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Lolita and Cosmonaut
Yuri Gagarin and Lolita Torres
Every year in April we commemorate the glorious day of April 12, 1961. It was the day when Yuri Gagarin, the first man of the new space era, was brought to near-earth orbit by the Vostok-1 spacecraft. The flight lasted just a little over an hour and a half, but it turned Gagarin into a figure that has been admired throughout the world ever since. And the feat accomplished by Gagarin 60 years ago inspires us to recall the incredible connection of his story with the wonderful character from Argentina -†Lolita Torres, a singer and actress.
This story is told in Dear Lolita. Portrait of Lolita Torres, a book by†Mario Gallina, an Argentinean author, published in 2006. It describes how Soviet people, and especially the first cosmonaut, admired the great Latin American actress.
In 1954, The Age of Love (Spanish: La Edad del Amor) starring Lolita Torres was released in Argentina.
Copies of the movie were roaming the Spanish-speaking countries, and in 1955 they reached the USSR in an incredible way. Soviet films were very different from Argentine musical comedies. And The Age of Love was a real success.
Certainly, the audience felt a closeness to the actress due to her extraordinary charm, easy grace, cute antics, and all manifestations of a lively Argentinian temper. While acting, Lolita fell, kicked the doors, sang joyfully; she was always happy and loved by everyone. And the Soviet people immediately accepted and loved her, just like the Argentines, Spaniards, and many others. Therefore, all the movies with Torres appearing on the screens were all-time high in views; and all her records were sold out in the blink of an eye.
Soviet girls used to dress and do their hair "like Lolita", and when their daughters were born, they named them Lolitas. Guys dreamed of a woman with beauty alike, a fire girl full of dignity, a one-of-a-kind girl that no other guys have.
From stories about Lolita
We have received a report of how miraculously The Age of Love, a comedy, came to the screens of post-war Russia, which had just started climbing out of the ruins. It says that one official in charge of film distribution was sent by his superiors from the USSR Ministry of Culture abroad to purchase new entertaining movies that would brighten up the everyday working life of Soviet people. And the person in charge, whose name has sunk into oblivion, frankly fell in love with 23-year-old Lolita while watching the movies. So he chose The Age of Love, her fresh film, to be shown behind the iron curtain. Having been dubbed, the movie was released on the screens throughout the country and struck the male part of the population yearning for an easy life filled with tenderness and joy. It is reported that soon a stream of letters from grateful Soviet citizens addressed to Lolita flowed to Argentina...
The poster of The Age of Love
Yes, it was an era of love, enthusiasm, cordiality, openness, aspiration to reach unconquered distances, the sky, and even space!
A 21-year-old cadet of the First Military Aviation Pilot School in the city of Chkalov (currently - Orenburg) became one of the big fans of the Argentinian star. We are referring to Yuri Gagarin who was destined to divide our era into "before" and "after" just six years later.
When he became the first person to see the Earth from its orbit, a planet-scale celebrity, Lolita also found out of his existence.
In 1962, she was invited to the USSR Embassy in Buenos Aires, where a letter for her from Yuri Gagarin himself had been delivered. In that letter, he expressed his admiration and asked for an autographed photo.
Surprised and flattered, Lolita sent Gagarin the requested photo and asked for the same in return - a photo of the great hero. The response received from Gagarin made her tremble despite being accustomed to fame: "Dear Lolita, I am not a hero, but your admirer number one!" Gagarin needed to tell her something that neither she nor the whole world knew.
In his second letter, he shared that during the training to become a cosmonaut he had listened to her songs for hours and finally remembered them by heart. And in 1961, when he made the historic flight and became the first man in space, her songs "exploded in his heart, and he could not help humming them." And therefore, as he assured Lolita, it was her who became the first singer to fly into space.
The next year she was invited to the Moscow International Film Festival. On the opening day, answering questions, posing for photographers, she suddenly saw an elegant man who entered the hall. He seemed familiar to her. Ignoring everyone who wanted to greet him, Gagarin (and it was him) sent some kind of sensual wave in the direction where Lolita was standing.
