Secrets of the Zapashny circus dynasty: man-eating Tigers, injuries in the arena, broken destinies
April 2 marks the 91st anniversary of the birth of the famous Soviet circus artist, tiger trainer, representative of the legendary circus dynasty Walter Zapashny. He passed away 12 years ago. The performances of Walter, as well as his sons Askold and Edgard, were probably seen by many, but the General public is unlikely to know what happened behind the scenes. What deadly cases occurred with predators, and who from the circus dynasty was behind bars, ruining someone else’s life and breaking their own fate, – further in the review.
Mikhail Zapashny became the founder of the legendary circus dynasty at the beginning of the XX century. He came to the circus literally from the street – a longshoreman courted the circus artist Lydia Thompson and once accidentally caught the eye of the famous wrestler Ivan Poddubny. He drew attention to Mikhail’s good physical shape and advised him to try his hand at the circus arena in the genre of French wrestling. So Zapashny has become one of the most famous acrobats of power in the USSR. His sons Mstislav, Walter and Sergey followed in his footsteps, creating the acrobatic show “Zapashny Brothers”.
Walter Zapashny was a famous trainer. He was the first to jump on a lion and bring 38 predators into the arena at the same time. The sons of Walter Edgard and Askold became known as the tamers of tigers. They took the circus show to a new level, adding video installations, lighting and pyrotechnic effects to their performances. Their cousin Mstislav, the son of Walter Mstislav’s own brother, also performed in the circus.
Of course, working with predators carries a lot of dangers. And in the fate of each of the representatives of the Zapashny dynasty, there were incidents that ended tragically. When Edgard and Askold were little, their grandfather Mikhail Zapashny was attacked by a tiger and tore off his hand. The infection caused gangrene, and the trainer died in the hospital.
Mikhail’s son Walter was attacked by the tigress Bagheera during his debut performance, almost paying with his life: in front of the audience, the predator pinned him with its paws and tried to bite his head. The trainer pushed his head even deeper into the tigress’s mouth, so that she could not close her jaws. As a result, Walter Zapashny received more than 40 lacerations, 26 of which were on the head, and a spinal injury. He spent 2 months in the hospital. And later it turned out that Bagheera was a man – eater-earlier she had killed the wife of the previous trainer and repeatedly attacked people. But Walter did not allow the tigress to be put down and continued to work with her. As a result, she became his favorite and the attraction’s prima, performing 64 tricks in 20 years! In the future, the Pets of Walter Zapashny obeyed him implicitly and followed his commands not only in the arena, but also on the set: his tigers starred in the films “Dersu Uzala”, “Three plus two” and “Ruslan and Lyudmila”.
When asked about the most dangerous situation in his circus career, Edgard Zapashny said: “I was very worried when my brother was hit in the face by a tigress on tour. It was during the performance. Askold came out of the cage covered in blood. He was immediately taken to the hospital, and I finished the show without him. After everything that happened, I didn’t even know if I was going to see my brother or not. It was really awful. In General, I saw a large number of injuries, grief, crippled artists and human lives. I saw serious injuries, children who were bedridden, whose relatives were killed in the arena. In addition, I was very worried, looking at my mother’s badly torn legs, after the tiger attacked her. I witnessed the fanaticism of people who did not allow them to stop in any cases, and they continued to work, love and respect the circus.”
Trainers admit that they always have to be on the lookout for predators, and they can’t afford to relax before performing – to avoid potential dangers, you need to be as focused as possible. Although, according to Edgard, they are helped to perform successfully by their very belonging to the legendary circus dynasty: “the Zapashny Family name represents strength. My relatives are famous for their fortitude and desire to win. And perhaps this courage is inherited. Zapashnye is not only a brand, but also a professional and love of circus art.”
Scandals and conflicts often broke out in the large Zapashny family. The cousins never got along, once in an interview, Edgard admitted: “you Know, I found a time when my father and my uncle Mstislav Mikhailovich did not communicate. Despite the fact that they avoided each other for several decades, there was no direct rivalry and criticism between them… the Pope was offended at Mstislav, Mstislav – at the Pope. This all happened before my brother and I were born. Maybe because they were two strong personalities, so they could not get along in the same nest … Mstislav Jr. is the son of his father. We have met several times, and I know how disparagingly he speaks of us.” Edgard and Askold perform In the circus of the Zapashny brothers, while Mstislav is engaged in his own career, without intersecting with his cousins.
Another cousin of Edgard and Askold, son of Sergei Zapashny Valery in 2004 committed suicide-hanged himself in a room of the circus hotel in Kursk. For many, this news came as a complete surprise: it was known that the artist was experiencing financial difficulties, since the number he prepared with the bears was disbanded. Valery had a conflict with his uncle, the head of rosgoscirk Mstislav Zapashny, because of which he could not start his own circus business. However, his family did not notice the strangeness in his behavior and were shocked by what happened.
The youngest of the sons of the founder of the dynasty Mikhail Zapashny, Igor also chose the circus profession and became an acrobat. According to family friends, of all the brothers – Walter, Mstislav, Sergei and Igor – the youngest was the most shy. All the more improbable and terrible seemed the tragedy that broke his fate and circus career. Igor Zapashny’s wife was his colleague, the acrobat Olga Lapiado. In their home, quarrels often broke out over her husband’s jealousy, and when Olga withdrew in 1963, in the episode of the movie “Garnet bracelet” and she had even more fans than in the circus, Igor completely lost his head from jealousy. After another scandal, Olga decided to leave the family and told her husband about it, after which he suddenly grabbed a knife from the table and inflicted 20 wounds on her. After killing his wife, Igor surrendered to the police, was convicted and sentenced to death. But thanks to the intercession of his brother, Mstislav Zapashny, the death penalty was replaced with 15 years in prison, and his brothers were “not allowed to leave”for 13 years.