address by their fictional governor. The following is the text.


Radio Announcer: Attention please. This is state civil defense headquarters. Stand by for an important broadcast. The next voice you hear will be that of the honorable Derwood O. Ambacher, governor of our state.

Governor Ambacher: My fellow Americans: Those of you who hear my voice already know that this nation has been attacked with nuclear weapons. At this time, we cannot estimate the extent of damage already done. I have been in contact with…

At this point a banging on the shelter door is heard and the action shifts away from the radio, but it is also made clear that Ambacher’s address has terminated for some unknown reason.


CREDITS (Incomplete)

Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104
DoD CD 20-217
Army Pictorial Center in Cooperation with Staff College Office of Civil Defense
30 Minutes
Black and White
Director / Producer: James R. Hartzer
Written by: Unknown
Edited by: Jerry (surname unknown)


CAST (Incomplete)

Pete McCann: Unknown
Jeannie Howard: Unknown
Mrs. Howard: Unknown
Bob Hassler: Unknown
Mr. Pitts: Unknown
Jeff: Unknown
Police Officer: Unknown
Mrs. Starr: Unknown
Mrs. Sugarhouse: Unknown
Herb, Shelter Manager Assistant: Unknown
Mr. Brewer: Unknown
Annoyed Young Male Shelterite: Unknown
Radio Announcer (Voice Only): Unknown
Governor Derwood O. Ambacher (Voice Only): Unknown

End Ttitle


Interview with James R. Hartzer conducted over the telephone by Bill Geerhart on July 2, 2011.

Directors Guild of America, Directory of Members, 1967-1968, pp. 129-130



Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 was used as part of an unusual shelter occupancy study in 1965. To read more about it, see our Survival Vérité post.

End Title-3

[1] Having completed his education, Hartzer decided to enlist and get Army-financed film training with the Signal Corps. His other option (in 1963) was to be drafted into military service.

[2] CONELRAD reached out to the Army Pictorial Center history website for assistance in identifying “Jerry” and they have graciously posted a “Help” item on their front page.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

SURVIVAL VÉRITÉ: A Fallout Shelter Test with a Twist

“Let me in! Let me in! I’m dying! God-damned Communists!”

-- Excerpt from Helen Parr Fleming’s 1965 article “The Unprepared”

Lo-Lo-Maniac Shelter Headline
Over the years CONELRAD has read numerous newspaper and magazine accounts of the public fallout shelter tests that seemed to be in vogue in the early 1960s. Most of these “experiments” were carried out by local civil defense authorities as a means to boost public awareness about Cold War survival. Of course, because these tests lacked the essential element of genuine panic that would accompany a nuclear war, they were predictable affairs with predictably boring media coverage.

But in the summer of 1965, the Pleasants County (West Virginia) Civil Defense Council tried something a little different. Doug Taylor and Arthur Boggs, the men who organized what could have been just another routine shelter occupancy exercise, decided to throw some post-attack realism into the mix. Fortunately for history, writer Helen Parr Fleming (1916-2000) was around to witness the strangeness that ensued. Her remarkable first-person narrative, “The Unprepared,” was published in the September 26, 1965 edition of the Charleston, West Virginia Sunday Gazette-Mail newspaper.[1]

Ms. Fleming (pictured above) begins her story by recounting how she was invited to participate in the shelter study via mail (69 other county residents also answered the call to service) and what happened next:
Several days after I accepted, I received further instructions. “Arrive at the St. Mary’s Graded School – which was to be our fallout shelter – between 7:20 and 7:45 a.m. with or without breakfast. Wear old clothes. No radios. Bring a musical instrument if I played one, books, magazines or playing cards.” The instructions ended there.

With a sense of adventure and visions of sweet rolls and coffee at the shelter flitting through my mind, I dressed in slim-jims and a woolen sweater and packed my purse.
Chlorophyll chewing gum – a tooth brush would be sissy – playing cards, new shorthand pad, eight of the dullest pencils in town, three copies of the New Yorker, Polaroid camera, headache pills, lipstick, comb and nose tissues.

Looking more like a war correspondent than a civilian, I reported to St. Mary’s Graded School – and was plunged into one of the most chaotic days of my life. As events permitted, I took minute-by-minute notes with my dull little pencils, completely filling my shorthand pad from front to back and back to front again.
The realism referenced above comes first in the dire loud speaker notifications (“Your attention, please! Missile attack will be in the next 30 minutes. Do not attempt to leave your shelter!) and later in the form of a wounded shelter-ite. Fleming, distracted from her bridge game, describes the sight:
They are carrying someone in. He is supposed to be a casualty. Ugh! There is blood all over his leg. Do they have to make it so real? They have laid him on the floor and are trying to give him first aid. Apparently, we don’t have much by way of first aid supplies. The “casualty” is screaming and I have a strange feeling in my stomach. Someone says his name is John Walton. Don Snyder is checking him for radiation with a Geiger counter. I feel so useless.”
The ultimate example of survival vérité occurs later still as Fleming is describing the bureaucratic necessities of shelter management:
…We need a deputy for operations. Don [Snyder] starts to read off the duties, but there is a commotion at the door. The guard is grapping with someone. A hand and leg appears. The hand is bloody. A man is screaming:
“Let me in! Let me in! I’m dying! God-damned Communists!”
One of the men runs to help the guard. They get the hand and leg out and close the door and lean against it. There is dead silence. We are all stunned. This maniac has all of us shook up. I’m sure the same questions that are running through my mind are bothering everyone.

What if he couldn’t get to a shelter sooner? Did we treat him right? I couldn’t see his face, but those on the other side could. They say he was with radiation burns and blood was streaming from his mouth. He was grimy dirty and carrying a hatchet. The weapon was the first thing the guard saw after he had caught sight of the horribly burned face.

I feel better about the guard’s actions now. It was an evil, un-Christian decision, but there wasn’t anything else he could do. We couldn’t let a maniac in among us.

There is still silence in the shelter. Where did the man go? Had he fainted from his own hysteria, or was he dashing on to the next shelter to demand his way in? I feel like I am going to cry.

