Alexei

What a doll!

Our eminent researcher of all things hemophilia, Richard Atwood of North Carolina, has found a book with “paper” dolls related to hemophilia! I certainly had paper dolls growing up, and apparently, we still have them for kids these days.

Nicholas and Alexandra Paper Dolls, published in 1998, is an oversized book (9”x12”) on the family of the last Romanov Tsar, Nicholas II, whose son Alexei had hemophilia B. The book includes 11 dolls on 16 plates printed on lightweight cardboard. There are two pages of text with notes and instructions to provide historical insights and fashion commentary. Alexandra has two dolls, accompanied by six dresses, including her 1894 wedding dress and 1896 coronation dress, plus ball gowns. Nicholas has two dolls, accompanied by five uniforms. Alexei’s older sisters, Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia all wear the same casual dresses, that may be covered by two sets of identical dresses. Alexei is dressed in a sailor suit that may be covered with a uniform. Other dolls are the mad monk Gregory Rasputin in a monk’s garb and Clementy Nagorny in a sailor suit. The book cover illustration could also be used as dolls for Nicholas, Alexandra and Alexei.

The life of Alexei is briefly summarized. Alexei was born in August of 1904. From his mother, he inherited hemophilia B that was soon evident to the family, who did not publicly reveal it. Hemophilia was a deadly disease then, with no known cure. The bleeding bouts caused pain. Gregory Rasputin is described as a healer who used hypnosis to relieve Alexei’s suffering. Rasputin is also described as a lecher, a drunkard, and a con man. Clementy Nagorny was one of two sailors who acted as Alexei’s nanny.

Alexei is correctly shown with a bent left leg, though the metal brace he wore for most of 1913 is hidden. Something not revealed in the text is that Alexei’s accident at Spalo in 1912 caused femoral neuropathy (or paralysis of femoral nerve) due of an iliacus hematoma (or an iliopsoas muscle bleed). This was the medical reason for his hip flexion and bent leg. The metal brace, not Rasputin, straightened Alexei’s left leg. The instructions printed in the book do not mention the need for a sharp cutting tool such as an X-Acto knife in order to remove the dolls and clothes from the book pages.

The author, Tom Tierney, who is an artist, has signed each of the 11 dolls. Tierny is known for his series of paper dolls for a variety of historical figures, including Queen Elizabeth II, Michelle Obama, Abraham Lincoln, Shakespeare characters, and more.

And, you can still buy this on Amazon.com!

From Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. 32 pages.

Starring… Rasputin!

Doug and I went to see the movie Free Guy, starring the ever-hilarious Ryan Reynolds, a thoroughly delightful movie that seems like a cross between The Truman Show, Inception and Tron. We loved it. But it was the previews that caught my attention. The King’s Man is the upcoming prequel to the Kingsmen series. It’s set during World War I, and Rasputin will make an appearance, doing flying sidekicks and all sorts of things you don’t find in history books. As this week is the anniversary of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his entire family in a basement Siberia, it got me thinking about Rasputin portrayed in film. He’s such a character, you almost could not make him up. But he was real and he had a huge role to play in the life of Alexei, the prince who had hemophilia, and the overthrow of the monarchy. Pretty sure he had nothing to do with the King’s Man.

Where else has Rasputin appeared? I found the following on the internet. Within nine months of Rasputin’s murder in 1917, there were two low budget silent films about Rasputin. Producer-director Herbert Brenon released The Fall of the Romanoffs, and producer William A. Brady released Rasputin, the Black Monk.

There was Rasputin, a 1929 silent film, produced by Momento Film Company and directed by Nikolai Larin. Rasputin, The Holy Devil is a 1930 German film produced and directed by Martin Berger. Rasputin, Dämon der Frauen was a 1932 German film;  and Rasputin and the Empress, was a 1932 MGM production, with Lionel Barrymore playing Rasputin!

There was La Tragédie impériale, a 1939 film based on the book by Alfred Neumann; Raspoutine, a 1953 French film directed by Georges Combret; never released in the United States or England. The Night They Killed Rasputin, a 1960 film;  Rasputin the Mad Monk, a 1966 Hammer film. Hammer was known for the horror genre so it seems right that Rasputin was played by Christopher Lee!

J’ai tué Raspoutine (I Killed Rasputin) is a 1967 film featuring an interview with the real Prince Felix Yussupov, who participated in his murder.

My favorite is the spectacular Nicholas and Alexandra, a 1971 epic British film based on the book by Robert and Suzanne Massie, who have a son with hemophilia. Rasputin was expertly played by Tom Baker.

Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny is a 1996 HBO TV film, in which Rasputin was played by one of my favorite actors Alan Rickman, who won a Golden Globe for his portrayal.

And finally the upcoming The King’s Man, a 2021 Matthew Vaughn film.  Welsh actor Rhys Ifans will play Rasputin, who will pull a lot of martial art moves apparently!

And surprise! Rasputin, an upcoming film to star Leonardo DiCaprio as Rasputin! Maybe this will be his second Oscar?

Anniversary of Tsar’s Death


Today, 89 years ago, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his entire family, including Alexis, the prince who had hemophilia, were assassinated in Siberia. This event shocked Russia and the world, and the elimination of the Tsar and the monarchy fueled a bloody civil war in which tens of millions of Russians died. The deaths of the Tsar, Empress Alexandra and their five young children have been the subject of many books and movies. One recent book is “The Kitchen Boy,” by Robert Alexander, which I just happened to read last night, not even aware that I was reading it on the eve of the anniversary.

The book is fiction, but draws on certain facts, and is narrated by the “kitchen boy” who served at Ipatiev House, where the royal family was imprisoned. As a servant, he had access to watch all that happened at the house, including the family’s death. He becomes close to the royals, and details their personalities, flaws, loving manner toward one another, and even their brutal deaths. The “kitchen boy,” now 94, lives in Illinois and wants to share some details he has never revealed before to his granddaughter. He records his memoirs, which becomes the narration of past events in the book. He eventually reveals who killed the Tsar and his family, and what became of the two missing bodies, believed to be Alexis and Anastasia (about whom there are also many movies and books). He reveals that actually Alexis and Maria were missing, and he tells how and why, and how that impacts his life, even now.

The book is easy to read–I read it in one sitting–and the language and style is a bit too easy. It reminded me of the kind of book we had to read for junior high over the summer. Interesting but light. You can almost believe the conversations and events took place, and I think that’s the best part of the book–the way Alexander makes the royal family come to life. But the book loses credibility towards the end. It tries to read like a da Vinci code a la Dan Brown, but it’s much too simplistic a plot for that. The plot takes a sudden radical twist at the end, which kind of left me head-scratching. I just didn’t get it.

Part of the ending included reference to someone with hemophilia (no spoilers) who had mild hemophilia, apparently had no manifestations of hemophilia his whole life, then got into a car accident, hit his head on the steering wheel and died at the scene. I am not a doctor, but this just didn’t sound accurate to me. There were plenty of accurate references to Alexis’s hemophilia, and how the poor boy suffered.

All in all, I would recommend this as a read, but don’t expect a great historical book or a great mystery. It’s light, not perfect, but a great summer beach book that can be read fast, and you may come away with a new appreciation of the Russian royal family. Hemophilia is a pervasive theme throughout the book, and plays a part in solving the mystery of what happened to the royals, and the two missing bodies. (Two stars out of four)

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