The Strange Reason Nearly Every Film Ends by Saying It’s Fiction (You Guessed It: Rasputin!)

Duncan Fyfe in Slate:

Rasputin.jpg.CROP.promovar-mediumlargeVirtually every film in modern memory ends with some variation of the same disclaimer: “This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.” The cut-and-paste legal rider must be the most boring thing in every movie that features it. Who knew its origins were so lurid?

For that bit of boilerplate, we can indirectly thank none other than Grigori Rasputin, the famously hard-to-assassinate Russian mystic and intimate of the last, doomed Romanovs. It all started when an exiled Russian prince sued MGM in 1933 over the studio’s Rasputin biopic, claiming that the American production did not accurately depict Rasputin’s murder. And the prince ought to have known, having murdered him.

Here’s the story. In 1916, the fabulously wealthy, Oxford-educated Prince Felix Yusupov was one of several Russian aristocrats agonizing over the unseemly influence that Rasputin—the magical healer, charismatic lech, and peasant—had over the Tsar and, particularly, the Tsarina. In December, Yusupov invited Rasputin to his palace, where he offered him cyanide-laced cakes and then shot him.

Although the Tsarina was distraught, the Tsar let Yusupov off lightly, exiling the prince and his wife Irina. (In doing so, he inadvertently spared them from the impending slaughter of the revolution.)

Sixteen years later, MGM produced Rasputin and the Empress, based on those events.

More here.