Don starts a discussion on the problem. We decide if it happens again, we will let him in and check him for radiation. I he’s too “hot,” we’ll isolate him. There are enough of us to wrest the hatchet away and throw it back outside.
lo-Maniac Text
The simulated ordeal of the fallout shelter residency ends for Fleming and her fellow shelterees at 6:45 p.m. with another loud speaker communication:
Your attention, please! Your attention, please! The enemy has surrendered! We have won! We have won!
Oddly, the test organizers chose to conclude the day’s events by showing the participants a civil defense movie donated by West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph (1902-1998) that dramatizes life in a shelter. In the film, Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104, however, there is no hatchet-wielding intruder – just a jive-spouting, pessimistic beatnik.

You can read Helen Parr Fleming’s entire article here (Choose lower left-hand icon with arrow to view in full screen):
The Unprepared

You can view Public Shelter Living: The Story of Shelter 104 in its entirety here.

[1] Helen Parr Fleming, “The Unprepared,” the State Magazine section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail, pp.6m-8m.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


“Unquestionably the most absurd motion picture of the year is ‘The Girl in the Kremlin’ which opened yesterday at the RKO – Golden Gate.”

-- The San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1957



The Albert Zugsmith-produced / Russell Birdwell-directed THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN (1957) is a fascinating and bizarre entry in the hopelessly broad genre of Cold War film (and any category of motion picture study that can accommodate both FAIL-SAFE and KREMLIN must be considered, if nothing else, diverse). The film, originally titled STALIN IS ALIVE! and then THE PRIVATE SECRET DIARY OF JOSEPH STALIN and finally THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN, is a speculative grade Z thriller that is still considerably more accomplished (and plausible) than its nearest cinematic cousin, THEY’VE SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN (1963). Instead of HITLER’s disembodied and garrulous head, the gimmick manufactured for KREMLIN was for the Russian dictator to fake his own death and to mask his identity through reconstructive facial surgery. The film’s other show-stopper was Stalin’s alleged hair-shaving fetish: The film includes two “shocking” female baldness stunts – including six minutes of the actress Natalia Daryll having her luxurious locks shorn for the titular dictator’s barely contained pleasure.

Did Stalin really have such a follicle fixation? Director Russell Birdwell, a legendary and flamboyant Hollywood publicity man whose sporadic filmmaking career was slight (KREMLIN was the last of the five minor films he directed), stated to a reporter before KREMLIN’s release that head-shaving “was one of Stalin’s methods of punishing Kremlin girls who stepped out of line.” What was Birdwell’s source for this odd, apparently new piece of historical information? The “studio research department,” revealed the journalist in his article. CONELRAD could find no corroborating citations for this important dramatic and promotional aspect of the film, so we contacted the respected Stalin scholar Simon Sebag Montefiore and asked him whether there is any truth to the supposed kink of the Russian dictator. “It is total nonsense,” was his succinct reply.


THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN was produced over ten days in February of 1957 with a final budget of $287,300 (Ms. Daryll received $285 for her acting role plus a bonus of $300 for having her head shaved) and was first released in San Francisco on April 24, 1957, in Los Angeles on May 1st and in New York on May 21st. In its initial run, KREMLIN shared the bill with the science fiction movie THE DEADLY MANTIS making for one of the most awkward Cold War double features ever (it is probably fair to say that most people showed up at theaters for the giant bug and not the wooden Stalin).

The movie opens with a group of young women being led into an ornate room by Russian soldiers. In perfect English, an attractive blonde woman tells one of the soldiers to take his hands off her “sister.” The blonde’s blouse is ripped and her face is slapped, but she remains unbowed. Soon Stalin walks in and inspects the assembled women. He is played by character actor Maurice Manson as a pipe-smoking perv. Stalin chooses the blonde’s unlikely sister (Natalia Daryll as Dasha) for the afternoon’s head-shaving entertainment: “Igor, this one,” he orders.

Ms. Daryll-as-Dasha is immediately placed in a chair while Stalin tries to make uneasy small talk (“Where are you from? What kind of work do you do? Where are your parents?) while the “stylists” prepare for their mission. After Dasha responds “Siberia” to the last of the dictator’s queries, he says the following to the two white-suited minions: “Proceed” and then to Dasha: “This will make your punishment complete.”

For approximately the next five minutes the barbers toil away at Dasha’s thick mane of dark hair while Stalin and his henchmen witness the event in hushed silence. Stalin’s excitation by the forced shearing is telegraphed to the audience by his intense pipe puffing. As Dasha’s pate becomes increasingly denuded, the editing cuts in the film become more rapid and close-ups of the witnesses become tighter. Finally, Dasha is completely bald and the barbers and witnesses have exited. Stalin cautiously approaches the seemingly broken woman. As he gingerly reaches his hand out to touch her head, Dasha recoils and looks up at the startled dictator in defiance. Thus concludes one of the strangest sequences ever committed to film by a major Hollywood studio. Three decades later Demi Moore would—for a significantly higher salary—shave her own head in the far less interesting G.I. JANE.



With the exploitation showpiece of the film out of the way, the actual plot gets underway with an almost Vaudevillian scene in which Stalin consults with his plastic surgeon. With a set-up and a line that would make veteran comedy writers green with envy, the doctor casually informs the dictator that “The mustache will have to come off.” But, on the plus side, the surgeon adds, “The cheeks will be higher, we will change the brow and the skin will be tighter, of course.” What’s not to like? After the successful surgery the doctor is shot for his trouble. His nurse Greta Grisenko (Zsa Zsa Gabor in one of two roles), however, is kept on because, as we will discover, she has a special relationship with Stalin.


As a bandaged Stalin (looking like the Invisible Man) and his historically accurate KGB chief Laventi Beria (played by Zugsmith regular Aram Katcher) look out the window at mourners in Red Square, Beria informs his leader that “You died a few hours ago of a stroke.” Actually, it was an unfortunate Stalin double who gave his life for the cause.



