Russian Language Blog

They Were Russian? Posted by on Feb 3, 2015 in Culture, History, News, Russian life, Soviet Union

If you were to stop people on the streets of New York, London, Paris, or any other major metropolitan area and ask them to list some famous Russian people, I bet you’d never hear these names. Some of these names may even surprise a Russian citizen – they did me :-).

Abraham Zapruder

Whether or not you’ve ever heard of Abraham Zapruder, you likely have seen his short film shot near Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. His footage of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination is among the most famous and most watched films of all time. Although he helped make patterns for women’s clothing, he is certainly best known for the footage that has caused so many conspiracy theories and controversies to pop up relating to this horrible event. I would dare say that there are more than a few people that wished this film never existed. Here is a link to his famous film:

Meyer Lansky

He was born in Grodno, Belarus, formerly part of Russia, to a Polish-Jewish family. Meyer Lansky was known as “Mob’s Accountant.” Along with his associate, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, he helped to orchestrate the National Crime Syndicate in the United States during the early 1920’s onward. Unlike many of his colleagues, he was only ever found guilty of gambling – not murder, racketeering, tax evasion, extortion, or any other typical crimes that landed many of his peers in prison. He owned percentages of casinos in Las Vegas, Cuba, the Bahamas, and London. Here is a documentary about him:

Yul Brynner

Born in Vladivostok, Russian in 1920, Yul Brynner is best known for his acting prowess – especially for playing the King of Siam in The King and I. He played this role over 4,000 times on stage during his illustrious career. He also played the evil Rameses II in Cecil B. DeMille’s amazing movie The Ten Commandments. He also went on to play in Anastasia, and The Magnificent Seven and many more. Here is a short interview with him:

Lee Strasberg

Lee Strasberg was born in what is now, Budanov, Ukraine in 1901. He began his career acting in theater in New York City. He did a bit of acting, directing, coaching, and most every job related to acting professionally. Eventually, in 1948 he would join the Actors Studio as a teacher. There he taught some of Hollywood’s best and most famous actors and actresses including: James Dean, Joanne Woodward, Julie Harris, Al Pacino, Paul Newman, and so many others. Here is a short clip with him:

In all fairness, these people all left Russia at relatively early periods in their lives but they were at one time Russian citizens. Hope you learned a few interesting things about these very well-known people with not so well-known birth origins :-).

Tags: , , , , , ,
Keep learning Russian with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u


  1. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    May I add another, one of America’s greatest song writers: Irving Berlin. “White Christmas” anyone? Irving Berlin (born Israel Isidore Beilin, May 11, 1888 – September 22, 1989) was an American composer and lyricist of Russian-Jewish origin (born in Tyumen,[1][2] Russian Empire). Widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history, his music forms a great part of the Great American Songbook.

  2. Jenya:

    Moonyeen, a wonderful addition to the post, as always :-). Thank you very much for being a regular contributor!

  3. Delia:

    Dimitri Zinovievich Tiomkin (May 10, 1894 – November 11, 1979) was a Russian-born Hollywood film score composer and conductor. Musically trained in Russia, he is best known for his western scores, including Duel in the Sun, High Noon, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and The Alamo. Tiomkin received twenty-two Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars, three for Best Original Score for High Noon, The High and the Mighty and The Old Man and the Sea, and one for Best Original Song for “The Ballad of High Noon” from the former film.

  4. Jenya:

    Delia, thank you very much! I did not know about this one :-).