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Ivan Beshoff, 104; Russian Mutineer on the Potemkin

October 29, 1987|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

The last known survivor of the 1905 mutiny on the battleship Potemkin, an uprising that not only helped spawn the Bolshevik Revolution 12 years later but became the basis for what many critics consider the greatest film ever made, has died in Dublin, where he had lived since 1913.

Ivan Beshoff was 104, his grandson Philip Beshoff said Tuesday from his Costa Mesa home.

Beshoff lived in Ireland as an unassuming and favored character who owned fish and chips stores. He was 22 years old when he participated in what historians have come to describe as one of the most significant revolts of the several abortive peasant uprisings that preceded the Bolshevik takeover of the Soviet Union in 1917.

The crew of the prized battleship rose up against their Czarist officers over their brutal treatment, the putrid meat and stale bread that had become their daily fare and the fact that their comrades in arms had been dispatched to be slaughtered in a disastrous war against Japan.

They seized the Potemkin in the Black Sea but, faced with diminishing stores, soon surrendered to Romanian authorities.

Their ordeal became the subject of an epic 1925 film by the legendary writer-director Sergei Eisenstein and was released in both silent and later sound form.

The picture--"Battleship Potemkin"--with its 1,300 separate shots and editing techniques, led international judges to proclaim it the best film ever made in both 1948 and 1958.

Beshoff, who became a fisherman when he first went to Ireland and married an Irish farmer's daughter, did not see the Eisenstein classic until the 1980s when he was flown by a film company to Geneva for a screening.

"He didn't express an opinion on the film when he got back," his son, Ivan Jr., 64, told United Press International in Dublin.

Born near Odessa, where the mutiny took place, Beshoff studied to be a chemist before joining the Imperial Russian Navy. He served on a torpedo ship but when his membership in the anti-Czarist Russian Social Democratic Party was revealed, he was court-martialed and imprisoned for a month.

On his release he was assigned to work in the Potemkin's engine room.

"An officer had shot and wounded a seaman who complained about the rotten food," he later recalled. "When the seaman died, the sailors shot 17 of the officers and threw the rest overboard. I cheered with the rest when the Red Flag (a symbol of the Russian left) was hoisted at 5 in the afternoon."

The mutineers at first docked in Odessa for supplies but the Czar had ordered the entire Black Sea fleet into the harbor to put down the revolt. The crews of the other vessels refused to fire on the Potemkin but it was forced to put out to sea again without new supplies.

It steamed in the Black Sea for 11 days in June until it had no more food and then docked in the Romanian port of Constanta, where 600 crewmen were granted political asylum.

Beshoff, however, elected to return to Russia with about 60 others, but unlike the rest he took precautions to escape imprisonment.

He dyed his hair with the juice of boiled walnuts and changed his name from "Beshaiko" to Beshoff.

He bought the identity papers of a Finnish sailor and, using the alias, traveled to Turkey and later the Netherlands, hidden in the hull of a German ship. In 1906 he went to London and there met the exiled Vladimir I. Lenin.

He eventually settled in Ireland because, he said, he was "tired of sea voyages" and remained there even though he was imprisoned briefly in 1922 as an alleged Russian spy.

He became a Roman Catholic, was known in his neighborhood as "John" and opened a fish and chips shop that later grew into a chain. He worked full shifts in the shop until about 20 years ago and was a familiar figure in the neighborhood.

His marriage produced six sons and a daughter and he briefly returned to his homeland in 1927 and 1962 to visit relatives.

He once explained his longevity by saying it was a family trait and said his father had lived to be 106 and his grandfather 113.

"You are only a boy at 100 in Russia," he told Reuters news agency in 1983 as he drank from a bottle of Irish whiskey presented to him by former Irish Prime Minister Charles Haughey.

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