The extreme weirdness of the opening of THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN gives way to a slightly more traditional spy story. It seems that Stalin’s nurse, Greta Grisenko, has a twin sister, Lili (also played by Zsa Zsa Gabor), who is in West Berlin looking for her. Dressed in a black ensemble, complete with beret, Lili (sounding to the modern viewer like Ariana Huffington) explains the convoluted situation to the reluctant, square-jawed hero Steve Anderson (played by five-term Tarzan, Lex Barker) in this round of expository dialogue:

LILI: Is my sister dead?

ANDERSON: No such luck. Get this straight, Ms. Grisenko, when I take a case, I expect the client to level with me. You told me your sister was American, but didn’t tell me she worked for the big boys in the Kremlin.

LILI: Look Mr. Anderson, I came all the way from the States to find my sister. I heard about your reputation from the O.S.S. and everything. That’s why I came to you. What did you find out?

ANDERSON: You won’t like it.

In the next scene Anderson and Lili are conducting further plot advancement in the hideout of one-armed espionage agent Mischa Rimilkin (played by Jeffrey Stone). There they conclude, through some tortured logic, that Lili’s twin sister (who was kidnapped by the Russians in their childhood home of Lithuania) is Stalin’s plastic surgery nurse. And this connection leads to Rimilkin’s dramatic declaration: “Somewhere beyond Russia, Stalin is alive.”

Rather than dive straight into the hunt for the dictator-in-hiding, the filmmakers treat the viewer to some more ludicrous dialogue that reinforces the Anderson character’s roguish quality. It is excursions like these that help the film achieve its barely feature-length running time of 81 minutes. In this scene Lili and Anderson bicker at a sidewalk café. He has just informed Lili that he is in Berlin on another job – helping a U.S. congresswoman investigate vice.

LILI: What about my sister?

ANDERSON: I told you, that’s down Mischa’s alley, not mine. He’s got ideals, I’m just out to make a buck.

LILI: Look, I have all the respect for Mischa’s ideals, but he’s trying to find Stalin and I’m trying to find my sister. That’s why I need you.

ANDERSON: A nice, innocent job like this could get me plugged in the gut. No thanks. Anyway, after Mamboing with my congresswoman all night, my feet hurt.


Lili, Anderson and Mischa hatch a preposterous plan to draw the made-over Stalin out into the open with publicity about his faked death. At least one radio announcer is eager to spread (and ridicule) the word:

NEWS ANNOUNCER: …Something really incredible. An item out of our scrapbook about it: A young American investigator, Steve Anderson, claims to have stumbled upon information that Joseph Stalin, late dictator of the Soviet Union, is still alive. How’s that for a laugh?

Of course, Stalin and his minions happen to be listening to the broadcast in their lair and they immediately launch into action. An angry Stalin, his face obscured by the back of his chair, issues his orders to the henchman Igor Smetka: “Now we must move before they do. You will go there now. The American knows too much.”

Smetka, eager to curry favor with his displeased leader, demonstrates the weapon he intends to use against their new enemies – a rifle disguised as an umbrella – on some stock footage of a flock of birds. Stalin is apparently unimpressed, but then the chair makes it hard to tell for sure.

Meanwhile, Anderson and Lili pose as newlyweds (ironic because both Barker and Gabor had had three marriages by the time KREMLIN was shot) on a mission to Abensburg, Germany that Mischa implausibly accompanies them on. This set-up invariably leads to some sexually charged banter when Anderson and Lili are alone in their hotel suite:

LILI: If you look away, I’m going to prepare myself for bed.

ANDERSON: Promises, promises.

Lili is seen in silhouette behind a dressing screen as she changes into a nightgown. When she emerges from behind the screen, Anderson remarks appreciatively: “You are on your honeymoon, aren’t you?”


It is on their trip to Abensburg that Anderson and Lili, through Mischa’s underground intelligence tips, meet with Jacob Stalin at an old inn. The younger Stalin character is historically accurate in that he did exist and he was captured by the Germans during World War II. However, most everything else about him was invented for the movie. Jacob Stalin is played with brooding recrimination by the character actor William Schallert (most famous for playing Patty Duke’s father on The Patty Duke Show and the bureaucrat Nilz Barris in the famous Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”). Mr. Schallert, an Albert Zugsmith regular if ever there was one, explained the circumstance that led to his miscasting in KREMLIN to CONELRAD back in 2001 when we interviewed him for a special feature for the INVASION, USA DVD:

Zugsmith became convinced that I could do anything. He said he used to cast films – when he was getting ready to cast – he’d look and if there was a part he didn’t know how to cast he’d give it to me. So that was very flattering. I got some weird things that happened as a result of that.

Jacob Stalin provides one of the clues that lead our heroes to his estranged father’s hiding place: “If my father is alive look for him where the sun is warm. He’s an old man, bones cold.” Before they leave, however, Jacob offers the following overwrought caution that is framed awkwardly from a lit fireplace presumably to add a flourish to the foreboding:

We have a proverb in Georgia – ‘Georgians never die.’ But if my father is alive, he means to stay alive. If your story is true and my father learns of it, you know he will stop you, he will kill you. I am his son and I know that one more crime against God and man means nothing to him.



Through a lot of machinations including torturing (to death) the would-be assassin Igor Smetka, Anderson and Mischa learn that Stalin and his entourage are hiding out in the mountains of Greece. The heroic duo (The trio lost a member when Zsa Zsa was kidnapped by Stalin’s gang earlier) is soon sipping drinks at a bistro in the land of ouzo. There they are conveniently told by the eccentric café owner, Count Molda, that a mysterious group had seized a local monastery years before. Moments after his revelation, the eye-patched Count chortles to himself as Anderson and Mischa speed off to the monastery.

Needless to say, the heroes are quickly captured by Stalin’s goons once they breach the lair. Anderson is immediately subjected to a merciless flogging by Smetka’s enthusiastic widow, Olga (ably assisted by CONELRAD favorite Phillipa Fallon as Nina). While Anderson is being whipped within an inch of his life, Lily – in an adjacent cell – is visited by her wayward sister, Greta. It is clear their reunion is doomed when the wild-eyed Greta states “I have no sister… I have no sister, I have no memory. I only have my mission…” A hilarious catfight between the two Zsa Zsas ensues (with Natalia Daryll acting as body double for the non-close-ups) until Lili rips Greta’s headscarf off to reveal her chrome dome (which appears to be a skin cap). After a lingering stare-down in which Greta appears to be quite proud of her bald pate, she closes the cell door and leaves her sister to rot.


