One of the most remarkable comedy actresses of Polish theatre and cinema. She was born on 1st January 1879 in Lublin and died on 28th July 1972 in Warsaw.
Her actual name was Mieczysława Trapszo. She was born into a famous theatrical family. From her early years she was visiting provincial theatres with her parents. She spent her youth in Poznań, where she studied for eight years in Anastazja Warnka's finishing school. She graduated in 1897. Two years later she moved to Warsaw and started running a fashion house. Within that period she was taking acting lessons from her father, who then introduced her to the stage. In 1900, under the stage name Gryf Ćwiklińska, she played Helenka in Big Fish by Michał Bałucki in Warsaw's Ludowy Theatre, where her father, Marceli Trapszo worked as a director. Then she also played Zofia in Zrzędność i przekora (editor's translation: Crustiness and Perversity) by Aleksander Fredro.
In 1901, she was employed by Ludwik Śliwiński at the troupe of farce and operetta in the Warsaw Theatre Directorate. As the actress had almost no stage experience, she probably owed the engagement to personal connections. She played on the stage of Nowości Theatre. She debuted under the surname Ćwiklińska (the maiden name of her grandmother Anna Trapszo) as Kasia in Fredro's comedy Quick, What is Going On!, staged under a changed title Jejmość burmistrz (editor's translation: Lady Mayor). She gained favourable reviews and was offered to perform in Warsaw for a very low fee. This was an opportunity to learn the stage craftsmanship in a well-knit farce troupe. She played alongside, among others, her mother Aleksandra Trapszo, Honorata Leszczyńska, Helena Bogorska and Michalina Łaska. Ćwiklińska dreamed of performing in dramas, but under the rule of authoritative Śliwiński she could only play in farce comedies, which back then were immensely popular in Warsaw. She played gullible, sentimental and silly characters of betrayed wives, maids and cocottes. She performed in very undemanding repertoire, which was often criticised for the lack of taste, shallowness and triviality. Although the audience and critics appreciated her appearance, grace and quick-wittedness, she was not perceived as equal of the stars of that time. Even though the reviews were getting better and better, she somewhat fell behind the troupe. With time, the audience started to admire her honesty, ease, natural temperament, sense of humour and the ability to give her characters an unexaggerated piquancy. At the same time, it was noticed that Ćwiklińska's acting is well-balanced and unconventional. The reviewers wrote that she distanced herself from her characters and avoided unnecessary foolery. Her scenic temperament was more suited to comic, conversational and sophisticated roles. With her flawless diction, she played outstandingly in this type of performances. Ćwiklińska performed with the Warsaw's farce troupe until the end of 1910, and at that time she already was a star.
Ćwiklińska dreamed of performing in opera and operetta. She began taking singing lessons from Professor Rybaczkow, probably in 1903. In 1907-1908 she lived in Paris, where Professor Giuliani trained her soprano. After returning to Poland, she continued to play in farce repertoire, including, among others, a very well received role of Joanna in Gréssac's Kładka (editor's translation: The Footbridge; original title: La Passerelle). She also managed to perform in a few operettas, including the roles of Christine in Georg Jarno's The Forester's Daughter, Adele in Johann Strauss' The Revenge of the Bat, Julie in Franz Lehar's Count of Luxembourg. In 1909, she also sang arias from operettas in Warsaw's literary cabaret Momus, founded by Arnold Szyfman. The critics appreciated her well-trained voice and unquestionable acting abilities, demonstrated in the solo parts. However, the actress wanted to perform in more ambitious roles, and also in the opera. In 1911, she went to Germany to perform in the Central Theatre in Dresden and in the Komische Oper in Berlin. On German stages she sang operetta parts. Her performances were not a tremendous success but she was warmly welcomed. Then she moved to Paris again, where she lived until 1914, taking vocal lessons with Jan Reszke and developing her operatic repertoire. She stayed abroad until the end of World War I.
She managed to return to Warsaw after Poland regained its independence. Although she did not play on Polish stages for seven years, the audience remembered her and started to applaud her performances again, first in Letni Theatre (1918-1919), then in Nowości Theatre (1919-1921), and finally in Nowy Theatre. This time, as a prima donna, she easily found her place in the operetta. She performed in, among others, the revivals of The Revenge of the Bat and The Count of Luxembourg. On the stage of the Nowy Theatre she also created two excellent roles in Emmerich Kalman's The Little Dutch Girl and Ralph Benatzky's Japonka (editor's translation: The Japanese Lady; origial title: Yuschi tanzt). She continued to take singing lessons, this time with Stanisława Dobrowolska.
In 1922, she was engaged by Arnold Szyfman, director of drama theatres. She performed on the stages of Polski, Mały, and Komedia Theatres. It was an excellent time of her career. She still played the roles of lovers in comedies and farces, and one could get an impression that her talent was not sufficiently 'used' by the theatre. A little later it was noticed that such an outstanding actress should perform in the female roles in the plays by Shakespeare, Alfred de Musset, Ibsen, and Chekhov. However, even her comedy roles had more serious aspects, and Ćwiklińska performed well in that parts. She played unforgettable roles in Alfred Savoir's Banco! (1922), Włodzimierz Pyrzyński's Reckless Sister (1924), and in Kiss Me by Tristan Bernard, Gustave Quinson and Yves Mirande (1924).
