Larry K. & Lorna Collins > Books > Murder …They Wrote > Countess Elektra Rozanska

Countess Elektra Rozanska

By Larry K. Collins

Countess Elektra RozanskaYes, there was a real Countess Electra Rozanska.

Countess (she was always called "Countess") said 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 the first day we met, she agreed to work with me.

Her technique would be called "behavior modification" today. 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 Brynner. 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 the 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.

Her Filmography

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

2019 Update on Countess Elektra Rozanska

Prior to the 2009 publication of Murder…They Wrote, we attempted to locate living relatives for the countess. She had mentioned a daughter, but said they were estranged. Our search found nothing. However, a year later, we received a letter from one of her grandchildren, a retired doctor, and learned much more about the lady.

While she was a noted singer, dancer, and actress, both her name and royal title were made up. Born Electra Von Dolcke in Cincinnati in 1891 to Dr. Ludwig Von Dolcke and his fourth wife, she inherited her father's flare for the dramatic and exaggeration. He claimed to have been born in Iceland to unnamed royalty. Growing up, Electra firmly believed her father's stories of a royal background. He nicknamed her "Countess Von Dolcke."

The doctor doted on his eldest daughter and her singing ability, even sending her to Europe for a year of training. On her return, she began performing in local theaters and opera houses (although not as an opera singer). In 1914 she married Leon Rosinski, a talented pianist, the son of Polish immigrants. Her daughter, Eugenia, was born in 1915. During World War I, they entertained at military bases and appeared in fundraising concerts for war relief.

By 1921, she had reinvented herself. She became "Countess Elektra Rozanska," changing her married name from Rosinski and the "c" to "k" in her first name. After her divorce, she embellished her story to having married a Russian nobleman, who was killed during the war.

She used two different spellings of her last name. Rosanska is on her death records, but she used Rozanska professionally.

While living in Boston, the countess became known for her outstanding renditions of the "Star Spangled Banner," singing it at Braves games and political rallies. She actively lobbied congress to make the song the national anthem, which they did in 1931. She received the nickname "The Star-Spangled Soprano."

In addition to singing and acting, she said her most gratifying accomplishment was opening the "Rozanska Speech Center for the Deaf" in Pasadena, California. Her method, using lip reading and voice training, allowed the deaf to communicate clearly in the hearing world.

While Electra Von Dolcke may not have come from or married into royalty, she will always remain "Countess" to me.