"You can’t regret your fate, although I do regret my mother didn’t marry a carpenter."
November 28, 2011 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Growing up, she was a beloved celebrity in her home country. Thousands of girls were named after her. So was a bestselling perfume. But Josef Stalin's "Little Sparrow," his only daughter, (born Svetlana Stalina) defected to the United States in 1967. Upon arriving in New York, she promptly held a press conference that surprised the world, denouncing her father's regime. Svetlana became a naturalized US citizen, moved to Taliesin West, married an American, changed her name to Lana Peters, then returned to the Soviet Union in 1984, declaring that she had not been free "for one single day" in the U.S., only to once again return to America in 1986. She lived out her remaining days in a small town in Wisconsin. Mrs. Peters passed away from colon cancer on November 22nd, at the age of 85.

Mentioned in several of the above links: the 2007 documentary film, Svetlana About Svetlana. Trailer. More.

She wrote two bestselling autobiographies.

The Wisconsin State Journal article included 3 images.
posted by zarq (39 comments total) 88 users marked this as a favorite

 
this is utterly fascinating and full of things i didn't know.
posted by nadawi at 2:22 PM on November 28, 2011 [18 favorites]


Agreed. Well done, zarq!
posted by ocherdraco at 2:25 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks!

I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I spent nearly an hour trying to find information on 'Svetlana's Breath' perfume online, and only came up with a few measly articles that mostly joked about what it probably smelled like:
"Too many celebrity perfumes have already fallen by the wayside, not least Michael Jackson’s Heartbeat – which appropriately enough has been discontinued – and Lost in Showbiz’s all-time favourite celebrity scent, Svetlana Stalin’s Svetlana’s Breath, presumably advertised under the slogan “Feel Stalin’s Breath on your neck, as indeed an estimated 1 million Russians did shortly before being executed in the Great Purge."

...

"Anyone who pops a bottle of that into a woman’s stocking this week, thereby drawing parallels between their partner and the Soviet dictator, is a brave man who’ll probably spend the rest of the festive season in the shed with a Pot Noodle and a black eye."
I couldn't even find an image of the bottle, or an ad campaign! Google-fu fail.
posted by zarq at 2:33 PM on November 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Great post. Thank you. She always seems such a confusing character. If history is a flowing river full of twists and turns, constantly flowing and in flux, being written, rewritten, and over-written; Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Georgia on my mind [the man from the backwater who tried and tried to show his world that he could be more Russian than Russians]), a family that nearly immeasurably altered the course many times, so many radical changes in the flow stemming from one source.

What a fascinating figure from time.
posted by infinite intimation at 2:36 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Awesome! WOW. I love this kind of stuff. Should've saved it for December ;)
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:40 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


i've spent the last 20 minutes reading about her early life and then falling into a google/wiki hole about Olgivanna Lloyd Wright. and now i'm starting a wiki hole about Aleksei Kapler.
posted by nadawi at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


LIFE had a profile of Svetlana in 1967.
Once and once only did my father strike me, but immediately afterward he became apologetic and told me, "Now look, Svetlana, what you have done to me. You have made me behave like a beast."
posted by Knappster at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


And from the Sept. 15, 1967 issue, excerpts from her first memoir.
posted by Knappster at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Knappster, those are fantastic! Thank you!
posted by zarq at 2:53 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm confused. Taliesin West is a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright that was used by many of his architects. How did she move there?
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2011


Wikipedia has an explanation, but it's not properly cited.
posted by zarq at 3:07 PM on November 28, 2011


,
posted by timsteil at 3:18 PM on November 28, 2011


METAFILTER: utterly fascinating and full of things i didn't know.
posted by philip-random at 3:18 PM on November 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wow that's very interesting, thanks. In the '70's at The Evergreen State College, we had a visiting speaker in architecture who was of Russian heritage, and who had lived and worked for many years at Taliesin West, though I cannot recall her name. All I can think is ??? According to the Wiki article there were many Russian connections there.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 3:23 PM on November 28, 2011


For a life which was probably doomed from the start, she did fairly well.