She was a member of a great theatre troupe, playing alongside, among others, Kazimierz Junosza-Stępowski, Aleksander Zelwerowicz, Aleksander Węgierko, Maria Przybyłko-Potocka. After two years, Ćwiklińska started acting in the Letni Theatre, and then, in the 1927/1928 season, she performed together with Antoni Fetner – a popular comedy and farce actor, who established a comedy theatre on Nowy Świat Street. In the following years she was engaged by the Warsaw's Miejskie Theatres (1927-1934), and then, until the outbreak of the war, by the theatres of Towarzystwo Krzewienia Kultury Teatralnej (Society for the Promotion of Theatre Culture). In that period she mostly played on the stage of the Narodowy Theatre.
From that time, comedy repertoire – both foreign and Polish – became her speciality. She played, among others, Szarucka in Józef Korzeniewski's Majster i czeladnik (editor's translation: Master and Appretice; Narodowy Theatre, 1928), Ochotnicka in Michał Bałucki's The Bachelors' Club (Narodowy Theatre, 1934), Adela in Jean Anouilh's There Was a Prisoner (Narodowy Theatre, 1935), Żegocina in Józef Bliziński's Mister Damazy (Narodowy Theatre, 1935), Teodora in Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska's Dowód osobisty (editor's translation: Identity Card; Nowy Theatre, 1936), and Lulu in Gabriela Zapolska's Skiz (Nowy Theatre, 1937). The actress performed exceptionally well in Fredro's plays, she was even called the 'Żółkowski in a skirt' – Żółkiewski was an actor who became famous playing characters created by Fredro. Her roles of Szambelanowa in Mister Jowialski (Narodowy Theatre, 1928), and Podstolina in The Revenge (Narodowy Theatre, 1933) were then considered exemplary performances. The audience constantly emphasized Ćwiklińska's intuitive sense of humour and the finesse way of constructing dialogues on the stage. The reviewers often wrote that she was amusing but never schematic.
In the interwar period, Ćwiklińska started appearing in films. Soon, she became one of the most popular film actresses, a symbol of pre-war Polish cinematography. She debuted in 1933 as Idalia in His Excellency, the Shop Assistant. Then she played, among others, Baroness Idalia in The Leper (1936), Polly in Miss Minister Dances (1937), Szkopkowa in The Quack (1937), Ziembiewiczowa in The Border (1938) and Ramszycowa in The Heather (1938). After the war she was featured in only one film. She played Miss Klara, a teacher, in Aleksander Ford's war drama Border Street (1948).
She spent the times of WW2 occupation in Warsaw, working in actor's cafés – 'Café Bodo' and 'U Aktorek'. During the Warsaw Uprising she stayed in Podkowa Leśna. After the war, in 1945, she moved to Kraków, where she performed on the stages of Stary Theatre and Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, where the premieres of The Revenge and Skiz with Ćwiklińska playing Podstolina and Lulu took place. In the 1945/1946 season, the actress went on a tour with the performance based on Gabriela Zapolska's drama. Almost entire Poland could then watch Skiz. At that time, Ćwiklińska also worked in theatres in Poznań. She did exceptionally well on stage in the repertoire that she was familiar with. She played Lady Catherine in William Somerset Maugham's comedy The Circle (Stary Theatre, 1946), Żegocina in Mister Damazy (Nowy Theatre in Poznań, 1947), Sybil in John Boynton Pristley's An Inspector Calls (Polski Theatre in Poznań, 1948), Fyokla in Nikolai Gogol's Marriage (Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, 1949), and Orgonowa in Fredro's Ladies and Hussars (Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, 1949).
Ćwiklińska moved back to Warsaw permanently in 1950. She started working for the Polski Theatre, run by Bronisław Dąbrowski, where she has already appeared in 1948 and 1949 in Mister Jowialski as Szambelanowa. She performed on the stage of Warsaw's Nowy Theatre as well, spectacularly playing the title role in Zapolska's The Morality of Mrs. Dulska, directed by Irena Babel (1950). Her contemporaries noted that despite her old age and diseases which troubled her, on the stage she performed with youthfulness and freshness, and wanted to keep acting. The performances in which she played were staged several dozen or even a hundred times. She was casted in the main roles, played the Castellan's Wife in Ludwik Hieronim Morstin's Polacy nie gęsi (editor's translation: Poles are No Geese, Polski Theatre in Warsaw, dir. Janusz Warnecki, 1953) and the Grandmother from Alejandro Cason's melodrama Trees Die Standing (Klasyczny Theatre in Warsaw, dir. Natalia Szydłowska, 1958). She also did exceptionally well in secondary roles and episodes, for example playing the part of Anna Semyonovna in Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country (Polski Theatre in Warsaw, dir. Władysław Krzemiński, 1955).
Ćwiklińska was a symbol of the old theatre, but she was also able to adjust her craft to modern aesthetics. Her acting never grew old, although over time she was definitely losing her energy. The last new role, which she played at the age of 83, was Mrs. Pernelle from Molière's Tartuffe, directed by Czesław Wołłejko (Polski Theatre in Warsaw, 1962). She performed on the stage almost until her death. In 1971, she toured the United States and Canada with a superb role of the Grandmother in Cason's play, performing in 14 places.
Honorary decorations and awards:
- 1949 – 2nd degree award at the Festival of Russian and Soviet Arts in Katowice for the role of the Matchmaker in Nikolai Gogol's Marriage, directed by Bronisław Dąbrowski in Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Kraków
- 1955 – 1st degree state award in theatre section for the whole of acting work
- 1959 – 1st class Order of the Banner of Work
Originally written in Polish by Monika Mokrzycka-Pokora, December 2006, translated by Marcin Gozdanek, Aug 2018.