Mira Zimińska-Sygietyńska was an actress, singer, director, pedagogue, and head of artistic groups. She was born on 21st February 1901 in Płock and died on 26th January 1997 in Warsaw.
Aktorka, pieśniarka, reżyserka, pedagog, dyrektor zespołów artystycznych. Urodziła się 21 lutego 1901 roku w Płocku, zmarła 26 stycznia 1997 roku w Warszawie.
The exact date of her birth is questionable. The artist admitted unofficially that she was really born in 1895. Her actual name was Maria Burzyńska. She came into contact with the stage for the first time in her early years – her mother worked as an usherette and barmaid in Płock's theatre. So did her father – he was a stage hand and later a stage decorator. The theatrical initiation of the future celebrity of Warsaw's theatres and cabarets took place in her hometown's theatre.
She debuted at the age of seven with a small role in Gabriela Zapolska's Four of Them, where she played Stasia. Owing to the successful debut, she was given a role in Tadeusz Rittner's In a Small House, then she also played in Stanisław Wyspiański's The Wedding, which was staged not only in the theatre in Płock but also in the neighbouring cities during a tour. Soon she revealed a singing talent – as a teenager, she performed with the choir of Płock's cathedral. In this early period of her career, she also adopted the name of Mira, which she found more ‘poetic’. As she mentioned, she got the idea from a love story for teenagers.
Jan Zimiński, her first husband, was a son of a Płock organ maker who led the orchestra of the local theatre. However, the marriage was an unhappy one and when Jan Zimiński started working as a bandmaster in Radom's theatre it became a fiction. Eventually the couple split in 1920.
The young aspiring actress quickly found her way to Warsaw, and there, at the age of eighteen, she made her debut in one of the most famous literary theatres, which were then a fashionable kind of entertainment. It was the Miraż Theatre, located on the corner of Świętokrzyska and Nowy Świat Street. Zimińska had the opportunity to meet the celebrities of the Warsaw stage. She performed in, among others, the farce Intendent w Opałach (editor's translation: Intendant in a Pickle) and in the operetta The Csárdás Princess.
However, she owed her greatest fame to another theatre – the legendary Qui Pro Quo, established in 1919 on Senatorska Street. As she later recalled – her engagement in Qui Pro Quo was an idea of the architect and scenographer Tadeusz Sobocki, one of the co-founders of the theatre. She appeared on this stage for the first time at the end of August 1920 in the revue W Godzinie Cudu (editor's translation: In the Hour of Miracle), whose premiere took place only two weeks after the famous battle of Radzymin – where the young Polish state was triumphant and the Soviet Russia defeated. She was associated with this theatre (with some breaks) until the end of its existence in 1931. Zimińska performed in Qui Pro Quo not only as an actress – she also sang and many of the songs she performed became hits. Occasionally she also worked as a compere, replacing the legendary Fryderyk Járosy, and debuted in this role in March 1925 in the legendary revue Hallo! Ciotka! (editor's translation: Hello! Aunt!). In Qui Pro Quo, Zimińska developed her distinctive style, characterised by a mocking attitude to the character she played. Her great vis comica as well as acting and dancing talent earned her the nickname of Chaplin in a skirt.
Mira Zimińska soon became the darling of the Warsaw elite with all their foibles, hence the numerous roles of fashionable ladies from the upper circles, parodied in sketches and songs written for her. She had a long-term emotional relationship with Marian Hemar, who was her 'personal' writer. Zimińska was one of the highest grossing stars of Warsaw theatres and quickly get to the top of the best-earning Polish actresses. She advertised various luxury goods: furs, perfumes, and… cars. She was one of the first Polish motorists, driving such luxury machines as Mercedes or a red Bugatti cabriolet, which was famous throughout Warsaw.
Her brilliant intelligence, sharp tongue and instant retorts quickly made her a favourite of Warsaw writers and intellectuals. Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński was her admirer, and before the war she enjoyed a sincere friendship with Jerzy Stempowski. Zimińska also tried her hand at journalism. In 1934 she edited her own supplement to the popular journal Kurier Poranny, called Duby Smalone (editor's translation: Gibber-gabber).
In the early 1930s, Zimińska broadened her artistic horizons. She performed in famous literary theatres (among others in Banda and Cyrulik Warszawski), but the big stage attracted her more and more. In 1929, on the stage of Polski Theatre in Warsaw, she successfully played Mazie in Artists by Arthur Hopkins and George M. Waters remade by Marian Hemar and directed by Karol Borowski. She played alongside such great celebrities as Stefan Jaracz and Maria Modzelewska. Her performances impressed even the most demanding reviewers – Antoni Słonimski was charmed by her role in John Ervine's The First Mrs. Fraser in Mały Theatre. In 1932, Zimińska masterfully played the title character of Gabriela Zapolska's Miss Maliczewska, directed by Stanisława Perzanowska in Ateneum Theatre.