Not noticing that her husband, Julio Cesar Caccia, was standing very close to Lolita, Gagarin came up, took her hand, slightly tilted his head and said in perfect Spanish:
– I am honored!
Lolita stood stock-still and barely managed to utter a few words in response...
When the meeting came to an end, she told to her husband without elaborating the meaning of her words:
- He is a barbaric churro ("handsome man", literally - "sweet donut")…
This is how Lolita’s emotions are described in the book by Mario Gallina:
“In 1962, through the mediation of the Soviet embassy in Argentina, I received a letter from Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut to fly around the Earth. He called himself a fan of mine and asked me for an autographed photo. I could not believe and even felt shy (confused) to receive such a letter from a global-scale hero. I expressed this in my reply letter, sent him my photo, and requested, in turn, to send me his. When I did this, I received an answer that I will never forget: УI'm not a hero at all. I'm just your admirer No.1", recalled Lolita.
УIn the second letter, he also wrote that during the preparation, concentration, and training required before the flight he listened to many of my records. He concluded the letter with a statement that deeply touched my heart and excited me to the depths of my soul: "So, the first music in outer space has been the one that sounded in my head and in my heart, which is your voice."
I was honored to shake his hand a year after this epistolary exchange when we were introduced to each other at the Moscow Film Festival,” said Lolita Torres.
Yuri GagarinТs photo with his handwriting: УTo Lolita Torres, famous actress, whose acting talent we admire. Yuri Gagarin. 9/II/1962.Ф
Lolita Torres was born as Beatriz Mariana Torres Iriarte in the suburb of the Argentinian city of Avellaneda on March 26, 1930. She had a creative family - father headed the drama theater, mother sang.
Our heroine revealed her dancing and singing talent at an early age, and circle she was called Lolita in the family from childhood. At the age of 5, she used to perform folk dances on stage as a part of her father's troupe, and at the age of 10, she was sent to the classical Spanish dance school.
Lolita Torres' "adult" artistic career started at the age of 12 - she performed in productions of Avenida, the theater of the capital. And the young actress made her film debut at the age of 13 - in 1944, she sang a song in Dance of Destiny and made her first gramophone record.
Then she studied singing and dancing at the Higher School of Music in Buenos Aires. And in 1951 she played her second role, the leading one, in Rhythm, Salt and Pepper, which brought Lolita fame in her homeland. The Girl's Servant was released in the same year. In 1952, Fire Girl, The (Niña de Fuego, La) brought Lolita even more success and became an all-time high in views. Throughout the 1950s, Lolita starred in popular musicals. The leading roles in The Best Girl in College (1953), Bridegroom for Laura, Love at First Sight, and others made her the star of the Argentinean screen.
The Age of Love (1954) is the movie that brought her world fame. Later Lolita recalled: УOf all my film roles (and there are about thirty of them), the most precious one for me is the role in The Age of Love. I always remember this movie with a special feeling. First of all, it is one of my most successful works. Secondly, this film was the very reason that they found out about me in such a distant country as the Soviet Union. Back then I was just starting my career and could not imagine that I would become famous outside my homeland."
She became, if not the most, then one of the most popular movie and stage stars of the 1960s in Spanish-speaking countries. Furthermore, Lolita was considered to be one of the most talented performers of songs from various Latin American nations. And Spanish folk songs, Argentine urban folk, and tango were the basis of her repertoire and her special love:
УI have always done the best to create my own repertoire. I always look for my own song. Sometimes I take some theme or idea from other performers, but I always perform the song in my own interpretation. Real singers need to have their own style, their own true colors,Ф said the singer. And then: УFor us performers, a song is the best way to express our feelings. And for me, it is, first of all, tango. It's like a tuning fork. It never lies."
Perhaps it was Torres who made tango popular in the USSR. Indeed, she is still considered to be one of its best performers in her homeland.
Later on, having returned from a tour to the Soviet Union, Torres recalled: УOnce, in Moscow, one of the journalists explained to me why they loved me so much in Russia. My movies, he said, were released during the post-war period when your country that had faced after so much suffering needed a warm, cheerful song, just like a droughty land needs a spring rain."
