Making movies in Mother Russia

My uncle, who is retired (and very, very aged), used to travel the world. He was a Hollywood Production Designer. A title he scoffed at, preferring the old-school moniker, Art Director. He often sniffed, “King Cameron Menzies, what’re ya gonna do?” Uncle, once a medical student whose aspirations shifted in the gore on the beaches of Normandy, drafted up skyscrapers, and Spanish galleons, and space ships, and made them all into movie sets.

The last movie he worked on was shot in the newly opened ex-United-Soviet-Socialist-Republic.  My! What stories, so Wild West. Drugged and rolled on a train for his wallet, witness to mobster location managers copulating on the hoods of Chaikas and Bentleys, produce laid out in exclusive (invitation only) markets like crown jewels…

And then, there was my favorite: lodged in a hotel in glorious St. Petersburg  (a.k.a. Leningrad) he always peeked into the bar before proceeding into the restaurant. No, my dears, not to spot fellow crewmembers and friends; but to make sure there was a full contingent of prostitutes seated. Canaries in a coal mine, so to speak. For, when they were absent the restaurant was known to be strafed by machine gun fire, and nobody wants to die head first in a middling plate of “Continental” fare. Nobody.


  1. Another time I’ll go into greater detail about the time he got drugged and rolled on the train and woke up with his passport and clothes stolen twenty-four hours later. Scariness… But, now I have to sleep. Cheers, V

    • What a funny coincidence! The other night I dreamed that I was in Russia on a tour and the bus left without me. I realized I had no money, no passport and didn’t know the language. I got such a fright I woke up! I love you uncle’s story and can’t wait to read about the time he was rolled. “Rolled in Russia” – sounds like a good title for a Le Carre novel (Soon to be a Major Motion Picture…)

      • I think he was lucky to have survived – the Russian mob probably isn’t too careful with their dosages… Tonight I wish you a lucky 2013 dream instead!!! Looking forward to reading your book, many hugs, V


      that’s truly scary. I know so many horror stories from the nineties of blackmailers, raiders, killings… I was blessed to have lived in another country back then.


    a wise man, your uncle.
    “so, the hookers are seated, the set is prepared for a relaxed night out. and action!” 😀

    • I know I tend to be a little too chipper in these posts, but after the hit at the hotel, two people were dead, and they reopened the restaurant almost immediately, even though there were bullet holes in the walls. Stomach plummeting scary!


        it definitely IS scary. but he survived it, right? the point is to be chipper, but not cynical; which you weren’t/aren’t!

        and so, I ask you, what would life be without a bit of gallow’s humour now and then?
        boooooooring, that’s what.

  3. Heather in Arles

    Now what a life! Whew. I love your family stories, Vickie. More when you can please.

    And ps. The only place where I was ever mugged (and this was after having lived in Hell’s Kitchen NYC when it was still baaad and I would think nothing of walking home alone at 3 or 4am from the clubs) was on Nevsky Prospect in St. Petersburg (if anyone ever asks you to participate in a theatre festival during Winter in Russia, just say no)–in broad daylight…and in 1997 no less! So I can only immmaaagine what it was like for your Uncle. Whew, encore!

    • It looked so beautiful, all the photos he took of that pastel wedding cake architecture… but then he told me nothing had been maintained since before WWII… and Russia was very much in baffled transition at the time… Oligarchs and bent old women sweeping the sidewalks with bundled twigs…

      • Heather in Arles

        Even when I was there, fresh veggies were non-existent in the markets in Winter. Just tatoes. But yes, the architecture was sublime and the Hermitage is one of the most exceptional museums on the planet…even if they couldn’t afford to heat most of it when I visited!

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