Oleg Mikhailovich, though not a tall man, had immense hypnotic powers and an impressive gift for persuasion. Among themselves his subordinates nicknamed him “Bonaparte.” Gribanov did not pitch Ranevskaya directly. He sent a young operative by the name of Korshunov – a man who would never be accused of having an intricate mind.
Captain Korshunov started the conversation with Ranevskaya from afar. He educated her about the international class struggle, the machinations of spies on the territory of the USSR and how they try to trip-up the nation as it strides toward a bright future. He casually reminded her that it was the duty of every Soviet citizen to willfully provide assistance to the organs of state security.
Listening attentively to the passionate monolog of the young KGB officer, Ranevskaya contemplated a smooth way to deflect the recruitment pitch, which was sure to come at the end of the operative’s fiery speech.
In her signature style, she asked Korshunov:
“Young man, why didn’t you show up earlier, when I hadn’t yet reached my seventh decade?"
“What are you saying, Faina Georgievna?” Korshunov blurted-out melodramatically. “No one would take you for a day over thirty. Believe me, you are a young woman…in comparison to the other actresses of your theater troupe.”
Lighting up yet another cigarette, Ranevskaya squinted at Korshunov and responded coolly.
“I see what you're driving at, young man.” Without skipping a beat, she declared, “I have been waiting for the moment when the security service would realize I’m worthy. I am always ready to expose the plots of detestable imperialist low-lifes. You could say it’s been my dream since childhood. But there is a problem…
“First of all, I live in a communal apartment, and second of all, even more importantly, I talk in my sleep…loudly. So, my dear colleague – and I can only regard you in this way— together let’s try to envision, like good secret policeman, how this problem might play out….
“Imagine, that you give me a mission, and I, being a responsible person, begin to consider how to execute it. Then suddenly, in the middle of the night, while I’m dreaming, I begin discussing with myself the details about how to fulfill the task. I speak aloud last names, first names, code names, secret meeting places, passwords, appointment times, and so forth… And we have to keep in mind that I am surrounded by nosy neighbors who for many years have unrelentingly monitored my every move…Then what? Instead of faithfully doing my duty I will have betrayed you!”
Ranevskaya’s discourse left a deep impression on Korshunov. He immediately reported back to Gribanov.
“This lady is willing to work for us…I feel it inside. But there are objective complications related to the peculiarities of her nighttime physiology.”
“What peculiarities?” asked the baffled counter-intelligence chief.
“She talks loudly in her sleep. And besides, the overall situation is shameful. It’s unacceptable that our glorious People’s Artist occupies a room in a communal apartment.”
A month later Ranevskaya celebrated her housewarming party in the newly constructed elite Stalin-era skyscraper on Moscow’s Kotelnicheskaya Embankment.
Then Korshunov resumed his attempts to meet her. But each time it turned out that Faina was unable to keep the appointment: either she was preparing for a show’s opening, her spleen hurt, she had a cold…
Finally, a frustrated Korshunov informed the actress he was coming to her new home for a conclusive conversation. The young captain had no idea who he was dealing with. Before he could make it to her door, a citizen appeared at the KGB’s reception center. He was of an indeterminate age, though the prominent capillaries of his nose and his puffy countenance left no doubt about his primary pastime. Regardless, he was relatively sober and most determined when he insisted they accept his report about unseemly goings-on in the famous skyscraper.
The report was a collective effort by the residents of the prestigious building on the embankment where Ranevskaya had happily ensconced herself just one month prior. It was on the desk of General Gribanov within the hour. It read as follows: “The residents of the upper floor (ten signatories) kindly inform the organs of state security that immediately under them lives some kind of lady who can be heard on a nightly basis loudly talking to herself about the threat of imperialist espionage and what she is going to do about it…how sorry she will make those capitalist scum…just as soon as the organs of state security take her on as a part time employee.”
Gribanov summoned Korshunov, gave him the report and clear instructions.
“Cross Ranevskaya off your list. Forget about her and find someone else – someone who sleeps silently.”
Later, Korshunov learned from his agent in the Mossovet Theater, where Ranevskaya worked, about the true origins of that “collective” report. In exchange for two bottles of vodka, the actress persuaded the plumber from her new building to assist in her intelligence-countering scheme. He was that very same informant with the puffy face and demonstrative nose. But it was too late. The horse had left the barn and the apartment remained Ranevskaya’s.
That she was a woman wholly without fear was proven again in a subsequent interaction with Communist Party General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev.
Ranevskaya's most famous line was, “Mulya, don’t get on my nerves!” from the 1940 film “The Foundling.” For the rest of her life it would haunt her. Fans of all ages, especially children, would great her with that phrase when she walked down the street. It annoyed her to no end.