Polish Actors and Actresses on Stamps

This article refers to the series entitled “Ludzie kina i teatru” (“Personalities of Cinema and Theater“), issued by the Polish Post yearly since 2012. To date, seven such series were issued. New issued are already announced in the release plans for 2019 and 2020.

The series of stamps are brought together by structure: each series contains three individual stamps, as well as a minisheet featuring the respective three stamps, but also by imagery: all stamps have a glam/vintage look that makes them really appealing. The actors and actresses chosen to illustrate the series are all pioneers of music, dance, theater, cinema, radio and TV and most of them have been active in the interwar period. Each series contains both actors and actresses (two actors and one actress in a series in five year sets, two actresses and one actor in two year sets).

What I find interesting, except for the educational potential of the many names selected for the series, is the fact that many of these personalities are not only sacred monsters of the stage, but also they have intriguing life stories: of romantic relationships, of career succes, but also of heroic merits and of mysterious life events. I tried to select some of the biographic information about each of the featured actors and actresses below.

The 2012 issue

The three personalities chosen for the first issue of 2012 were: Aleksander Żabczyński, Jadwiga Smosarska, and Eugeniusz Bodo.

Aleksander Żabczyński [Bożydar Aleksander Żabczyński, 1900-1958] was a very popular theater actor, active between 1926 and 1941. During WWII, he served as second-in-command of an artillery battery. After the war, he returned to become one of the best-known Polish radio actors.

Jadwiga Smosarska [Jadwiga Filipina Smosarska, 1898-1971] is often referred to as the biggest star of the interwar Polish cinema. Active between 1919-1939, she was given always cleverly chosen roles, in which she put a lot of theatrical talent. She left Poland for the US, where she lived until 1970, renouncing her very promising career. She spent the last year of her life in Poland.

Eugeniusz Bodo [Bohdan Eugène Junod, 1899-1943] was a truly multilateral talent: singer, dancer, director, actor and model of Swiss-Polish origin. He played in some 30 movies and is one of the most recognizable figures of the interwar cinema. He was the owner of Café Bodo, an artistic café where many fellow actors worked during WWII, while observing the guild’s ban on acting for German audiences. In 1939 he attempted emigration to the US, but was intercepted by the NKVD who found him suspicious of espionnage (being mislead by the fact he spoke fluent Russian and held Swiss citizenship), then was deported to the gulag of Arkhangelsk, where he starved to death.

The 2013 issue

Featured on the 2013 issue: Helena Grossówna, Mieczysława Ćwiklińska, and Adolf Dymsza.

Helena Grossówna [1904-1994] was active as theater and movie actress between 1935-1960. During WWII, she was involved in the Warsaw Uprising, fact that leads to her incarceration in concentration camps (Gross-Lübars and Oberlagen). Between 1948 and 1960 she devoted herself to theater, being commonly associated with the Syrena Theater in Warsaw. She was awarded several military insignia for her wartime underground activity, including the Polish Cross of Valor.

Mieczysława Ćwiklińska [Mieczysława Trapszo, 1879-1972] made her debut in 1900, aged 21. During WWI she toured France and Russia, later on settling in Warsaw where she engaged in theater, vaudeville, music recording, and where she made her movie debut at the age of 54. During WWII she observed the ban on acting from the Polish Actors’ Guild, and worked as a waitress at Café Bodo. She was married three times. Her third husband was Marian Steinsberg, a known book publisher of the interwar period, who published among others the works of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. She divorced Steinsberg in 1939, and he tried to emigrate to Switzerland with a forged passport. He was captured by the Germans and died in a concentration camp. After the war she continued her acting career in the theater, most notably in Alejandro Casona’s play “Trees die standing tall“, which she went on stage with more than 1500 times. Shortly before her death, the theater community organized her 70th jubilee on stage in the Lublin theater Teatr im. Juliusza Osterwy.

