In 1929, the Busch Circus toured France with a special programme featuring 31-year-old Russian lion-tamer and dancer Maria Rasputin as “daughter of the famous mad monk whose feats in Russia astonished the world.”
She of course was the daughter of the infamous Grigory Rasputin, a legendary monk who captivated the Russian Imperial family and before he was dramatically murdered by a handful of notables in December 1916.
Future generations got familiar with the name through a popular 1978 disco song by the German band Boney M, yet long before that during World War I, Rasputin had been the subject of much speculation and myth, both in the Russian press and beyond.
Reports varied but all of them were extremely negative, describing him as an evil hypnotist, a religious charlatan, a crook, and a rapist.
Maria Rasputin was eighteen when her father was killed and it wasn’t easy for her to dance on stage with actors poking fun at him in the most ridiculous of ways. Writing in her memoirs many years later, she confessed that after every show in France she would break down and weep at being forced into being part of a show that insulted her father so harshly.
She was doing it for the money – to help raise her little children - having been forced out of her country in disgrace after the 1917 revolution in her country, which had led to the abdication and eventual execution of Tzar Nicholas II and his entire family.
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The revolutionaries summoned her for questioning, asking about the royal family’s jewels, which she knew nothing about. Her story is an often-forgotten chapter of Rasputin’s life, and she would eventually settle in the United States where towards the end of her life, claimed that she too was psychic before her death in Los Angeles in 1977.
Although it’s been 107-years since Rasputin’s own death, he remains one of the most captivating and controversial figures of modern times, portrayed as recently as 2021 by Welsch actor Rhys Ifans in The King’s Man, an American-British action movie.
From peasant to the Imperial Palace
Born to a peasant family in 1869, Rasputin began his life as a wandering monk, despite having no affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the winter of 1904, he landed in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg, where he began befriending the Russian aristocracy. The Russian elite was enchanted with the supernatural, the abnormal, and mystical, which took Rasputin far in society.
In November 1905 the 36-year-old cleric met Tzar Nicholas II and his wife at the Peterhof Palace, where he was introduced as a “man of God.” They had a single child named Alexei who suffered from haemophilia and sometime in October 1906, Rasputin promised to heal him.