From stories about Lolita
In their memoirs about "Lolitomania" that captured many hearts in the USSR, eyewitnesses shared that she had literally been showered with flowers at concerts; she was struck by the Russian habit of presenting champagne; she "remembered the taste of Russian liqueur that had cured her of voice loss during her tour in Moscow for the rest of her life."
According to those who witnessed the glory of the Argentine prima donna, one war veteran was stuck in LolitaТs memory Ц he had presented her with his medal and a warm letter of appreciation. She would never forget actors of the Kirov Theater who gave her a luxuriant Russian dress with a kokoshnik. Later, Lolita often sang Russian songs to the Argentines in this very dress and kokoshnik.
From stories about Lolita
Renita Grigoryeva (a classmate of Shukshin and Gurchenko at the All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography) reported:
УAt one time I was the secretary of the Komsomol bureau of the production department. And Vasya (Shukshin) was in charge of the political area. The minutes of our meetings are now on display in the Shukshin Museum; all the time they provoke Homeric laughter of visitors. Here's an example I remember. After the screening of The Age of Love, an Argentinean musical film starring Lolita Torres, Lyusya Gurchenko began singing songs from it all day long. And, I must say, she did it well. And now there came the Case of Lyudmila Gurchenko imitating Lolita Torres. Vasya admonished her: "You are a Russian person, this Lolita Torres wonТt give you any good!" And Lyusya defended herself: "I sing what I want!" It was a sincere dispute Ц they both stuck to their points as it was their final stand. Shukshin demanded "capital punishment": to expel her from the Komsomol. But the bureau decided to УreprimandФ only."
Public reaction to The Age of Love was so great that the actress was invited to make a series of creative visits to the Soviet Land. The TorresТ first visit was to the Third Moscow International Film Festival in 1963.
Then she had six more, although other sources report about 14 visits and even 15 tours. In addition to Moscow and Leningrad, she visited Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia
Songs from LolitaТs films were often performed in Russian back then. "Student Song" ("Coimbra Divina") performed by Alexandra Kovalenko was especially popular.
Since the late 1960s, Lolita barely participated in filming. There, in the North (1972) was a drama where she had her last role. She mostly performed as a singer - on stage and in TV shows, and in theatrical productions. And the last time Torres came to the Soviet Union was in 1987.
From stories about Lolita
In August 1984, it was quite chilly in Leningrad - about +17, approximately the same weather as in winter Buenos Aires. So the singer felt quite comfortable in a luxurious warm fur coat.
The performance was given in the largest concert hall at that time - in the Yubileiny Sports Palace. All 7,000 tickets were sold beforehand.
Lolita Torres became popular in the Soviet Union in 1955 after The Age of Love, a musical film with her in the lead role had been released. The songs from this film transferred onto reel-to-reel recorders could be heard in every yard of the city. The audience was stunned by both the beauty of the Argentinean and her delightful voice.
Later, many Soviet singers performed her repertoire translated into Russian. And parents used to name newborn girls Lolitas after her. And this despite the fact that only a couple of films with her participation was purchased in the USSR.
While touring, Lolita Torres was accompanied by a small ensemble of Argentine musicians. She performed an extensive repertoire but always opened and closed concerts with the songs from The Age of Love that were loved by the Soviet audience the most.
By 1991, she recorded 68 long-playing albums, played thirty film roles, as well as many theatrical and television ones.
During her last ten years of life, Lolita suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and moved in a wheelchair. For that reason she did not receive any visitors anyone - she did not want to be seen and remembered as a sick person.
On August 20, 2002, Lolita Torres was awarded the honorary title of Outstanding Citizen of Buenos Aires by a special legal act of the Metropolitan City Hall.
And at the end of August, her health condition deteriorated greatly, Lolita was transferred to the intensive care unit of the Spanish Hospital of Buenos Aires, where she died due to cardiac arrest on September 14, 2002, at the age of 72.
Lolita Torres is buried in the La Chacarita Cemetery.
This article had been prepared by the editorial team of PAX RUSSIKA