Actor, director, theatre manager, teacher and journalist. Born 16 January 1911 in Warsaw, where he also passed away on 2 February 1976.
Actor, director, theatre manager, teacher and journalist. Born 16 January 1911 in Warsaw, where he also passed away on 2 February 1976.
Kazimierz Rudzki in "Głos z tamtego świata" / "The voice from beyond" , 1961, photo by Polfilm/East News
He came from a family tied to the entertainment industry. His father, Bronisław, was a well-known manufacturer of gramophone records, an owner of a company distributing and selling music sheets, and a publisher. In the early 1920s, Bronisław Rudzki published an nonperiodical magazine entitled "Estrada", which featured lyrics from the most popular cabarets of the time.
Kazimierz Rudzki completed secondary school in 1929 and studied at the Warsaw School of Economics until 1932. His dissertation thesis was entitled "The music industry in Poland", obviously written in connection with his family traditions and Rudzki's work at his father's company. He preferred being actively involved in the making of art to a career in show-business of the time. In 1935 he was accepted to the newly-opened Directing Department at the National Institute of Theatre Art (Państwowy Instytut Sztuki Teatralnej – PIST), where he studied under the watchful eye of the most significant people involved in theatre art - and more broadly, art - of the decade, including: Leon Schiller, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Tymon Terlecki and Jerzy Stempowski.
As a part of his dissertation, he directed two acts of the play entitled "Żabusia" by Gabriela Zapolska, which was performed during a presentation of the works of PIST students on the stage of the Warsaw National Theatre in 1938.
His professional theatre career began at the Warsaw Powszechny Theatre, where he joined the team of Eugeniusz Poreda, touring peripheral districts of Warsaw. He directed shows, and he occasionally acted in them.
He took part in the September Campaign of 1939 and was captured during the Battle of Kock and spent the entire war in POW camps. Initially, he was kept in the Weilburg camp by the Lahn River and from August 1940 until the end of the war - in the Woldenberg (Dobiegniew) camp, famous for the artistic activity of its prisoners. Rudzki was one of its main initiators. Even during his short stay in Weilburg, he conducted a short art spectacle "Czarna kawa przy piwie" / "Black coffee and beer", whereas in Woldenberg he was one of the founders of the prisoners' theatre, which staged revues, musicals and dramas. Rudzki directed the play "Zemsta" / "Revenge" and supervised the creation of puppet shows. Undoubtedly, his stay at Woldenberg contributed to his directorial experience, but also provided him with the basis for the character of Turek in the famous film "Eroica" by Andrzej Munk (1958).
He returned to Warsaw in February 1945, where for a short while he worked at the Janusz Strachocki Drama School which was being established at the time, he soon left for Toruń. He is credited for playing a large part in the organisation of Teatr Ziemi Pomorskiej (the Pomorian Land Theatre, currently known as the Wilam Horzyca Theatre), where he held the position of a temporary director. He soon found himself in Łódź. In April 1945 he was appointed assistant director in a team creating the first releases of the Polish Film Chronicle.
This was a short episode in his life, and in the 1945/1946 season, Kazimierz Rudzki joined the crew of the Polish Army Theatre (Teatr Wojska Polskiego). This is where in December 1945 he prepared "The marriage of Figaro" by Beaumarchais, in which he very carefully presented the revolution theme, which was pointed out by critics working for communist-party publications of the time. He was also one of the creators of the Soldier's Home Theatre (Teatr Kameralny Domu Żołnierza). This stage was popular in Łódź and it was co-directed by Erwin Axer, Jerzy Wyszomirski, Michał Melina and Kazimierz Rudzki, it also formed the beginning of the Warsaw Współczesny Theatre, still open today. In 1947, he performed as Polidos in "Homer i Orchidea" / "Homer and the Orchid" by Tadeusz Gajcy, in that very theatre. Soon he also commenced his cabaret work, which gained him the biggest recognition and popularity.
He first appeared on stage as a master of ceremonies in December 1945, when he presented a concert at the Grand Hotel in Łódź, entitled "Wielka odwilż" / "The great thaw", where Mira Zimińska and Ludwik Sempoliński were expected to be the main stars of the event. The events took a different turn. His unique, humorous presentation style, conducted with a still facial expression which only intensified the comical effect, impeccable manners and a strong stage personality, have all resulted in, as Sempoliński recalled later: "the audience coming to see Zimińska, and leaving impressed by Rudzki". Undoubtedly, this opinion was also shared by the Warsaw audience during his guest performances of the Kraków 7 Cats cabaret. Rudzki made a guest appearance during these shows as the master of ceremonies.
