April 14, 2005 by AK

The Pokrasses and Stalin

The story goes this this. Brothers Daniil and Dmitry Pokrass were Soviet composers who wrote a good deal of more or less popular songs and marches from the 1930s to the 1950s. They had a brother or cousin named Samuel Pokrass (although he might have been merely a namesake) who had settled in the USA and also made a living as a popular music composer. He wrote songs for a few Hollywood movies, including The Little Princess and The Three Musketeers (both 1939). Sergei Dovlatov tells the rest of the story (much better than my translation does):

There was once a reception at the Kremlin. Stalin spoke to Dmitry Pokrass:

“Is it true that your brother lives abroad?”

Pokrass was scared [having relatives outside of the USSR was a major imprisonment risk] but replied honestly:

“Yes, it is true.”

“Is it he who wrote the ditties from The Three Musketeers?


“So it’s his song — ‘Var-var-var-vara…’?”

“It’s his.”

Stalin reflected for a while and said,

“He should be living here. And you — over there.”


  1. language says:

    Great story! (I note that in the IMBb entry for the movie, a reviewer says “the musical numbers are pretty mediocre.”) But I wonder why Dovlatov tells the story about Dmitri Tiomkin rather than Pokrass?

    –language hat

  2. Alex(ei) says:

    This is not the only confusion in Dovlatov’s anekdotes. He might have allowed some to stand knowingly. It was his rule to never let two words in a sentence begin with the same letter. This led him to claim Veniamin Kaverin was born in Kharkov instead of Pskov because some other word in the sentence just had to begin with a P.

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