Before Olga and Nina can return to work their tortuous charms on Mischa, he uses his prosthetic limb as a club to overpower a guard. The heroes rescue the strung-up Lili just as she is about to be flogged by Olga.


The reunited trio escapes long enough to stumble upon and burn stacks of Stalin’s plundered cash. But after Mischa is gunned down and Anderson and Lili are brought before Count Molda who orders their death, Jacob Stalin emerges from the shadows with a gun. Molda exclaims: “Jacob?” and, indeed, Molda is revealed to be the cosmetically altered Stalin (Molda is also played by Maurce Manson). It is now obvious why the dictator had his plastic surgeon shot.

What would this movie be without a father-son reunion? When Anderson asks Jacob what he intends to do now that he has a revolver trained on his father, he responds with the preposterous line: “What I have to do, Mr. Anderson. This is a family matter.”


Ignoring his father’s pleas, Jacob orders him into a car and they leave the monastery with Anderson and Lili following close behind. As Jacob maneuvers the speeding vehicle around the mountainous curves in the road, the Stalins have that family chat they were always meaning to have. The situation and dialogue is so breathtakingly absurd, CONELRAD presents it here verbatim:

JOSEPH STALIN (Pleading): We may have had our differences, but we’re still father and son.

JACOB STALIN (Disgusted): Father and son. It is over.

JOSEPH STALIN: What do you mean? What’s wrong with you?

JACOB STALIN: I know you father. Some people might think you’re just an old man, a harmless political exile like (INAUDIBLE). But I know you. You have killed and killed, your wife – my mother and if you’re not stopped, you’ll go on killing. You’re not a man, you’re a machine for killing. Well, the killing’s almost over.

JOSEPH STALIN: Jacob, you’re crazy!

JACOB STALIN: You could die unpunished, you know? Who is there to bring a charge against you? Who is there to speak for the millions that you have killed?

JOSEPH STALIN: Stop the car!

JACOB STALIN: Ten million murdered. Russians cry out for justice!

At this point as the car is swerving, Stalin finds a gun in his son’s coat pocket. He retrieves it undetected by Jacob.

JACOB (CONT’D): You will never kill anyone else!

Stalin shoots his son and they then both struggle for the gun as the car swerves wildly. The vehicle goes off an embankment and crashes down a hill bursting into flames (of course).

All that is left to round out this profoundly ridiculous film is final closure for the viewer (Jacob got his, why not us?). When a grizzled townsperson walks up to Anderson and Lili who are looking down upon the wreckage of the automobile and asks what has happened, Anderson says gravely, “The devil has just gone back to hell.” The confused townsperson accepts the explanation and shambles off. Anderson and Lili begin to walk away, too, but they pause to embrace in front of a sign that reads: “Whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

While the Stalins remained dead on-screen and off, Lex Barker went on to have a successful career in Europe – even earning a small role in the Fellini classic LA DOLCE VITA (1960). Zsa Zsa Gabor went on to fulfill her KREMLIN promise in THE QUEEN OF OUTERSPACE (1958) and other B-films, but mostly she has remained famous for her multiple marriages (she has been married nine times – beating Lex Barker by four spouses, but, to be fair, he died in 1973) and her 1989 arrest for slapping a police officer in Beverly Hills. Natalia Daryll, the young actress who had her head shaved for the film, brought CONELRAD up to date on her entire life and career in an exclusive interview.

The reviews for THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN were mostly cruel and dismissive when it opened across the country in April and May of 1957 (see examples under Review Excerpts below). Some reviewers recognized the fantastic strangeness of the movie, but the full oddity of the picture is perhaps best appreciated from a post-Cold War vantage point. The exploitative dementia of the promotional campaign for KREMLIN is almost as intriguing as the movie itself and CONELRAD has excerpted some of the highlights for your reading pleasure. It is a pity that Universal Studios has chosen to keep this bizarre gem locked away in their vaults. Perhaps someday a deluxe, special edition DVD will be released. In the meantime, we can only hope that a speculative bin Laden-is-still-alive movie gets the green light.


CONELRAD researched the production history of THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN at the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Library. USC archivist Ned Comstock was extremely helpful in organizing a research visit for CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart to study the production file. All production information (budget, production timeline, salaries) cited in the above article is derived from the studio file maintained by the library.

Director Russell Birdwell promoted his film (then titled THE SECRET DIARY OF JOSEPH STALIN) for journalist Neil Rau while it was still in production. Rau’s puff piece (“Stalin’s Shady Life”) that contained Birdwell’s unchallenged assertion that Stalin used head-shaving as a punishment technique appeared in the March 3, 1957 edition of the Los Angeles Examiner.

The Joseph Stalin scholar Simon Sebag Montefiore offered CONELRAD his terse dismissal of the alleged punitive head-shaving practice favored by the dictator (“It is total nonsense”) in a June 6, 2008 e-mail to CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart.

For more on the historical record of Jacob Stalin, see The Rise and Fall of Stalin by Robert Payne; Simon & Schuster, New York, 1965 (pages 99-100). Jacob Stalin’s capture by German forces during World War II was also reported contemporaneously in newspapers including the Moberly Monitor-Index on July 24, 1941: “Stalin’s Son Reported Captured” (front page).

William Schallert’s comments regarding his professional relationship with producer Albert Zugsmith come from an April 1, 2001 interview conducted by Bill Geerhart that was subsequently used in the Special Features on the INVASION, USA DVD released by Synapse Films in 2002.

Natalia Daryll revealed her role as Zsa Zsa Gabor’s body double in her June 12, 2008 interview with CONELRAD’s Bill Geerhart.



The following are extended review excerpts for THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN:

“Unquestionably the most absurd motion picture of the year is ‘The Girl in the Kremlin’ which opened yesterday at the RKO – Golden Gate.”