Safe journey, Mrs. Peters.
posted by Capt. Renault at 3:32 PM on November 28, 2011


Frank Lloyd Wright's second (I think) wife was Russian. I assume that's the connection. The "small town in Wisconsin" link has an interview with her where she talks a little about that.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:38 PM on November 28, 2011


Let's be honest... svetlana was his only LEGITIMATE daughter. We are talking about an ex-gangster/bank robber and a known lothario here
posted by spicynuts at 3:41 PM on November 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm almost embarrassed to admit that I spent nearly an hour trying to find information on 'Svetlana's Breath' perfume online,

I hope it's only an "almost embarassed' -- I only wish I'd done something so interesting today.

This is a truly great post -- definitely one for the "how did I not know this?" file -- and also the "there's only been ONE movie about her?" file. The screenplay writes itself before I even clicked a link.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:53 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


. for Ms. Peters

And now for a random anecdote: On a trip to the grocery store when I was about twelve or so, I met a woman staying with a neighbor of ours. She was wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt and, as most young women are to a twelve-year-old heterosexual boy, quite striking. My mother offhandedly mentioned that she was Stalin's granddaughter. Obvious horseshit it seemed, especially coming from the woman who assured me that the heat tiles on the space shuttle were literally held on with dried Cream O' Wheat cereal. Especially unlikely for someone in Madison, Wisconsin of all places.

Given that the neighbor she was visiting was a friend and protege of Wright's who worked and studied at Taliesin... Dang. Myth confirmed.

Also, I'm pretty sure my Mother bought me a bratwurst on that trip to the store as well. Memories.
posted by stet at 3:54 PM on November 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


: .
posted by ShutterBun at 4:00 PM on November 28, 2011


I'm confused. Taliesin West is a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright that was used by many of his architects. How did she move there?

From the NYTimes article:

But she seemed to find new vibrancy in 1970, when she married William Wesley Peters. Mr. Peters had been chief apprentice to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright and, for a time, the husband of Wright’s adopted daughter.

Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Wright, encouraged the Peters-Alliluyeva marriage, even though the adopted daughter was Mrs. Wright’s biological daughter from a previous marriage. That daughter was also named Svetlana, and Mrs. Wright saw mystical meaning in the match.

The couple lived with Mrs. Wright and others at Taliesin West, the architect’s famous desert compound in Scottsdale, Ariz. There, Ms. Peters began chafing at the strict communal lifestyle enforced by Mrs. Wright, finding her as authoritarian as her father.
posted by peacheater at 4:01 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Clears that up! Very interesting.
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:06 PM on November 28, 2011


Wright's second (I think) wife was Russian

Third, and Serbian, actually, born in what is now Montenegro.

Taliesin West is a home built by Frank Lloyd Wright that was used by many of his architects.

Taliesin and Taliesin West are run by the Wright Foundation, which was in the hands of his widow Olgivanna in the 1960s and curiously like a cult or a commune, depending on your point of view.

Wright, who was originally from Richland Center (thus the siting of Taliesin), had a tumultuous life with many interesting sidebars; this connection, though posthumous, is not surprising in that context.
posted by dhartung at 5:21 PM on November 28, 2011


The thing with Stalin's children; apparently none of them were especially happy with him.

The oldest, Yakov, never got along with his father, at one point shooting himself over an argument involving his Jewish fiancée (when Yakov survived, Stalin said "He can't even shoot straight.") After Yakov was captured by the Germans during WWII, Stalin refused to trade a captured German for him, leaving his son to die in a concentration camp.

Stalin stopped visiting the next two, Vasily and Svetlana, after their mother died. Vasily ended up a chronic alcoholic and toward the end of his life was placed under house arrest after attempting to go to China.

Stalin never spoke with his presumed illegitimate child Konstantin. Konstantin was at one point accused of being an American spy and dismissed from the Communist Party.

