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“If I stop playing, then I can die.” Danuta Szaflarska spent 80 years on stage

She was born on February 6, 1915 in the village of Kosarzyska in the Nowy Sącz region, cut off from the rest of the world, but when she was nine years old, she moved to Nowy Sącz after her father died. Already as a teenager, Danuta Szaflarska liked to perform on stage, as a 12-year-old girl she made her debut in the famous amateur theater in Nowy Sącz with the role of Michaś in “Horsztyński”. As she herself admitted, at that time she did not even dare to dream of a professional career. Originally, she wanted to be a doctor, but was unable to attend medical school due to financial reasons, so she went to a trade school. She lasted two years, but had to resign – unfortunately, she fell ill with typhus.

How the professor cured Danuta Szaflarska of her complexes

During the Christmas break, which she spent in Nowy Sącz, her friends persuaded her to apply to the prestigious National Institute of Theater Arts in Warsaw. She managed to get in and finish her studies just before the war, in 1939. At first, however, she lacked self-confidence.

PIST graduates: Czesław Kulak and Danuta Szaflarska (1939) Public Domain, Wikimedia

Professor Aleksander Zelwerowicz cured her of her complexes in – it must be admitted – a very ingenious way. When Szaflarska was in her second year of studies, the lecturer accused her of having too small eyes and suggested that this “flaw” could ruin her future in the profession. Nervous Szaflarska then made him a real brawl. This is what she recalled years later:

I asked him what should I do then – cut my eyes?! Insert matches?! I started yelling at him and he… was overjoyed.

– He wanted to break my shyness in this way and saw that I could stand up for myself. And that meant I could be an actress. When leaving, Zelwerowicz advised her to always try to position herself during performances so that the light reflected from her eyes.

How Danuta Szaflarska survived the war

In 1939, she made her debut on the stage of the Teatr na Pohulanka in Vilnius. She took part in the Warsaw Uprising as a liaison officer, she also performed in underground theaters. At the same time, she was a young married woman and a mother – in 1944 her daughter was one year old. After the fall of the uprising through Pruszków, she and her family moved to Kraków, where after the end of the war she played in the Stary Theater (she divorced her husband shortly after the end of the war). In 2002, in an interview for “Rzeczpospolita”, the actress said:

I was lucky that none of my relatives were killed or injured, but when I remember the time of the Warsaw Uprising, it is difficult for me to understand today how we managed to survive this ordeal for 63 days. Turns out you can get used to anything. It gains some hardness over time.

Later, she performed at the Kameralny Theater in Łódź and all the most important theaters in Warsaw – including Contemporary, National and Dramatic.

How Danuta Szaflarska loved. “I’ve always been faithful to my husbands as long as we were together”

I did fall in love quite often, but it lasted a year, sometimes two, then it passed. (…) However, I was always faithful to my husbands as long as we were together

– that’s what Szaflarska said about her emotional life in an interview with “Zwierciadło”.

Danuta Szaflarska with her daughters and Ewa Kopacz at the meeting on the occasion of the actress's 100th birthdayDanuta Szaflarska with her daughters and Ewa Kopacz at the meeting on the occasion of the actress’s 100th birthday photo. Agata Grzybowska / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

In 1952, she married a Polish Radio announcer, Janusz Kilański. Two years later, their daughter Agnieszka was born. In 1959, Szaflarska’s second marriage also fell apart. Kilański left for Kira Gałczyńska. The actress said:

My relationships didn’t last because husbands fell in love and left me. At first I thought, ‘It’s tough, they’ll get over it.’ But when I saw that something more serious was being born, I divorced immediately, I did not tolerate marital triangles, although I experienced it very much. If there was a chance to fix the marriage, I’d wait it out. But it wasn’t.

How Danuta Szaflarska played a 9-year-old

As a film actress, Szaflarska played for the first time – and immediately the main role alongside Jerzy Dzieduszyński – in 1946 in Leon Buczkowski’s Forbidden Songs.