-- The San Francisco Chronicle, April 25, 1957 (pg. 23); Review by Paine Knickerbocker

“Along with the Stalin death gimmick, the Albert Zugsmith production tosses in several others for the fast sell. Not the least of these is the head-shaving gimmick trick which could make the femmes cringe as they watch attractive Natalia Daryll bare her noggin under Red razors. Some should be encouraged, however, because she remains attractive, even with bare pate, thanks to feminine face and a generous supply of curves.”

“The screenplay by Gene L. Coon and Robert Hill from a story by Harry Ruskin and DeWitt Bodeen is more often than not illogical, with the hokum laid on thick.”

-- Variety, April 24, 1957; Review by Brog.

“If Joe Stalin didn’t die, Girl in the Kremlin should”

“The Girl in the Kremlin is a picture that should turn you red – with embarrassment.”

On the second half of the bill, Stalin the monster gives way to a different kind of monster – a huge, prehistoric insect shaken free from its polar prison by an earthquake. This is ‘The Deadly Mantis.’

-- The Los Angeles Examiner, May 2, 1957; Review by S.A. Desick

“The Girl in the Kremlin is one of those ‘What if…’ stories and as such it provides entertainment and stimulation beyond what is so often offered. It is novel and it is fresh. Granted it is fantastic, but it is still interesting.”

“The site of Miss Gabor with a head as nude as a baby’selbow is among the picture’s more startling sights.”

“Maurice Manson is a remarkably good Stalin…”

-- Hollywood Reporter, April 19, 1957; Review by James Powers

“On the face of it The Girl in the Kremlin doesn’t amount to much. However, it is predicted that John Q. Public won’t miss the lack of logic or the presence of heavy hokum in this exhibit. But he will be interested, in a macabre sort of way, in the side issues. Two gimmicks that J.Q.P. will goggle over are the plastic surgery bit and Stalin’s feminine head-shaving fetish. Pretty Natalia Daryll is the victim of the latter, emerging in her horrific scene with a completely bald pate. It’s a tragic, somewhat repellent sequence, yet people laughed in at least one theater yesterday.”

-- Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1957; Review by John L. Scott

Unfortunately, it appears that Pravda never reviewed THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN…


Universal-International Pictures, Co. Inc.
Directed by Russell Birdwell
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Written by Gene L. Coon and Robert Hill
From a story by DeWitt Bodeen and Harry Ruskin
Starring: Lex Barker; Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jeffrey Stone, Maurice Manson, Aram Katcher with Natalia Daryll and Phillipa Fallon
Running Time: 81 min.
Widescreen Ratio: 1.85:1
Home Video Availability: Unreleased




When we first contacted Natalia Daryll – the woman whose on-screen head shaving so memorably enlivens the first act of Russell Birdwell’s B-movie THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN – she was incredulous that anyone cared enough about the film to seek her out to talk about it. Indeed, she had not even bothered to see the movie when it was originally released in 1957. CONELRAD was also astonished to learn that Ms. Daryll had still not seen the movie as of our first call to her in late 2007—a full half-century after KREMLIN’s premiere. As soon as we were able to locate a copy of the film (it has never been officially released on home video), we sent the retired actress a DVD so that she could finally see her long ago work. CONELRAD spoke with Ms. Daryll about her cult role and her fascinating life via telephone on June 12, 2008, a few weeks after she had viewed the movie with her family and friends.

The interview follows this brief biographical introduction to Ms. Daryll.

It turns out that Natalia Daryll’s performance is one of the few authentic elements in THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN, a motion picture that plays off of the absurd scenario that Joseph Stalin faked his own death in 1953 and had a fondness for forced shearing.[i] Indeed, Ms. Daryll is, unlike William Schallert (who was implausibly cast as Stalin’s long lost son, Jacob) and other cast members, actually Russian. As a child, she was also directly affected by the abuses of Stalin’s real-life regime.

Natalia Daryll was born Natalia Sagebarth, the third child of George and Valentina Sagebarth in Uzbekistan, Russia in 1932. Her parents were of Russian nobility and were constantly persecuted after the Revolution because they refused to become Communists. During World War II, when the Germans were retreating from Russia in 1942, the Sagebarth family left with them (they were hardly alone as many other victims of Stalin fled during this period). Their journey to Germany was a long and perilous one that involved one incident in the Black Sea that is absolutely harrowing. The Sagebarth family and other refugees were in a boat that was being tugged by a barge when Russian planes began dropping bombs all around them. “It was surreal,” Daryll recalled for CONELRAD, but she said things got even worse when the barge cut the boat loose: “Everyone started praying because there was a torpedo heading straight for us and that was like the end of us. And actually it was a miraculous saving because as the torpedo was coming towards us, with the waves that it was creating, (it) pushed us aside.”

After a one-year stint in an Austrian quarantine camp, the family continued its death-defying passage to Germany. The Sagebarths eventually settled in Erlangen, Germany, but the remaining war and post-war years were not exactly easy. They endured years of deprivation and periodic famine. Despite all odds, Daryll managed to embrace a passion for ballet dancing during this period. In 1952 the family was finally able to immigrate to Los Angeles, California. Once stateside, everyone in the family worked menial jobs to help pay back their sponsored passage to America. Natalia remembered hopping a street car to Santa Monica every morning to work in a machine shop where she washed machine parts. She later worked as a seamstress in a brassiere shop. But, incredibly, Hollywood was in this young woman’s future.

For someone who has lived through such trying times, Ms. Daryll has a warm quality to her voice and she is quick to laugh whenever she finds something funny. She also seems to have a remarkably healthy perspective on her formative years. When we commented on how horrifying her childhood sounded, she replied: “Yes, probably, but today to me it looks (in my memory) almost like a movie or a picture.”

This interview focuses primarily on Ms. Daryll’s artistic career and, in particular, her role in THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN. However, CONELRAD felt that it was important to preface the interview with the above introduction so that our readers would be aware of the adversity that shaped Ms. Daryl’s life. The irony that she would wind up acting opposite “Stalin” (as played by Maurice Manson) on a Universal Studios soundstage is almost too bizarre to believe.


CONELRAD: Did you ever have any formal acting or performance training?

