The art of playing patriot: The polish stardom of Helena Modjeska

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When Helena Modrzejewska, Poland's premier actress, quit the Warsaw Imperial Theaters in 1876 for a year's leave of absence in the United States, she secretly planned an English-language debut in San Francisco, a sophisticated yet less demanding theatre town than New York. Her triumph under the Americanized name of Modjeska at the California Theater in August 1877 led to almost three decades of American stardom and critical acclaim as the greatest American Shakespearean actress of her day. Yet American and Polish theatre historians have yet to analyze how this accomplished player managed a bi-national career up until her death in 1909. Modjeska did not abandon Poland for America, but discovered that the United States best served her professional and patriotic aims, garnering her greater fame and fortune as an English-language performer and enabling her national service in advertising Polish artistic genius abroad and underwriting Polish theatre at home. This essay explores how Modjeska retained and enhanced her Polish stardom by distancing herself from her homeland and perfecting both overseas and incountry modes of playing the faithful patriot. © 2010 by The Johns Hopkins University Press.








Beth Holmgren

Professor Emerita of Slavic and Eurasian Studies

Beth Holmgren, Professor Emerita of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, has published widely on Polish literature, theater, popular culture, and film; Russian literature, film, and women's studies; and Russian and Polish artists and performers in the North American diaspora. Over the last decade, she has produced a series of articles exploring the Polish Jewish foundations of popular culture in the interwar period and the wartime and postwar diaspora. Holmgren's scholarship and labors in the field of Slavic and East European Studies have won multiple national awards from ACLS, AATSEEL, ASEEES, ASTR, and other organizations.

In addition to her work on editorial boards, fellowship committees, and external reviews, Holmgren served as President of the Association of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2008 (the largest organization in the Slavic field outside the region itself), during which period she helped oversee the Association's move to a new, financially less exorbitant location and the hiring of several new staff members. Holmgren served as President of the Association for Women in Slavic Studies for the 2003-2005 term. AWSS remains a major resource for female scholar/teachers, providing information about career development, grants, and jobs.  Holmgren also chaired her departments at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke for almost half of her 36 years in the field.

From 2020 through post-retirement in June 2023, Holmgren's research has concentrated on Polish film from the 1930s to the present day. Her most recent book, co-authored with Professor Helena Goscilo (The Ohio State University), is Polish Cinema Today: A Bold New Era in Film (August 2021), which explores the reflorescence and great thematic diversification of Polish film in this century. Contextualizing and analyzing scores of Polish films on themes ranging from representations of the Catholic Church's influence and prewar/wartime/postwar Jewish-gentile relations to the experience of migrant Poles and portraits of queer identity, Polish Cinema Today provides a smart introduction to general film scholars and students as well as cinephiles. In 2022, Choice Reviews named it an Outstanding Academic Title. Subsequent articles recently published or in production focus on Polish-language film musicals from the 1930s and the extraordinary celebrity and career of Eugeniusz Bodo, a major cabaret/revue performer, heartthrob, movie star, and ambitious film producer whose life was cut short in the Soviet gulag during World War II. New projects include analyses of award-winning contemporary Polish documentaries by female directors and their crews. 

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