He also performed at Syrena Theatre during his years in Łódź. He conducted famous satirical programmes, such as "Prawo do śmiechu" (1945), "Wgląd w rząd" (1947), "Nowe pro-rządki" (1948). During 1948-1954, after Syrena was transferred to Warsaw, he belonged to its artistic team and during 1950-1954 he took over as its director.
He acted in the Warsaw Współczesny Theatre from 1955 until his death (he also performed during the time when the troupes from Współczesny and the National Theatre were merged). His theatre experience is not particularly large - it comprises of around twenty roles, which however gained him popularity. Rudzki's acting style was very peculiar, based not so much on transformation, but on a certain "detachment effect", retaining one's personality in each role, therefore it was more about "telling the story of a character" rather than "becoming the character'.
Erwin Axer recalled:
He was a controversial person as a theatre actor. He had plenty of passionate followers and fans, he also had opponents, particularly within the acting environment, which saw him more as a talented dilettante than a professional actor. He was liked and respected, but often considered an eccentric who, having mastered a list of professions and activities, from time to time played at acting. I myself, being both his friend and director for years, casted him in roles that were perhaps too rarely suited to his wishes, intentions, ambitions and probably his abilities - I was ambivalent towards his acting.
He irritated me (...) with his atypical, desperately anti-acting method of working on a part, even during final rehearsals I refused to assign any acting traits to him (as did he), and invariably, during dress rehearsals, and even more so during premiers and shows, I would come to a conclusion that what is referred to as an actor’s ‘personality’, was in Rudzki’s case comprised of his original appearance, his eccentric, unique way of gesturing, his particular rythm – a staccato of slowing down and speeding up – an unmistakable humour, in fact, the entire Rudzki, with his intelligence, viewpoint, appearance and demeanour, overcame difficulties, victoriously made his way through failed attempts at adapting, losing himself in the role, exercised his right to being just Rudzki, despite directorial and acting usurpations, and as Kazimierz Rudzki he would win the hearts of the director and, what was more important, the audience and, what was even more difficult, his colleagues. (…) He belonged to the type of actors, who are nowadays seen too often in Poland, who only play themselves, or act using only themselves, but they do not possess the same assets as he did. They are not Rudzki.
Acting experts compared his style to the art of Alec Guiness, and Erwin Axer himself placed it close to the likes of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Louis Jouvet. Rudzki's behaviour both on stage and on screen certainly prompted such comparisons: a tall, asthenic silhouette, a slim face sporting a very large nose and narrow lips, skilful dosage of gestures, which could even be described as an asceticism of modes of expressions, all resulted in the slight twitch of the corner of his mouth, or the famous "Rudzki's double glance" (looking at a scene, object or partner twice, followed by a quick nod and a blink), making a huge, acting impact. It used to be said that when playing butlers, diplomats and intellectuals, Rudzki played people smarter than their surroundings, distancing themselves with their intelligence. Rudzki's comedy was described as "a system of understatements and analogies, with a double, not always comical, meaning", in the words of Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz.
His most renowned roles at Współczesny Theatre include the Butler in "Zaproszenie do Zamku" / "An invitation to the Castle" and Hieronimus in "Pierwszy dzień wolności" / "The first day of freedom", both from 1959), Knock, a deranged doctor from the play "Dr. Knock or the triumph of medicine" (1960), the Judge in "The resistible raise of Arturo Ui" (1962), the Doctor-Executioner in "Exit the king" (1963), Władysław in "Lekkomyślna siostra" (1971) - a role in which, according to Axer, Rudzki decided to abandon his style and played a deeply complex, psychological part, and the Husband in "Szczęśliwe wydarzenie" / "A fortunate event", 1973). His last role was that of the Master of Cermonies in "Gra", when he stood on the stage for the last time - it was November 1975.
During his work at the Współczesny Theatre, Rudzki never neglected his cabaret work. He performed in "Szpak" (1955), "Wagabund" (1955-1957) and with Jan Pietrzak in Kabaret Pod Egidą (1971-1974). He wrote his own dialogues, which were always carefully prepared. One of his famous sayings included: "improvisation needs to be extremely carefully prepared".
Viewers also remember him for his film roles. He starred alongside Irena Kwiatkowska in one of the first Polish series - "Wojna domowa" / "War at home", 1965), and the aforementioned part in "Eroica" was his cinematic debut. His most significant film achievements include the part of Askamitowski, a charlatan doctor in "Głos z tamtego świata" / "The voice from beyond", 1962).
He was also recognised among television viewers and radio listeners. He wrote many television and radio programmes, he was also involved with journalism and editorial work. For a number of years (from 1947) he was the editor of the sport page in a satirical weekly publication entitled "Szpilki". In 1958, a memoir on the subject of cabarets in Poland during the twenty-year period between the wars, entitled "Dymek z papierosa, czyli wspomnienia o scenkach i nadscenkach" was published, which he edited.
