Famous Russian Americans

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Author: Mary Northrup
Date: May 2005
From: Cobblestone(Vol. 26, Issue 5)
Publisher: Cricket Media
Document Type: Article
Length: 845 words

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Russian Americans have made contributions to their adopted country in many arenas--from the arts and sciences to business, sports, and politics. Artist Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) (see the activity on pages 38-39), composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989), ballerina Natalia Makarova (1940-), actor Yul Brynner (1915-1985), and helicopter inventor or Sikorsky (1889-1972) are just a few. Read on for more.


George Balanchine (1904-1983), born in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, studied as a dancer, then turned to choreography. Immigrating to the United States, he founded the New York City Ballet and worked with the Metropolitan Opera, as well as in movies that featured dancing. Balanchine's work continues to influence the world of ballet today. Rudolf Nureyev (1938 1993) began his training in Russian folk dance before joining the Kirov Ballet Company. In 1961, he gained fame as the first dancer to defect from the U.S.S.R. He danced throughout Europe and the United States, in movies, on television, and on Broadway. Mikhail Baryshnikov (1948-), born in Latvia, also became a dancer with the Kirov. He defected to the United States in 1974 and joined the American Ballet Theatre. When Baryshnikov retired, he helped found a company that featured contemporary dance, which always had fascinated him. He, too, has appeared in films and on television.


Actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981) was born to Russian immigrant parents as Natasha Gurdin. She became famous in a number of movies, including Miracle on 34th Street as a child, Rebel Without a Cause as a teenager, and West Side Story as an adult. Kirk Douglas (1916-) was born Issur Danielovich Demsky in New York. He starred in numerous films, including Spartacus, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Douglas also directed several movies and has written some books. His son, Michael Douglas (1944-), won the Academy Award for best actor in the film Wall Street and has become an important producer of Hollywood films.


Born in the Soviet Ukraine, violinist Isaac Stern (1920-2001) moved to the United States before he was a year old. From a young age, Stern gave concerts throughout the country and on television. He founded the organization that became the National Endowment for the Arts. Irving Berlin (1888-1989), born Israel Baline in Siberia, immigrated to the United States with his family to escape the pogroms (see the article on page 14). As a teenager, Berlin earned money for the family by singing on street corners after his father died. He went on to write lyrics and music for Broadway and movie musicals that starred some of the biggest performers of his time. During his long life, Berlin wrote many classic songs, including "God Bless America" and "White Christmas".


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-), a Nobel Prize winner, is well-known in the United States for his novels and the time he spent living here after being forced to leave Russia. In the fields of science and science fiction, Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) stands out. First published as a teenager, Asimov went on to write many books, including I, Robot. Cathy Young (1963-), columnist for the Boston Globe, came to the United States in her teens. She has written articles and books, including Growing Up in Moscow, which is a memoir of her childhood in Russia.

Science and Business

Vladimir Zworykin (1889-1982) fled the Russian Revolution and became a researcher in the United States. He is considered the co-inventor of television. David Sarnoff (1891-1971) was the president of Radio Corporation of America (RCA) who gave Zworykin the backing he needed to perfect television. Sarnoff came to America from Russia as a boy and got his start as a telegraph operator. Sergey Brin (1973-) was born in Moscow and emigrated at age six. While working on his doctorate, he met Larry Page. Together, they developed a technology that eventually became Google, one of the most popular and powerful search engines on the World Wide Web.


Bella Abzug (1920-1998) was a lawyer and political activist. She served in Congress as a representative for New York from 1971 to 1977. Throughout her life, she was involved in many causes, including the women's movement, the environment, and equal rights.


Anna Kournikova (1981-), who began playing tennis when she was five, was encouraged by her parents, who are both athletes. She came from her native Moscow to the United States to train when she was 10. Kournikova plays singles and doubles, but probably is just as well-known for her advertising endorsements and television appearances. Ice hockey player Pavel Bure (1971-) now skates for the New York Rangers, after having played for the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers. As a boy, he played on teams in his native Moscow. Besides his career in the National Hockey League (NHL), Bure has played for Team Russia in the 2002 and 1998 Olympics.

Choreography is the art of creating and arranging dances.

Defect means to leave one's native country, usually because of political reasons

Mary Northrup is a librarian and freelance writer. She has written for COBBLESTONE, CALLIOPE, and APPLESEEDS.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A133774786