accordions and gin

Moura Zakrevskaya, variously Countess Benckendorff and Baroness Budberg (1891 – 1974) was the daughter of an eccentric tsarist nobleman. He was so obsessed with the pyramids that he built a replica – which still stands today – on his Ukrainian estate.

Moura found here

“Her first husband (murdered while she was away in Russia) was a minor Estonian noble. She gained the title of ‘Baroness’ through her second husband. He was soon discarded but the title never was

She met British diplomat and spy, Bruce Lockhart, in Petrograd after travelling there alone to try to secure family property amid the turmoil. She later followed him to Moscow, where both were arrested by the authorities.

Bruce Lockhart found here

The legend maintains that Moura secured her own release from the Lubyanka by offering the commandant sexual favours. Whatever the truth of this, she brought food and books to Bruce Lockhart until he was exchanged for a Soviet agent held by the British. 

Lubyanka prison courtyard found here

In 1934 their relationship was further mythologised by a Hollywood film. “British Agent” was directed by Michael Curtiz, of Casablanca fame, and starred Leslie Howard as Bruce and Kay Francis as the enigmatic Moura.

Kay Francis found here

Bruce Lockhart’s departure left her alone and penniless in Moscow. She found work with Maxim Gorky and soon became his secretary and lover. Through Gorky, Moura came to know both Lenin and Stalin, and she remained part of his entourage until his death in 1934. 

image found here

Towards the end of this period she was spending increasing time in London, establishing herself as a fashionable hostess and a star of the Russian émigré community. The press began to mention her as a friend or “companion” of H. G. Wells.

H G Wells found here

This relationship worried the British authorities. In its early days espionage was closely connected with literature. W. Somerset Maugham had been sent to Russia in 1917 with the ambitious mission of keeping Russia in the war and preventing the Bolsheviks coming to power.

W Somerset Maugham found here

The Moscow Embassy had already warned that Moura was “a very dangerous woman“. Worse, she had once presented Stalin with an accordion. Her file recorded: “She drinks like a fish. She can drink an amazing quantity of gin without it showing any apparent slow-up in her mental processes.”

image found here

The ageing Wells offered in London what Gorky had offered in Moscow: security and an entrée to society. Moura’s own explanation was that the attraction was sexual – Wells’s skin, she said, smelled of honey – though she refused to marry him or even remain faithful.

watch a great honey badger video here

She was under surveillance by MI5 as a possible spy for over thirty years yet they never managed to find her guilty of anything.

Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 7:53 am  Comments (47)  
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