Sobotka, Ruth


Sobotka, Ruth
(1925–1967)
   The second wife of STANLEY KUBRICK, Ruth Sobotka appeared in KILLER’S KISS (1955) as the ballerina, Iris. She also served as art director on Kubrick’s next picture, THE KILLING (1956).
   The daughter of stage actress Gisela Schonau and distinguished architect and interior designer Walter Sobotka, the Viennese-born Ruth Sobotka embarked on her artistic career at age six, when her playful dancing caught the attention of Walter Sobotka’s client, Hedy Pfundmayr, a Vienna Opera ballerina. Pfundmayr’s instruction and supervision provided young Sobotka with the opportunity to appear in several productions at Vienna’s famous Burgtheater. In 1938, due to their Jewish heritage and the escalation of the Nazi regime, Sobotka and her parents immigrated to the United States. Ruth Sobotka graduated from Julia Richmond High School at the age of 16 and subsequently attended the University of Pennsylvania and the Drama Department at the Carnegie Institute of Design, where she majored in scenic design. Upon her return to New York City, she attended the American School of Ballet, and in 1947 was invited to join the Ballet Society under George Balanchine. She soon joined his fledgling New York City Ballet Company, where she performed for almost 10 years. Her contribution to the City Ballet was not restricted to dancing, however—in 1951 she was commissioned by Balanchine to design the costumes for Jerome Robbins’s groundbreaking ballet The Cage. In subsequent years she designed costumes for other productions at the City Ballet, as well as at the Pennsylvania Ballet and the National Ballet, and continued to work as a costume designer for television dramas, plays, and ballets until her death in 1967. Ruth Sobotka’s first film appearance was in Hans Richter’s 1947 surrealist film Dreams That Money Can Buy. The film comprised six dream sequences, each written by a different artist—Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Man Ray and Richter. Sobotka appeared in Man Ray’s sequence, “Ruth, Roses, and Revolvers. ” Described by the British Film Institute as an “ambitious attempt to bring the work of the European avant-garde to a wider cinema audience,” Dreams That Money Can Buy was commercially released by Century Films and is generally regarded as the first feature-length avantgarde film.
   Ruth Sobotka’s appearance in Richter’s film attests to her active creative and social involvement in New York’s thriving avant-garde art world. Through her, Stanley Kubrick was introduced to a number of important figures in that world. In addition, she also introduced him to Austrian literature, including ARTHUR SCHNITZLER’s TRAUMNOVELLE, which would later form the source material for EYES WIDE SHUT. Likewise, through Kubrick, Sobotka would have the opportunity to further extend her creative talents into feature film work.
   Ruth Sobotka met Stanley Kubrick in late 1952, during the production of FEAR AND DESIRE. He moved into her apartment in east Greenwich Village shortly after, and became good friends with her colleague, former roommate, and friend David Vaughan. Kubrick and Sobotka were married on January 15, 1955, in Albany, New York. That same year, United Artists released Kubrick’s film Killer’s Kiss. In formulating the plot for Killer’s Kiss, Kubrick had asked David Vaughan to choreograph a ballet sequence-he wanted Sobotka to be in the film. In the resulting flashback sequence, Sobotka dances alone on stage as the female lead, Gloria (IRENE KANE), narrates a story about her father and her sister Iris, a ballet dancer. (Adjacent photographs of Ruth Sobotka and her father Walter also appear in the scene. ) Sobotka’s contribution to Kubrick’s next film, The Killing, was of a much more collaborative nature-she acted as art director, and she was one of the first women to do so for a Hollywood production. To work with Kubrick in such a manner had been a desire of hers, according to David Vaughan: “Ruth really wanted to be his collaborator, not just his girlfriend or wife. ” Judging by the critical success of the film and its role in swiftly elevating Stanley Kubrick’s directorial status, their collaboration was a successful one. However, their move to Los Angeles and the subsequent advancements in Kubrick’s career did not necessarily bode well for their marriage. In October 1956, David Vaughan visited the couple in Los Angeles, and felt that “things were in a terrible state between them. ” He observed that Kubrick would spend all day at the studio while Sobotka stayed at home, and said that “Ruth really didn’t want to be left at home and have dinner ready for Stanley when he came home—which is what he seemed to want. ” Ruth Sobotka returned to New York in December 1956 and rejoined the New York City Ballet shortly after. She and Stanley Kubrick were legally separated in 1958, and they reached a final divorce settlement in 1961.
   Sobotka continued dancing with choreographerdesigner James Waring’s company at the Living Theater and the New York City Ballet until 1961. In the subsequent years leading up to her death, while continuing to work as a costume designer, she fervently pursued her acting interests, working in television and with experimental theater groups, and studying with such prominent figures as Herbert Berghof, Uta Hagen, and Lee Strasberg.
   Ruth Sobotka’s sudden death in 1967 cut short a rich, varied, and fruitful artistic career. Her influence on Stanley Kubrick and his films was significant. Despite the ultimately divergent directions of their respective careers, Sobotka and Kubrick shared an intense, perfectionist dedication to artistic craft. According to David Vaughan: “In some ways Ruth was in tune with an aspect of Stanley’s personality. She was the kind of person that anything she undertook she would become the best at it. ”
   References
   ■ Cohen-Stratyner, Barbara Naomi, Biographical Dictionary of Dance (New York: Schirmer Books, 1982);
   ■ LoBrutto, Vincent, Stanley Kubrick: A Biography (New York: Donald I. Fine Books, 1997);
   ■ Sobotka, Ruth, “Setting the Record Straight. ” Letter to The New York Times, February 20, 1966;
   ■ Sobotka,Walter, Ruth (privately published, 1968; courtesy of M. G. Turner);
   ■ Turner, M. G. Ruth Sobotka (1925–1967).
   K. L.

The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick. . 2002.

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