Moussia 23: 1919-1920: Siberian opportunities turn into pipedreams

Ariadna Rumanov (left) and Maria “Moussia” Baranovsky at the home of the Rumanovs in Los Angeles (1920)

Since writing my previous three articles, I have had the good fortune to find out more about the background of “Rescuing the Czar”.

With respect to its printer, Henry Haskin: The Angel Island Immigrant Station Foundation of San Francisco recently published online an excellent article on Henry and Miriam Haskin  and how they came to San Francisco from Russia in 1916. Together with a business partner, Henry started the California Printing Company in 1919.

Through the good offices of the archives of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California, who had already helped me read all of Pavel Bulygin’s notes (article 22), I now have been able to read all 223 pages of a scholarly monograph, dated 1991, by Gretchen Haskin entitled “Rescuing the Czar, A story for two revolutions”. Gretchen Haskin, daughter-in-law of Henry,  has a degree in Russian History (see also article 21).

I have to admit that I started to read it with some trepidation, having a slight concern that my reconstruction of events would prove to be flawed. I am happy to say that I did not find any cause for concern. In fact, one could merge her work and mine into one.

Gretchen Haskin has been able to delve deeply into the background of William Rutledge McGarry and George S. Romanovsky, as I have been doing for Vladimir and Maria Baranovsky. Moreover, she had the opportunity to bring to the surface the role of her father-in-law, the printer of Rescuing the Czar, who never spoke a word to anyone about the book until 50 years after its publication. Her monograph is subject to copyright restrictions but accessible for research purposes. I will add a modest selection of her findings to my own final comments below.

She  demonstrates very clearly that the book is a pure fabrication, written for the most part by William McGarry, supplemented at a later stage by George Romanovsky, the writer of or inspiration for Part II.  In recent articles I have proposed the possibility that Michal Rumanov had a major role in writing the book and that Vladimir Baranovsky was its major source of on-the-spot information which, later,  Shay McNeal proved to be based on fact.

After his arrival in San Francisco, Vladimir Baranovsky worked in the Russian Consulate for a while, keeping Romanovsky up-to-date on events in Russia, in Siberia in particular. Haskin writes that Michal Rumanov worked in the consulate as well, as ‘commercial attaché’.  A journalist by profession, he helped Romanovsky launch a magazine, “Siberian Opportunities”, with good articles, advertisements and artwork by a certain Ossip Perelma. The first issue came out in May 1919. All this activity was planned and started in the course of 1918. Then, in the course of 1919, as we have seen in previous articles, the tide turned in Russia and the Red Army pushed the Whites back in Siberia. It became clear that there would be no business with Siberia, certainly none involving the Tsar’s gold which was being moved eastwards by Admiral Kolchak by train and about which McGarry and Romanovsky had been corresponding. Could it be that  Vladimir Baranovsky was sent to Omsk to discuss business with Admiral Kolchak?

Advertisement on back cover of Siberian Opportunities, Vol. II, No.7

According to Haskin, Michael Rumanov was sent to Los Angeles ‘as a consular representative, a  polite term for a salesman’ to sollicit advertising for Siberian Opportunities. Knowing that the couples Rumanov and Baranovsky made the house move to Los Angeles together, after having lived under one roof at 2600 Vallejo Street for only a year; knowing of Moussia’s stage and film ambitions; knowing even better than before (having read Haskin’s monograph) that the Romanovsky/McGarry team dreamed of turning Rescuing the Czar into a movie, I think that the two couples were sent to LA to prepare the ground for just such a venture, with “the girl from the Majestic” in the role of Tatiana. An old plan had been resurrected and amplified  (articles 12-14). I will go one step further: I suspect that it was one of the three, McGarry, Romanovsky or Rumanov, who wrote the glowing theatre review of Moussia’s debut in Los Angeles in November 1919 (article 19). There are remarkable similarities in style and terminology between that review and parts of Rescuing the Czar.

The Russian artist Ossip Perelma, graduated from the Imperial Academy in Petrograd, who called himself at times Count Ossip di Perelma, was a good portrait painter who liked to hobnob in high circles with politicians and generals. I was quite amused to find that, in an exhibition in Detroit in November 1919, the portrait of President Woodrow Wilson was joined by portraits of ‘Hon. George Romanovsky, Russian Consul to San Francisco’, ‘His Excellency, Boris Bakhmetieff (sic),  Russian Ambassador to the United States’, ‘Mrs. Ariandne Romanovv (sic)’. All members of the team that we have come to know.

Things turned sour in 1919 and 1920. Therefore, one of the aims the friends had with “Rescuing the Czar”, was to make the millions of dollars which had eluded them Siberia. However, in September,  the book was taken off the market and invitations to bid for film rights were canceled under pressure from high government levels, as we have seen. By the end of the year, Romanovsky was in serious financial trouble. In Los Angeles, Michael Rumanov asked for ever increasing amounts of money, ostensibly to finance his publicity campaign in Hollywood, but probably to be able to continue, in Los Angeles, his posh lifestyle in San Francisco of the year before. The last issue of Siberian Opportunities came out in January 1921.  The ambassador, Boris Bakhmeteff came all the way from Washington to San Francisco to put the Consulate’s house in order. Romanovsky’s pleas to Rumanov to return part of the money he had lent him fell on deaf ears.


Haskin writes that at the end of 1924, the consulate was closed and George Romanovsky and his wife went to New York. Some years later they moved to Chicago. In 1929, Romanovsky moved to Los Angeles and took up painting. His wife had divorced him. He died of cancer in September 1933, at the age of fifty.

In Moussia’s archive I have found two beautiful photos of her and Alexander Borovsky’s three-year old daughter Natasha, taken in 1927. Moussia has written on one of them, in green ink, in Russian: “To my American  dearest uncle Yurik [diminutive of George) from Natasha” and on the other one: “Do not cry, dearest auntie, I’ll come to New York, Natasha.” I think that these photos were sent to George and Goldie Romanovsky in New York and that Moussia got them back “address unknown”.  I will publish the photos, green handwriting and all,  in a later article.

We are now ready, having been well prepared during a long detour,  to get back to that December evening in 1921, when Sergei Prokofiev first met Moussia and Ariadna… (see article 3)

An example of a portrait by Ossip Perelma (1917)

 (to be continued)

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