NATALIA: In Germany I was in the ballet (Editor’s Note: As explained in the preceding introduction, Natalia and her family left their native Russia in 1942 and moved to Germany).

CONELRAD: How did you and your family get out of Germany?

NATALIA: Some friends of ours sponsored us from Los Angeles, so when we came to Los Angeles, they paid for us and when we came to Los Angeles we worked it off and paid them back.

CONELRAD: And you got citizenship?

NATALIA: I got citizenship later on, yes. And from there I married and when I was married I went to San Diego and there I went into the theater. Acting and singing.

CONELRAD: How did you get trained in acting?

NATALIA: It was a kind of on-stage type of a training. It was at the Globe Theater in San Diego and from there I was hired for quite a lot of plays and after that I went to New York.


CONELRAD: And were you in off-Broadway productions in New York?

NATALIA: Well, you can call it that (laughs), yes, small theaters.

CONELRAD: Do you remember any of the plays that you were in?

NATALIA: No, I really don’t, but I have some of the publicity from the San Diego plays.

CONELRAD: So, you were very young when you were stage acting.

NATALIA: Yes, I was about twenty-something.


CONELRAD: Did you like singing in the plays?

NATALIA: The singing I actually did more than anything in Mexico. I took classes in Mexico. I was hired as a singer and as a hired singer I had a private tutor and I developed my voice.

CONELRAD: So you really got around. Russia, Germany, America, Mexico…

NATALIA: Yes, from New York I came back. I was only in New York for a year and half, something like that. I came back to Los Angeles – that’s when I had the movie (THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN).

CONELRAD: Were you in New York with your family or did you go there on your own?

NATALIA: No, all by myself.

CONELRAD: That must have been kind of intimidating.

NATALIA: Well, yes, I tell you sometimes I had ten cents and I was deciding shall I have a cup of coffee or shall I have soup. And I made the rounds because I also modeled. And since I’m a small girl I modeled for petite types of things. It was kind of rough, but I made a living.

CONELRAD: Those are the exciting times when you are young and just starting out.


NATALIA: Of course, the times are completely different than they are today, but when you’re young you think you can conquer the world. Today I wouldn’t dare think about it.

CONELRAD: After your time in New York City, how did you come to move back to Los Angeles?

NATALIA: I don’t know, I just (decided to) come back to Los Angeles and my family.

CONELRAD: How did you come to learn about the role of Dasha in THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN?

NATALIA: It was advertised and a friend of mine at that time kind of made me aware of it and said, ‘Why don’t you go try for it?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? I mean movies and all that?’ And she said, ‘Go ahead and try it.’ So I went to Universal and that’s the whole thing of it. After that I got an agent.[ii]

CONELRAD: Is it true you were competing with 21 other women to get the role?


CONELRAD: And how did they audition you? I mean did they look at your hair? Or what?

NATALIA: No, they just talked to us. They lined us up and picked (eliminated) two bad (not right for the role) persons and then lined us up again and talked to us. And then when they talked to us they kind of selected the few of us (these would be Daryll and the other women who are paraded before Stalin in the film).

lo-Natalia-GITK-Press-Still-InterviewDayCasting Call: Albert Zugsmith directly in front of Natalia Daryll

CONELRAD: The press materials from the time of the film’s release stated that the studio did not know that you were Russian when you were cast. Could that be true?

NATALIA: I don’t think so. I do not believe so, because my accent is better now than it was then.

CONELRAD: Right. We thought it was funny that the blonde actress who plays your sister in the film spoke with a perfect American accent.

NATALIA: (Laughs) Yes, and I spoke with a Russian accent.

CONELRAD: You were 24 years old when you got the role, correct?


CONELRAD: Were your friends and family excited to hear about your getting the role?

NATALIA: No, you see my father was very much against show business because he comes from a royal family and to them at that time anyone who was on stage was a loose woman. You know, it was not acceptable. I always loved dancing, ballet, singing and all that. So when I did that in Germany I was studying with a very famous teacher in ballet. When my father realized that it was really serious with me he stopped it and he wouldn’t let me go on anymore. And the teacher even came to my father and told him she would teach me for nothing because I had potential, I had such a talent.

CONELRAD: And then what happened?

NATALIA: He said, ‘No way, my daughter will never be on the stage.’ So I was not on the stage until I got married and got out of the house.

CONELRAD: So you were married when you got the role in THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN?

NATALIA: I was divorced by that time.

CONELRAD: So your first marriage was short.

NATALIA: Yes, it was a short marriage.

CONELRAD: How did you get interested in ballet in those difficult years in Germany?

NATALIA: I don’t know.

CONELRAD: Was it a release for you from all that was going on? An escape?

NATALIA: No, because in school they had gymnastics and I was interested in that and I did it all by myself and I loved music.

CONELRAD: So you speak German as well as Russian and English, right?

NATALIA: Yes. Right now I speak four languages (Editor’s Note: Daryll also speaks Spanish).

CONELRAD: You mentioned earlier when we communicated via e-mail that you were taking a lot of classes. Are you taking a language class?

NATALIA: No, I am… I like creating things. My whole family is very creative. My mother had a fantastic voice, my father played piano and my children are very artistic. Right now I am taking embroidery – sewing and embroidery type of thing. I love to create, I love to decorate. I wish I didn’t have to work all my life, I might have gotten into something else. Now that I’m retired and all that, it’s more of a hobby than anything else.

CONELRAD: Was GIRL IN THE KREMLIN your first film?

NATALIA: That was my first role.

CONELRAD: Did you meet (producer) Albert Zugsmith?

NATALIA: Yes, I did.

CONELRAD: What was he like? Was he larger than life?

NATALIA: I cannot tell because at the time I was such a child. I was so innocent. I don’t know. I guess I just took it in stride.

CONELRAD: Do you remember him smoking his big cigar?

NATALIA: Yes, but I just thought, well that’s the movie business, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

CONELRAD: Was he on set a lot?

NATALIA: Well, I was not on set a lot, let’s put it that way.

CONELRAD: Good point. So what was the director Russell Birdwell like?