Adolf Dymsza [real name Adolf Bagiński, 1900-1975] is even today remembered as the King of Polish Comedy. Andrzej Wajda considered him a symbol of pre-war Polish cinema. He debuted in silent movies.
During the German and Soviet invasions of Poland, Dymsza did not observe the Actors’ Guild ban on acting and worked in several German-operated cabarets in Warsaw, which was frowned upon by many of his fellow actors. However, after the war, it was revealed that during this time he helped save several Poles from the hands of the Gestapo and kept in hiding in his apartment a Jewish actor.

The 2014 issue

For the 2014 issue, the following personalities were selected: Tola Mankiewiczówna, Antoni Fertner, and Loda Halama.

Tola Mankiewiczówna [Teodora Raabe, 1900-1985] was one of the most popular singer-actors of the interwar period, even if today many of her recordings, destroyed during WWII, were never recovered. She studied at the Conservatories of Warsaw and Milan, and started a musical career interspersed with theatrical and filmographic roles in Poland and abroad. Her legacy includes several classical Polish musicals, which have not lost their appeal even today.

Antoni Fertner [Antoni Dezyderiusz Fertner, 1874-1959] is undoubtedly the most prolific Polish actor of the 20th century, known in at least 500 theater and movie roles. He set up with Mieczysława Ćwiklińska a comedy series. Just like Adolf Dymsza, he continued acting during WWII, which caused his disgrace after the war, being then limited to smaller, provincial roles.

Loda Halama [Leokadia Halama, 1911-1996] was a Polish dancer and actor. Her first appearences were connected to the group Halama Sisters, where she, her mother, and her three sisters Zizi, Punia, and Ena danced and often sang. As a solo dancer-singer she toured France, the US, and Japan. She is also often remembered for her tumultuous personal life, having been married 5 times.

The 2015 issue

Jerzy Pichelski, Hanka Bielicka, and Aleksander Zelwerowicz were the three personalities chosen for the 2015 issue.

Jerzy Pichelski [1903-1963] was a theater and movie actor, who has played the main masculine role in several movies. During the occupation of Warsaw he declined acting, and just as many actor fellows worked as a waiter in artistic cafés and got involved in underground resistance activities. After the war, he resumed his activity in the theater, and died on scene, during a rehearsal.

Hanka Bielicka [Anna Weronika Bielicka, 1915-2006] is the grande dame of Polish cabaret and theater, known for several satirical roles, and some 20 movie and TV appearances. At the age of 87, she recorded a studio album entitled “Kazali mi śpiewać” (“And they ordered me to sing“).

Aleksander Zelwerowicz [1877-1955] is one of the sacred monsters of Polish theater and cinema. In addition to acting, he was active as an acting professor. During WWII he helped Leon Feiner, the director of Council to Aid Jews “Żegota“, fact for which his family on his behalf in 1977 the award “Righteous Among the Nations“. Today, several streets in Polish cities bear his name.

The 2016 issue

In 2016, Franciszek Brodniewicz, Elżbieta Barszczewska, and Tadeusz Fijewski were selected for the series of personalities of theater and cinema.

Franciszek Brodniewicz [1892-1944] was a movie and theater actor, known before WWII as the main ‘lover’ figure on stage and on screen. During WWII he refused to play in the Nazi propaganda movie “Heimkehr“, which depicted Poles in a negative light. During WWII he helped a Jewish friend, Rachel Adler, to hide. He died during the Warsaw Uprising.

Elżbieta Barszczewska [Elżbieta Maria Barszczewska-Wyrzykowska, 1913-1987] is known for minor roles in the interwar period. During WWII she refused to play, working as a waitress at Café Bodo. During this time she became involved in underground resistance, being arrested by the Germans in the case of the murder of Igo Sym case. Igo Sym was an Austrian-Polish fellow actor, known for his collaborative, pro-Nazi activities during WWII. After war, she did not return to cinema, however, she was active on theater stages until 1981, for an impressive 47 year career.

