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Any Resemblance To …

March 13, 2011

You know that disclaimer that runs at the end of movies? “The preceding was a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.” I always wondered about that, particularly if you were watching a biopic of Jerry Lee Lewis or Charlie Chaplin or even Jesus.

Today I learned an interesting Hollywood tidbit that explains why that disclaimer is there, and why it’s legally required, even if the subject of the movie is an actual real person, like Mark Zuckerberg. Well, it isn’t so much legally required as it is necessary for significant levels of butt-covering.

This is because a Russian prince sued a Hollywood studio for making a movie about a bizarre religious cult leader nailing his hot princess wife.

It all stems from a case filed in the mid-30s by the exiled Prince Felix Yusopov of Russia, a cross-dressing rich boy who is credited with the plot to murder the mad mystic Rasputin before the Russian revolution. Really, you can’t make that kind of thing up. Yusopov and his wife, Princess Irena (niece of Tsar Nicholas), fled Russia with two Rembrandts and several pockets full of diamonds, and a baby, when the revolution broke out; they settled in England, where they ran a cafe and shopped for flapper hats together.

Anyway, in 1932, Hollywood released a movie: Rasputin and the Empress. This film told the story of the mad monk and his influence on the Russian court (if you don’t know the story, look it up; it’s some fascinatingly weird business involving royal families, disease, superstition, hypnosis, sex and British secret agents). While the film mentioned that Yusopov had killed Rasputin — a fact he never disputed — it also included a plotline in which Rasputin seduced Yusopov’s wife, called Natasha in the film.

This apparently never happened, because Irina was more than happy with Felix, really, honest.

The Yusopovs sued MGM and won, receiving a judgment of 25,000 British pounds, which at the time bought a lot of flapper hats. And the disclaimer started turning up in movie credits afterward as a bit of butt-covering on the part of Hollywood. This explains how we can watch a movie about a weird slightly neurotic and possible Aspergers-ridden computer genius who creates the world’s most successful website in an effort to impress a chick, and he can’t sue, because he’s fictional.

You can watch the movie here.

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