NATALIA: Very outgoing and congenial. He was not there very much either. He was kind of there and gone. Zsa Zsa (Gabor) was there more than anyone.

CONELRAD: We’re going to get to Zsa Zsa. But first, what was shooting your big scene like? (Editor’s Note: The production file for THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN at University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Library records the date that Natalia Daryll’s head-shaving sequence was filmed: February 15, 1957).


NATALIA: It was more feeling than anything. That is what acting is all about. I didn’t mind losing my hair. That wasn’t a big deal to me.

CONELRAD: You knew you were going to lose your hair going in, right?

NATALIA: Oh, yes, of course. And the emotion of the scene was something I had to bring from outside myself and it’s just a feeling.

CONELRAD: Right, so the actual shaving of the head was secondary to eliciting the emotion that the script called for.

NATALIA: That’s right.

CONELRAD: Is it true you were given $300.00 extra to have your head shaved?

NATALIA: No, I don’t think so. After that you see my agent stepped in and handled all that.

CONELRAD: Right, because we actually went to the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Library and looked at the production file on THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN and we found your contract and it shows you received a bonus of $300.00 for having your head shaved.[iii]

NATALIA: Oh, really? That was a big deal. No, I don’t remember that. The important thing to me was the role and not the money. I don’t even remember negotiating the money or anything else at that time.

CONELRAD: Right, so you were just happy to have gotten the role and to bring it off.


CONELRAD: Do you recall how you prepared for the scene? Did Birdwell give you any direction of what he wanted?

NATALIA: No. No, really not.

CONELRAD: So you just took your direction from the script?

NATALIA: Yes. You know we talked about it and that was it.

CONELRAD: OK, so you did discuss the scene briefly before the cameras rolled?

NATALIA: Yes. About what I was supposed to be doing, but that was about it.

CONELRAD: There is a scene where you look up and it is at such an angle that it is almost as if there is a camera mounted on the ceiling. Do you remember what was going on during this shot?


NATALIA: No, I do not remember a camera from the ceiling. You know, it’s kind of hard to remember right now, but I’m sure there was somebody behind the camera, behind the scenes kind of directing me to a certain extent.

CONELRAD: As a Russian, did you find the plot of the film kind of ridiculous?

NATALIA: (Laughing) You know I didn’t even think about that at that time.

CONELRAD: You were focused on your role exclusively?

NATALIA: That was the only thing, yes. I did not read the whole script. I did not know the whole script. Later on I read the script, but before then I didn’t read the script. I only knew my role and what I was supposed to be doing.

CONELRAD: That was probably a good approach in retrospect.

NATALIA: Since I saw the movie, I thought, you know, I never thought of Zsa Zsa as a good actress.


NATALIA: Really, I thought she was a joke and maybe that was good that I didn’t… (Natalia changes her train of thought here) Actually, the fight with Zsa Zsa, you know with her sister (Editor’s Note: Zsa Zsa Gabor played a dual role in THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN and there is a memorable scene in which she has a “catfight” with “herself” that concludes with the evil Zsa Zsa sans wig and completely “bald” – though Gabor actually wore a skin cap)?


NATALIA: That was me.

CONELRAD: That was you?

NATALIA: That was me, as a double for Zsa Zsa.

CONELRAD: So the shots where you can’t see Zsa Zsa’s face – that’s you.

NATALIA: Yes, that’s me.


CONELRAD: That is a nice bit of GIRL IN THE KREMLIN trivia for our readers. Getting back to your main scene: Was it awkward, as a Russian, to act opposite someone who was playing Joseph Stalin?

NATALIA: No, no, no, no. Because, you know, I had no conception of playing for Stalin, against Stalin, against Communism or for Communism. I had no conception whatsoever.

CONELRAD: Right, but, obviously, as a Russian, you knew who Stalin was and…

NATALIA: Of course. My father being a nobility was in jail so many times. My father was not home most of the time. My mother was jailed in Russia. Of course, I knew, but it is a child type of a thing.

CONELRAD: So your parents were jailed by the Stalin regime?


CONELRAD: So you compartmentalized your emotions to play the role opposite this person made up to look like Stalin, this figure who had caused your family so much pain? Is that accurate?

NATALIA: I am sorry to disappoint you, but I didn’t even think of him, I just… it was a movie.

CONELRAD: That is probably a testament to your acting skills.

NATALIA: You know, it’s just a…Right now put me in front of Hussein or somebody else and hate or not hate, it (acting) is what I am supposed to do.

CONELRAD: So the mission of the acting in this awkward scene with this Stalin look-a-like just took over?


CONELRAD: So, from Stalin to Zsa Zsa. What was Zsa Zsa Gabor like to work with?

NATALIA: (Sighs) She was OK. She was very shabby.

CONELRAD: Shabby? What do you mean by that?

NATALIA: Talking a lot.

CONELRAD: Oh, you mean ‘Gabby’?

NATALIA: (Laughs) Gabby, Yes. Very gabby. Very much in everything. And even before that (the film), about Zsa Zsa, I didn’t think much of her. So, she was nice to me. She was cordial. That’s all I can say about her.

CONELRAD: In retrospect, in watching the film so many years later, did your opinion of her acting ability change at all?


CONELRAD: So you thought she was kind of a joke as an actress?

NATALIA: Well, yea (laughs). I think her sister is much, much better.

CONELRAD: Eva Gabor.

NATALIA: Or was much, much better. Yes.

CONELRAD: Universal Pictures had an option on your next role according to the press clips we have…

NATALIA: Yes, they did. They wanted me to tour with the movie (GIRL IN THE KREMLIN).

CONELRAD: To help promote it, right.

NATALIA: To help promote it, and they were thinking of putting me under a contract, but I think my agent asked for too much money or whatever because he called me and told me about it and all of a sudden it was off.

CONELRAD: And I assume that impacted Universal offering you another role.

NATALIA: Yea, I guess so, because that was it and I never heard from them again.

CONELRAD: What was it like to have the momentary fame of having the key scene in a studio movie? You were in all the newspapers for a brief period well before the film actually came out because of the head shaving.