Danuta Szaflarska and Jerzy Duszyński in the play 'Meeting' and on the cover of 'Film' magazine No. 9-10 from 1947, published before the premiere of the musical film Forbidden SongsDanuta Szaflarska and Jerzy Duszyński in the play ‘Meeting’ and on the cover of the ‘Film’ magazine No. 9-10 from 1947, published before the premiere of the musical film Forbidden Songs Public Domain, Wikimedia

She mentioned in an interview with “Film” that she enjoyed this role mainly because she could finally eat her fill:

Those were the times. On the first day of test shooting, I got scrambled eggs with cracklings. I will never forget that taste and my happiness. We received very little compensation for this film. But it was enough to survive. After ‘Treasure’, for which I got a million, I was able to dress my whole family, because after the uprising no one had anything.

This role brought her popularity, but soon after she disappeared from the foreground on the big screen, because it was considered that her beauty did not fit the socialist realist model of a working woman. However, before that happened, she was on the cover of the first ever issue of Film magazine.

Cover of the first issue of 'Film' magazineCover of the first issue of ‘Film’ magazine Public Domain, Wiki Media

She didn’t like the photo, saying she looked “like a baby” even though she was 31 at the time. In an interview with journalists of this magazine in 2013:

I looked like this for a long time. It depends on the type of beauty. I could play children even in my 30s. Just after the war, I had the role of a 14-year-old girl in the play Theory of Einstein at the Stary Theater in Krakow. One day, a well-known critic, Julek Kydryński, came backstage, patted me on the head and asked: ‘How do you like a child in the theater?’. I replied, ‘Very much, sir,’ and curtsied nicely. The next day he came to apologize to me. I made him realize that was a great compliment. After that, we became very good friends. But it doesn’t end there. There was a play for children at the Stary Theater – Beks. The main role was played by a 9-year-old girl. It happened once that suddenly I had to replace her and the director gave me her role overnight. When I was walking in a stage costume among the children, one urchin tripped me. He smiled and asked, ‘Are you playing today?’ He got taken.

How Danuta Szaflarska loved life

In the 1980s, she became famous for her role as Michalina in Tadeusz Konwicki’s The Issa Valley. However, her career gained momentum only in the 90s. – That’s how life worked out. I existed on the screen only at the beginning of my career, and then only thanks to Dorota [Kędzierzawskiej – red.] and Filip Zylber. […] If it wasn’t for Dorota Kędzierzawska, I probably wouldn’t have been around for a long time – she said in an interview for “Film”.

Danuta Szaflarska and Dorota KedzierzawskaDanuta Szaflarska and Dorota Kedzierzawska photo. Iwona Burdzanowska / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

She made three films with Kędzierzawska: “Devils, Devils”, for which she won the Golden Lions for the best supporting actress, “Nic” and the famous “Time to Die”. The outstanding role of a lonely old lady brought her the Golden Lions (this time for the leading actress), the Eagle and the Golden Duck. Her role alongside Janusz Gajos in the television film “Yellow Scarf”, which is recalled from time to time, is also memorable. In 2012, a documentary about the actress entitled “Another World” premiered. “If I stop playing, then I might die,” she told him. Despite her advanced age, she was still professionally active. She played minor roles in films, performed in the theater. When in 2010 she got a job at Teatr Rozmaitości, she joked that it was because there was not much competition.

Many people emphasize to this day how warm and interesting a woman she was. She was interested in mountaineering, yachting and motoring. – In my “Book of Great Wishes” I would write down one thing – travels. Apart from dancing, this is my great non-acting passion. I’ve traveled a bit of the world. I marveled at the deserts of Israel, I was enchanted by Jerusalem. I have been dreaming of a trip to Africa for years, but I leave this one for the next incarnation – she said in one of the interviews.

Danuta Szaflarska died on February 19, 2017 at the age of 102. The legend of Polish cinema was buried in the Avenue of Merit of the Military Cemetery at Powązki in Warsaw.

Source: Gazeta


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