Tadeusz Fijewski [1911-1978] included in his career theater, movie, radio, and TV. He started his career early, aged 10, and continued it until WWII with various roles. During WWII he was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau. After the war, he is remembered for many singular roles, especially the TV appearances in “Peasants” and “Days and Nights“, classical historic movies.

The 2017 issue

Mieczysław Cybulski, Ina Benita, and Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski were the personalities chosen for the 2017 issue of this series.

Mieczysław Cybulski [1903-1984] studied acting in Moscow, until he emigrated to newly founded Poland in 1918. In the 1920’s and 1930’s played in several movies, being often remembered for his romantic feats. He interrupted his cinematic career, enlisting in the marine. After WWII, he emigrated to the US, where he managed the restaurant “Old Warsaw” in Texas until his death.

Ina Benita [Inna Florow-Bułhak, 1912-1984] had a short career in the 1930’s movies, nevertheless, her charisma and life story remain emblematic in Poland. During WWII she was involved in a relationship with an Austrian Wehrmacht officer, and due to Rassenschande purity laws she was imprisoned. Freed in 1944, she is reported dead during the Warsaw Uprising. However, recent accounts from 2018 show that she survived, and together with her partner, Hans Georg Pasch, emigrated to France. There she met the American Lloyd Fraser Scudder, with whom she spent 10 years in Marocco in a US military base, and then from 1960 until her death she lived and worked in the US. Polish writer Marcin Szczygielski created an alternative life of Ina Benita in his book “Poczet królowych polskich” (“Fellowiship of Polish Queens“).

Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski [1880-1943] is an early example of Polish star of and cinema, active since 1902 and until shortly before his death. He acted main roles in several movies each year, which lead to an impressive career, which served as an example to many of his younger fellow actors. He was known for many romances, many of which ended tragically: his first wife died of a heart attack, the husband of his second wife committed suicide during the divorce that preceded their marriage, his second wife then becoming a morphine addict. His death is reportedly due to his second wife – who, during WWII was involved in extortion from families of Poles arrested by the Germans, to whom she promised their release. Due to this, both she and her husband were sentenced to death and executed by the Polish Underground.

The 2018 issue

In the most recent issue of 2018, Stefan Jaracz, Maria Bogda, and Adam Brodzisz were represented on stamps. Starting 2018, the minisheet accompanying the 3-stamp set is no longer available to purchase, but is made available by the Polish Post only to subscribers. The 2018 series is also the first one in which a couple of actors is presented: Maria Bogda, and Adam Brodzisz.

Stefan Jaracz [1883-1945] was a Polish actor and writer, founder of the Ateneum theater in Warsaw. He is remembered for roles in which he played often simpletons. All his life he was connected on stage and in his personal life with Juliusz Osterwa, one of the most known theater directors, with whom he shared a longlasting friendship. During WWII, he was arrested, just like Elżbieta Barszczewska, in connection to the murder of Igo Sym, and deported to Auschwitz. He returned from the concentration camp in bad health, and died soon due to consumption.

Maria Bogda [Janina Kopaczek-Brodzisz, 1909-1981] was an actress, often remembered as “the most beautiful Pole” of the cinema, in fact she won a beauty contest organized by the prestigious “Ilustrowany Kuryer Codzienny” (“Illustrated Daily Currier“). Just like her husband, Adam Brodzisz, she did not find employment in cinematic roles after WWII, and worked together with her husband in the theater, then emigrating to the US.

Adam Brodzisz [1906-1986] started his acting career at the age of 27, following a contest for photogenic male figures. He played in movies in the 1920’s and 1930’s with moderate success. After WWII he did not return to cinematic roles, but instead tried his hand at theater. Together with his wife, Maria Bogda, while on an acting tour in 1961, decided not to return to Poland, but stay in the US. There he farmed chinchilla and worked as a computer designer until his death.

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Stamps featured in post: 21; Period: contemporary (2012-2018); Pricing: low; Availability: earlier issues not readily available. Minisheet from 2018 available only with a subscription from the Polish Post philatelic services.

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