So, yeah, Stalin was an asshole, even at home.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:07 PM on November 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I found references to a Soviet-era perfume called "Svetlana" here and here. I wonder if someone tried to look up dukhi ("perfume") in a dictionary and found the word dukh, which can be translated "breath," turning dukhi Svetlana "Svetlana perfume" into "Svetlana's breath."
posted by gubo at 7:04 PM on November 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wonder if someone tried to look up dukhi ("perfume") in a dictionary and found the word dukh, which can be translated "breath," turning dukhi Svetlana "Svetlana perfume" into

That's what I thought, too, because "Svetlana's breath", translated into Russian, sounds even odder than in English. Soviet products would generally have fairly straightforward names, nothing too fancy or weird. The most famous (I think) fragrance was called "Red Moscow", and that's the only one I can think of.
posted by rainy at 7:50 PM on November 28, 2011


Very interesting. I guess this is where Svetlana Tubes got their name.
posted by Slinga at 7:58 PM on November 28, 2011


Why? Svetlana is a pretty common Russian name.
posted by peacheater at 9:17 PM on November 28, 2011


Fascinating post zarq, thanks.
posted by arcticseal at 12:27 AM on November 29, 2011


I think I can help with the perfume.

Svetlana's Breath was renamed and marketed as Moscow Nights after Svetlana's relationship with Brajesh Singh. It is described as "spicy" and like "a petunia in heat." The bottle was packaged in a black and gold box.
posted by Houstonian at 5:13 AM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Spicynuts: eponysterical
posted by maniabug at 5:35 AM on November 29, 2011


Spicynuts: eponysterical

I don't get it. What does Stalin's promiscuity have to do with my username?
posted by spicynuts at 7:42 AM on November 29, 2011


This is an utterly incredible story. I think the most amazing part is how she completely dropped off the radar for 25 years, when her life story could have sold gazillions of books and an Oscar-winning movie.
posted by miyabo at 8:00 AM on November 29, 2011


Well, she did write two auto-biographies. Also, remember the McCarthy Trials? I'm sure not a lot of writers/directors/what-have-you wanted to step anywhere near that cesspool again, regardless of how calm the surface appeared after a decade or so. There are still scars. Seen any Hitler bio-pics lately?
posted by spicynuts at 8:17 AM on November 29, 2011


We are talking about an ex-gangster/bank robber and a known lothario here

At first glance, I read that as being a "known luthier." (Which would have been awesome..."Yes, Ivanovich, the bank robbery is on for tonight, but first...I simply must restring this lute before we proceed.")
posted by malocchio at 1:03 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's be honest... svetlana was his only LEGITIMATE daughter. We are talking about an ex-gangster/bank robber and a known lothario here

There are quite a few oddities about this statement. Firstly, there are no known records of other illegitimate children, so it's just rampant speculation. Secondly, he's not a known 'lothario'. Thirdly he wasn't a gangster, he was a revolutionary. Fourthly gangsters and bank robbers aren't known to have a predilection for extramarital sex that I'm aware of. Fifthly you seem to be trying to cast aspersion on his character by saying he's a gangster/bank robber, while missing, gosh I don't know, the deaths of tens of millions of russians under his totalitarian rule..
posted by wilful at 3:50 PM on November 29, 2011


I think spicynuts calls Stalin a bank robber because he organized the Tiflis bank robbery. And calling him a lothario might be in reference to his affair with a 13-year-old orphaned girl, Lidia Pereprygina which resulted in two illegitimate children (in addition to Konstantin). Also Alvasi Talakvadze, Ludmilla Stal, Natasha Kirtava, Pelageya Onufrieva, Serafima Khoroshenina, Stefania Petrovskaya, another orphan Tatiana Slavatinskaya, and Valentina Lobova. A lot of this is in Montefiore's award-winning Young Stalin.

He caused the death of thousands and organized a bank robbery and had lots of sex with lots of women.
posted by Houstonian at 4:49 AM on November 30, 2011


He caused the death of thousands

That's like saying Hitler caused the death of dozens.
posted by John Cohen at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tea with Stalin's daughter.
posted by Abiezer at 11:02 PM on December 2, 2011


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