He also had a passion for teaching. He initiated the creation of a Stage Department at the Warsaw State Higher School of Theatre, which he was also the dean of (his students included Wojciech Pokora, Jerzy Połomski and Jerzy Turek) and during 1966-1969 he held the position of the dean of the Acting Department. He made history during the events of March 1968 when he defended students of the theatre school who were being persecuted by the communist government (these included Andrzej Seweryn). He was active in ZASP (Związek Artystów Scen Polskich / the Polish Stage Artists' Union) and he is remembered for his selflessness and commitment when faced with the most difficult issues.
He was famous for his peculiar sense of humour. Renowned theatre historian Zbigniew Raszewski reminisced on the visits made by Kazimierz Rudzki at the "Pamiętnik Teatralny" editorial office, during which Rudzki would display his meticulously gathered collection of gadgets related to Lenin, much to the amusement of the staff. It was Rudzki who was the author of the famous comment regarding the pompously celebrated twentieth anniversary of the People's Republic of Poland: "Twenty years have passed, like the crack of a whip". He also gave a legendary piece of advice to a fellow student at the Directing Department, who later became a renowned film critic, but whose hygiene left a lot to be desired. When the latter swore he bathed daily, Rudzki is said to have advised him, with an expressionless face and concern audible in his voice: "then perhaps you should change the water more frequently".
He battled a tumour during the last two years of his life. Erwin Axer describes his passing in the following words:
We said our goodbyes in summer, I left, and when I returned in autumn for one day, he phoned me in order to excuse his inability to play his part in 'Rzecz listopadowa' in Katowice. He was at a hospital. He was talking in a consistent, fairly content manner, but as I listened, I knew that he knew. And he knew, that I knew. He said a short goodbye, as he had always used to, regardless of whether it would be a goodbye for tomorrow, for a year, or forever.
- 1953 - "W cyrku" (documentary);
- 1958 - "Eroica" (feature film);
- 1959 - "Pan profesor" (documentary);
- 1962 - "X lat TV" (documentary);
- 1962 - "Głos z tamtego świata" / "The voice from beyond" (feature film);
- 1963 - "Pasażerka" (feature film);
- 1964 - "Awatar" (television);
- 1964 - "Pierwszy dzień wolności" / "The first day of freedom" (feature film);
- 1965 - "Trzy kroki po ziemi" (feature film);
- 1965-1966 - "Wojna domowa" / "War at home" (tv series);
- 1966 - "Lenin w Polsce" (feature film);
- 1966 - "Marysia i Napoleon" (feature film);
- 1967 - "Ja gorę" (television);
- 1967 - "Szach i mat" (television);
- 1967 - "Ślepy tor" (television);
- 1968 - "Mistrz tańca" (television);
- 1968 - "Poradnik matrymonialny" (feature film);
- 1968 - "Pożarowisko" (television);
- 1970 - "Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową" / "How I started world war II", part 2 (feature film);
- 1971 - "Dzięcioł" (feature film);
- 1971 - "Milion za Laurę" (feature film);
- 1971 - "Nie lubię poniedziałku" (feature film);
- 1973 - "Wielka miłość Balzaka" (tv series);
- 1974 - "Grażyna Bacewicz" (documentary);
- 1975 - "Polska gola!" (documentary);
- 1975-1977 - "Czterdziestolatek" (tv series).
- Kazimierz Rudzki (ed.): "Dymek z papierosa, czyli wspomnienia o scenkach i nadscenkach", Warsaw 1957.
- Erwin Axer, "Ćwiczenia pamięci", Warsaw 2006;
- Marta Fik, "35 sezonów teatralnych", Warsaw 1980;
- Jan Paweł Gawlik, "Twarze teatru", Wrocław 1963;
- "Historia filmu polskiego", Warsaw 1966-1988;
- Stanisław Janicki, "Film polski od A do Z", Warsaw 1973;
- Stanisław Kaszyński, "Teatr łódzki w latach 1945-1962", Łódź 1970;
- Ludwik Sempoliński, "Druga połowa życia", Warsaw 1985;
- "Słownik biograficzny teatru polskiego" T. 2, Warsaw 1993;
- "Teatr Współczesny w Warszawie", 1980;
- "Warszawska szkoła teatralna. Szkice i wspomnienia", Warsaw 1991;
- Zbigniew Wilski, "Polskie szkolnictwo teatralne 1811-1944", Wrocław 1978;
- Tadeusz Wittlin, "Ostatnia cyganeria", London 1974;
- "Wspomnienia o Kazimierzu Rudzkim", Warsaw 1981.
By: Tomasz Mościcki, November 2010. Translated by Roberto Galea, July 2011.