I'd like to take you back to the days when Russia was ruled by a Czar. Or Tsar. Take your pick. I prefer czar, as tsar sounds like that little electrical device that the police use to subdue unruly drunks.
However you spell the word, Nicholas II was the man who held the title at the beginning of the 20th century. He and his wife, Alexandria, had four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, and one son, Alexei. Alexei was heir apparent to the Russian throne, but it looked like he might not live long enough to become Czar as he suffered from hemophilia, which ran rampant in Queen Victoria's family. What in the world does Queen Victoria have to do with Russia? Genetically speaking, the old royal families of the various European countries had much more in common with each other than they ever did with their own subjects. Such blue blood inbreeding tended to exacerbate inherited diseases such as hemophilia. The Czarina sought out doctor after doctor hoping to find a cure for the young prince, but to no avail. Finally, she turned to religion. She turned to Rasputin.
Grigori Rasputin was a priest or a monk or a mystic or a psychic or a soothsayer or--well, people then and now couldn't quite decide what exactly he was. The Mad Monk is one common moniker, but he was rarely called that to his face. Mad or not, he had a following in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital at the time, and soon came to the attention of the Czarina, who sought his help. Rasputin agreed to treat the little prince, and Alexei was soon rid of Grandma Vicky's genetic booby prize. For a while, anyway. But whenever the hemophilia flared up again, Rasputin was called, and the disease subsided. He once cured the prince by telegram! What was Rasputin's secret? Some say hypnosis. Others say the earlier doctors, well-meaning as they may have been, were quacks by today's standards, and did things such as prescribe that new wonder drug, aspirin, which we know now is the wrong thing to give a hemophiliac, as it exacerbates bleeding. Rasputin may have just given common sense advice, like get plenty of bed rest. Rasputin may have just been lucky.
If you had asked Rasputin, he would have told you it was God. If so, that same supreme being had some odd things in store for Russia in the coming years.
Rasputin soon went from being a palace doctor to a trusted advisor on all matters domestic and foreign. He became a familiar figure in the Russian court, where he spread his religious doctrine of "salvation through sin", that God couldn't very well forgive you until you've done something that needed forgiving. In Rasputin's case, this meant huge orgies with the ladies of the court, after which they all sought redemption. In layman's terms, that's having your cake and eating it, too.
Along came World War I. Russia declared war on Germany. Rasputin suggested that the leader of the Russian army, who, by most accounts, was very good at his job, be replaced by Czar Nicholas II himself, a man with no previous military experience. While Nicholas was busy losing battles abroad, Rasputin replaced all the Czar's ministers with his own handpicked cronies, whose botched-up policies increased turmoil at home. Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky took notice.
Not everyone thought Rasputin was doing God's work. He made his share of enemies, and these enemies plotted to kill him, and kill him, and--Well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
A group of disgruntled nobles lured Rasputin to a house on the pretense that there would be some pretty young things there in need of salvation. Once he had arrived, the nobles served him poisoned cake and poisoned wine. I don't know about alcohol, but Rasputin could certainly hold his cyanide, consuming enough to kill five men.
Seeing this wasn't getting them anywhere, one of the nobles pulled out a gun and simply shot Rasputin.
Rasputin fell. And then got right back up.
Rasputin was shot again, fell again, and then got right back up again.
This scene repeated itself a couple more times.
Obviously, shooting wasn't getting the nobles anywhere either, so they all ganged up on him and began pounding away. Rasputin fell. And then got right back up. So they beat the hell out of him some more until he was finally unconscious, after which they castrated him (no more salvation with pretty young things for this guy.) They then tied him up and threw him into an icy river.
Rasputin's body was found three days later. His arms were untied and in an upright position. He had apparently tried to claw his way through the ice before finally drowning.
The Russian monarchy wasn't nearly as hardy. Soon thereafter it fell to the Bolsheviks. The Czar, Czarina, and their children were executed.
But our story does not end there. Let's jump ahead about fifteen years and a half a world away to a place called Hollywood. In 1932, MGM made a movie of the events I've just described called Rasputin and the Empress starring John, Ethel, and Lionel Barrymore (but not Drew; she wouldn't be born for another 42 years.) Lionel played Rasputin, Ethel played the Czarina, and John played Prince Paul Chegodieff, a fictional character who finally kills Rasputin. You may be wondering how someone who actually lived could be killed by someone who didn't. So did Prince Felix Yusupov.
Yusupov was the ringleader of the gang that plotted to kill Rasputin, and, in fact, it was in his house where the murder, or whatever it was, occurred. Yusupov, having escaped the revolution and now living in London, believed the John Barrymore character was based on him, and sued MGM for libel. Yusupov's beef wasn't that the film depicted him as killing Rasputin in cold blood; he was proud of that. What bugged him, and was perhaps an insult to his manhood, was that the movie showed his wife being seduced by Rasputin. The missus said it didn't happen, and he believed her. MGM lost, and the Prince and his wife were awarded $120,000, millions in today's money. Plus the scene was cut.
As a result of this lawsuit, Hollywood studios began inserting a disclaimer in the credits of every film, one that soon spread to books as well:
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Rasputin may be dead, but Prince Felix Yusupov lives on.