More Fqascinating Obits: Kathryn Sergava, the "Almost- Garbo"

Considerably cut down from the Daily Telegraph:

Kathryn Sergava, who has died aged 94, was the sloe-eyed Russian siren taken up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to replace Greta Garbo when the great actress decided to retire from Hollywood in 1934. After Garbo’s announcement that she was settling permanently on a secluded mountain estate in Sweden, MGM scanned many supposed lookalikes; and when it found a Russian ballet dancer with little screen experience but who was attractive and glamorous in a convincing Garbo way, it immediately put her under contract.

Studio officials were so impressed by the Kathryn Sergava screen test that Garbo’s friend Wister Clark sensed that the Russian posed a real threat. A picture of her, together with a letter of explanation, was hurriedly dispatched to Sweden by plane and boat, and Garbo immediately decided that she must return to America. Negotiations were opened with Thalberg and the studio head, Louis B Mayer, and the result was Garbo’s starring role in the acclaimed Anna Karenina (1935). The lead was to have gone to Kathryn Sergava; but the studio had now lost interest in a “second Garbo”.

A businessman’s daughter, she was born Katya Sergeiva in St Petersburg on July 30 1909 and educated at local schools before studying ballet with the Moscow Art Theatre. She recalled fleeing the Red hordes during the Revolution of 1917. The family settled in various Black Sea ports, and her father enjoyed an income from his oil interests until the White Army was defeated. Katya remembered men being killed beneath her window. Her parents sold their furs and jewels to peasants as they made their way, via Tiflis (now Tblisi), to Constantinople, where they remained for two years. They then took passage to America, where the income from her father’s oil began to flow again.

In 1930 Kathryn Sergava settled in London, where the future King Edward VIII and his brother, Prince George, were counted among her fans. The British director Monty Banks gave her a part in the film 18 Minutes (1934), starring Gregory Ratoff and Benita Hume. For a year after Garbo’s return to Hollywood, Kathryn Sergava enjoyed a life of ease at the beach, never appearing at the studio and having salary cheques mailed to her. Then her contract was terminated. Mervyn Le Roy cast her in Hi Nellie (!) (1935), a comedy about embezzlement starring Paul Muni and Glenda Farrell. She did better on Broadway when she joined the cast of Oklahoma; she appeared in more than 2,000 performances of the show over the next five years.

Kathryn Sergava spoke in the same low voice as Garbo, and wore big sunglasses and a floppy hat. She liked to dine alone at the Hollywood restaurant Spago’s, where the head waiter was instructed to point her out to any celebrities. But when the director Sidney Lumet asked Kathryn Sergava to play the title role in Garbo Talks! (1984), which told the story of a son whose dying mother has one last wish - to meet Greta Garbo - Sergava was indignant, viewing it as an insult. She declined the invitation, and the uncredited role was given to the songwriter Betty Comden.

First Dorothy Fay Ritter, now her: “The Telegraph—The Paper So Nice, We Kill You Twice!”

(1010 WINS) (New York) – A former Broadway dancer whose obituary was published in The New York Times is alive at a New York City nursing home. The Times says in a correction published today that 94-year-old Katharine Servaga has been recovering from a stroke at an Upper West Side nursing home since November. Servaga is an actress and dancer who starred in the original production of the ballet ``Oklahoma!’’ Her obituary appeared in yesterday’s editions of the Times and said she died on November 11th in Palm Springs, California. The Times said its information was based on a London Daily Telegraph obituary published November 29th. It said an attribution was left out because of reporting and editing errors.