NATALIA: (Laughs) It was kind of funny. That’s about it. It was kind of funny having the head shaved. I remember we went with friends of ours to San Francisco and we were sitting in a restaurant. Of course, I had a wig on and somebody said ‘Oh, here she’s something, something, something’ and I said ‘Yes!’ and I took off my wig and said, ‘Yep! Here I am!’

CONERLAD: So they recognized you from the publicity for the movie?

NATALIA: Yes. It (the fame) was just (pauses) OK (Laughs).

CONELRAD: Were you aware that Universal promoted the film by having women shave their heads in the lobbies of theaters showing the film? These women were paid $300.00 each to participate in the stunt.[iv]

NATALIA: (Surprised) Really? No, I didn’t know that!

CONELRAD: What did you do while you were waiting for your hair to grow back? Did you just wear the wig and…

NATALIA: No, at first I wore the wig, but my hair grew out very quickly, so I had a short haircut, very short haircut.


CONELRAD: Kind of like Mia Farrow only earlier?


CONELRAD: Is it true you were on Art Linkletter’s show?[v]


CONELRAD: Was that one of the few promotions you did for the film?

NATALIA: I guess so.

CONELRAD: What was being on Art Linkletter’s show like?

NATALIA: You know it was such a long time ago, it didn’t stay with me. Let’s put it that way. It was fair. It wasn’t that important, I guess. To me I took my acting like my singing or whatever it was seriously. Later on I realized that the promotion, the press was important. Before that I didn’t.

CONELRAD: Is it true your next role was in 1959 in the TV show ‘Behind Closed Doors’?

NATALIA: Uh-huh, that’s right.

CONELRAD: And what was that about?

NATALIA: It was about a professor who was my father that I believe – you know, I never saw that one either. But they kidnapped him and they’re going after him type of a thing, trying to find him.

CONELRAD: And then you did a show called ‘Shotgun Slade’ in 1960. I assume that was a western?

NATALIA: That was a western, yes.

CONELRAD: Did you do any other work, like commercials or was that it?

NATALIA: After that, that’s when I went to Mexico. And somebody heard my voice singing and thought I should do that. I was singing in a restaurant, like a nightclub restaurant and I started studying and developing my voice more. That’s what I was doing in Mexico. And I did a record album.


CONELRAD: Was that under your name Natalia Daryll?

NATALIA: No, it was a duet under the name Dino & Dina (Editor’s Note: This was a 45 single release on the Capitol label).

CONELRAD: And that was released in Mexico?


CONELRAD: What style of music was it?

NATALIA: Romantic. That was the thing in Mexico at the time.


CONELRAD: What happened to your acting career after Mexico?

NATALIA: Nothing. Well, I came back and I was going to get back into that, but it was so different because I was in Mexico on and off for about ten years.


NATALIA: So when I got back it was so different, I kind of completely went away from that. I tried a couple of times, so I just got away from that and soon after that I got married and so that was the end of it. I still love singing, I still love the music.

Editor’s Note: Natalia and her second husband, a teacher, remained in Southern California for many years after her return from Mexico.

CONELRAD: What did you do for work?

NATALIA: I was teaching gymnastics at one time and then I was teaching Jenny Craig and then after that for about, oh fifteen years, I was a health technician in schools.

CONELRAD: Going back to GIRL IN THE KREMLIN for a moment. This really fascinates us – you have your first role in a film in 1957 and you don’t even see it until we send you a copy on DVD a few weeks ago. How is it possible that you did not see your movie until 2008?

NATALIA: I guess it never came about, I wasn’t that (pauses) (laughs) it’s hard to explain. If the movie had been available, I would have seen it. I didn’t go out of my way to look for it.

CONELRAD: But you lived in L.A. and it was in the theaters.


NATALIA: Well, at that time, after my movies (KREMLIN and the two television programs) I was in Mexico. When I came back, somebody told me they saw my movie on the late show and, I don’t know. To be very honest, when I saw my movie it was a little embarrassing.

CONELRAD: After we sent the movie to you on DVD, you watched it with some friends of yours for the first time ever. What was that like?

NATALIA: Well, (laughs) maybe I should have watched by myself for the first time. I thought I could have done better and it was, you know, a little funny, kind of embarrassing (laughs).

CONELRAD: What did your friends think about it?

NATALIA: They thought my scene was great. They thought the movie was, as you say, ridiculous.

CONELRAD: Was watching yourself so many years later like looking at a different person?

NATALIA: No, no it really wasn’t.

CONELRAD: Did it really take you back to that point in time?

NATALIA: Yes, it did. Watching myself was kind of moving and embarrassing (laughs).

CONELRAD: And what did your husband think of your performance?

NATALIA: He thought I did a great job. He said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, I think it’s great.’

CONELRAD: And your kids? They haven’t seen it because they’re grown?

NATALIA: Yea, they haven’t seen the movie because they don’t live nearby.

CONELRAD: We will send you extra copies so that they can see your movie. Thank you so much for speaking with us!

NATALIA: Thank you!

CONELRAD wishes to thank Natalia Daryll for her time and her willingness to discuss her remarkable life and career. Do svidaniya!

Interview conducted by Bill Geerhart


[i] After examining numerous Stalin biographies and finding no corroboration for the alleged Stalin head-shaving fetish, CONELRAD contacted the Stalin scholar Simon Sebag Montefiore via e-mail. When asked about the veracity of the dictator’s use of head-shaving as a punishment, Mr. Montefiore’s response was succinct: “It is total nonsense.” June 6, 2008 e-mail to Bill Geerhart.

[ii] It was confirmed in a follow-up telephone call with Natalia Daryll that her agent was Jack Pomeroy of the Jack Pomeroy Agency.

[iii] The production file for THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN located at the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Library provides the date that the filming of the head-shaving sequence took place: February 15, 1957.

[iv] The April 25, 1957 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Mrs. Pat Smith had her head shaved in the lobby of the Golden Gate Theater for $300 to help promote THE GIRL IN THE KREMLIN.

[v] Natalia Daryll appeared on the radio and television editions of ART LINKLETTER’S HOUSE PARTY on February 28, 1957.