Zimińska's role of Juliasiewiczowa in The Morality of Mrs. Dulska directed by Perzanowska for the inauguration of the ephemeral Aktor's Theatre in 1934 was accompanied by similar admiration. Her excellent sense of the style of the era, sophisticated way of conducting a dialogue, lightness and accuracy of every gesture gained Zimińska a dominant position on the stage. She played one of her finest roles a few months later in Ateneum – she portrayed Madame Sans-Gene in Victorien Sardou's comedy, directed by Karol Benda. Again, she was accompanied by Stefan Jaracz who played Napoleon.
Before the outbreak of the war she performed in two literary theatres: Małe Qui Pro Quo – founded in 1937 by the former head of Qui Pro Quo and performing in the famous Ziemiańska Cafè, and later Ali Baba Theatre opened in 1939. She played in three programs, including the satirical revue Pacts and Facts, staged on 2nd September.
Zimińska was also a popular film actress – although her cinematic achievements are not as numerous as those of other artists of her time. Her cinema debut was an extraordinary film. It's All Spinning – Danny Kaden's film from 1922, defined as a 'cinema revue' – was an attempt to combine cinema with live acting theatre. Zimińska took part in this formal experiment with, among others, Karol Hanusz. Using today's terminology we could say that she was a pioneer of multimedia culture, several dozen years ahead of nowadays theatre productions, where video projections are very popular. Her pre-war film career involve the times of the development of silent cinema, but also the first Polish film productions accompanied by sound – the co-called 'sounders'. She successfully performed, playing and singing, in musical comedies directed by Michał Waszyński, Henryk Szaro, Konrad Tom and Mieczysław Krawicz.
The World War II period was the most controversial period of her life. She was arrested in 1942 and imprisoned in the Pawiak Prison. After her release, Zimińska performed in the so-called 'public theatres' under the supervision of the Propaganda Department of the Warsaw District – a Nazi institution, controlling the official Polish cultural life in the General Government zone. She performed, among others, in the public theatre Złoty Ul at Nowy Świat 19 Street. Its artistic head, Jerzy Boczkowski, was the prior Qui Pro Quo director. Those performances were – as witnesses claim – the price of her release from the Pawiak (she owed it to the efforts of her husband and Adolf Dymsza). During the Warsaw Uprising, she performed on the barricades of Warsaw with great dedication, giving recitals for wounded soldiers in insurgent hospitals. Nevertheless, the accounts that appeared right after the war created extremely negative image of her attitude during the occupation.
Positively verified by the Committee of the Association of Polish Artists in 1947, she played Kamilla in The Soldier of the Queen of Madagascar by Dobrzański, a show staged in the Musical Theatre of the Polish Army House, directed by Janusz Warnecki. This role was a great success, but at the same time her farewell to the stage. She left the theatre at the pinnacle of her career. The reasons behind this decision are still the subject of speculations of theatre historians. Perhaps it was connected with the unclear events of the wartime.
A new artistic period began in the life of Mira Zimińska. In 1948, together with her husband Tadeusz Sygietyński, she founded and run the famous State Folk Group of Song and Dance 'Mazowsze' in Karolin near Warsaw. The group gathered country youth with music and dancing talents. After Sygietyński's death in 1955, until her own death she was the artistic leader and director of the group. 'Mazowsze' enjoyed a major success and travelled with their performances almost all over the world. The band visited over forty countries, giving nearly three thousand performances watched by about fifteen million viewers.
Although after the war Mira Zimińska bade farewell to the theatre, several years later her acting craftsmanship was recorded. Persuaded by Jerzy Wasowski, and accompanied by the instrumental group conducted by him, she recorded ten of her pre-war hits, mostly with Marian Hemar's lyrics. The recording took place in 1958 in the National Concert Hall, which was newly erected from the ruins.
In 1981 Mira Zimińska was perpetuated in a documentary film.
The post-war activity of the artist was honored with numerous awards: the First Degree State Award, the Commander's Cross with the Star and the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta as well as the Order of the White Eagle. On the initiative of the Board of the Scientific Society of Płock, in 1985 the city authorities granted her the title of Honorary Citizen of the City of Płock.
The actress wrote two autobiographical books in her later years.
She died in Warsaw. She was buried at the Municipal Cemetery (former Powązki Military Cemetery) with her husband Tadeusz Sygietyński. Their joint work – 'Mazowsze' – exists to present day.
Originally written in Polish by Tomasz Mościcki, June 2011, translated by Marcin Gozdanek, Aug 2018
- 1922 – It’s All Spinning (Wszystko się kręci)
- 1924 – The Thing That No One Talks About (editor’s translation; Polish title: O czym się nie mówi)
- 1926 – The Thing That No One Thinks About (editor’s translation; Polish title: O czym się nie myśli)
- 1930 – To Syberia (Na Sybir)
- 1933 – Love is for Everyone (Każdemu wolno kochać)
- 1935 – Love Manoeuvres (Manewry miłosne)
- 1936 – Daddy Gets Married (Papa się żeni)
- 1936 – Ada! Don’t Do That! (Ada! To nie wypada!)