Countess Elektra Rozanska
By Larry K. Collins
Yes, there was a real Countess Electra Rozanska.
Countess (she was always called “Countess”) was entitled to use the honorific since she had been married to a real Russian count. Early in her life, she’d worked as an opera singer and actress. In her later years, she continued to perform in an occasional movie, but spent most of her time helping children with speech problems.
When I was twelve, one of my teachers called me the worst stutterer he’d ever heard. After eight years with the affliction, I had practically stopped talking.
My mother read about the work Countess was doing in a newspaper article entitled, “She Breathes Them into Speech.” Since the story had drawn a great deal of attention to her work, she was not taking any new students. Mother was persistent. Countess finally agreed to meet me, but still insisted she couldn’t take on another case.
I’m not sure whether it was boyish charm, the challenge of the severity of my problem, or just an immediate connection, but she agreed that day to work with me.
Her technique would today be called “behavior modification.” And it was very like the process now commonly used for overcoming speech problems. At the time, speech impediments were believed to be psychological. The parents were blamed. Countess thought otherwise.
Within less than one year, Countess had me speaking confidently. It was nothing short of a miracle.
While I was working with her, she also began teaching those who were deaf from birth to speak normally. Having never heard the human voice, they had great difficulty learning the sounds and enunciation. Yet her students succeeded.
She was, as described in the book, a tiny person with “piercing eyes,” and a withering look, which could intimidate anyone. She was elegant and royal in bearing and attitude.
The film incident is true. It happened while I was studying with her. She appeared in The Buccaneer with Yul Brenner. The script called for her to slap him. For several takes, she gave him a ladylike tap on the cheek. The director then ordered her to hit him as hard as she could. So she did.
She received several souvenirs of that incident, including a caricature of her wearing boxing gloves and Yul with teeth flying. The director was saying, “Now, that’s more like it! Order more Novocain for Yul, and we’ll do another take.”
Unfortunately, as in this book, the scene was left on the cutting room floor.
Shortly before her death, I took my family to meet her. She was still erect and regal, although she was using a “walking stick.” I thanked her for the gift of my voice.
It was the only time I ever saw tears in her eyes. She replied, “I taught hundreds of students over the years. But you are one of the few who ever came back to thank me.”
Countess died on July 3, 1978 at eighty-six years of age.
This book is, in part, dedicated to this memorable lady who changed my life in ways I could never repay.
We have been in contact with a grandson of Countess Rozanska and discovered, to our amusement, that her real first name was Electra, her first married name was Rosinski (which is Polish) and that she changed the spelling and added the title herself! How dramatic, and how very like her!
|1. Summer and Smoke (1961) (uncredited)||Mrs. Anderson|
|2. From the Terrace (1960) (uncredited)||Mrs. Ripley|
|3. The Buccaneer (1958) (credited)||Party Guest|
|4. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) (uncredited)||Elegant Lady|
|5. A Double Life (1947) (uncredited)||Audience Member|
|6. Northwest Outpost (1947) (UK) (uncredited) aka End of the Rainbow||Noble Lady|
|7. The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) (uncredited)||Singer|