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Catherine the Great Meets John Paul Jones

jpjcatherine.jpgMARITIME HERITAGE

New York filmmaker Dimitri Devyatkin thinks it is time to bring John Paul Jones back to the silver screen. It has been half a century since his portrayal by Robert Stack. But one chapter of Jones’ life has never been dramatized – his dramatic and devastating exploits as an admiral for the czar of Russia. (Read More)





"I would lay down my life for America, but don’t trifle with my honor."
– John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones in Russia 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An American filmmaker and a New York native of Russian ancestry, Dimitri Devyatkin has written a screenplay for a feature film titled: "Little But Vicious: John Paul Jones and Catherine the Great." He is currently seeking funding for the film. The following is based on his work-in-progress and describes the screenplay. To contact the author, click his web site link at the end of this article.

READ MUCH MORE on John Paul Jones

Little Bit Vicious  John Paul Jones and Catherine the Great

America’s legendary naval hero, John Paul Jones served in the Russian Navy in 1788. After the American Revolution, idle in Paris, he attracted the attention of Russia’s Empress Catherine the Great. She needed "another bulldog" for her war against the Ottoman Turks, and wanted Jones "to make the Seraglio tremble."

The film will show Jones as a great hero, a brilliant naval commander. He was only 5’5" in height, a lonely bachelor with a "prickly" personality. There’s a myth that he secretly married a Russian Princess. She comes to life in the screenplay.

In the style of a tough street fighter, Jones raises the level of violence dramatically, a tactic that scares off all but the most formidable adversaries. A US admiral once commented to me that the trait most desirable in any naval commander, which Jones has in abundance, is Audacity, the willingness to take great risks. No one can contest his mastery of the waves, but Jones is outmaneuvered by his rivals on the "parquet floors" of the palaces.

When Jones accepts Catherine’s invitation, he makes a passionate rush across the frozen Baltic and arrives in early spring 1788. After an overwhelming reception, with vodka-soaked festivities in Catherine’s court, that lasts over two weeks non-stop, he is dispatched to the Black Sea to serve as a Rear Admiral under Prince General Grigori Potemkin.

jpjpotemkin.jpgPotemkin and Jones do not get along well. Potemkin favors his fellow Prince, a 6th cousin of Catherine’s, German Prince Nassau Siegen. Jones and Nassau also do not get along at all. The Russians are highly inept, but the Turks are even more so. Jones’s clever strategy of forcing the Turks into shallow water shoals, where they can be forced into the mud and disabled, is highly successful but results in several massacres, when Nassau Siegen takes the opportunity to set afire the Turkish ships, lest Jones claim them as prizes and get credit from the Empress for capturing them.

Though he wins several victories, Jones gets only ill will and spite from Potemkin, Nassau Siegen and others. When he returns to actual hands-on fighting, the astonished Turks surrender immediately to the sea-borne Cossacks and their ferocious American commander. The Cossacks name Jones an Honorary Cossack, member of their Host. But when Jones engages in a fatal exchange of angry messages with Potemkin, he ruins his relationship with the General and is out of the Russian Navy forthwith.

There is no happy ending to this story. It gets worse until the end. Jones is forced to return to the capital, St. Petersburg, where he waits for a new command. Followed everywhere by 4 sets of spies, Catherine’s, Potemkin’s, the British Ambassador’s and a fourth unknown group, Jones is a combustible liability. He is victim of an ugly sex scandal, probably a "honey pot" trap set by his rivals. Near suicide, with pistols before him, Jones writes a letter of confession to raping a 12-year-old girl. He is forced to leave the country, but cannot get Russia out of his mind. Granted a two-year sabbatical with full pay, he travels through Europe, where he entertains proposals from Polish Prince Tadeusz Kosciuscko to perhaps command the Swedish fleet against Russia in the Baltic. He writes frequently to Catherine begging to be forgiven and allowed to command another Russian venture – whether against Constantinople or against the British in India.

Jones ends up in Paris, alone and a pauper. The US Ambassador tries to avoid him, and he is no longer the toast of the court, as France goes through Revolution. He dies, it is reputed, dressed in the faded white satin uniform of a Russian Admiral, with the modest medal of St, Anne he was awarded by Catherine on his chest. Buried in a Protestant cemetery that is later paved over, Jones’s remains are re-interred over 100 years later, in 1905, and moved to Annapolis, where he is revered as the Father of the US Navy. However, it was only Russia that made Jones an Admiral, not the US.

This part of Jones’s life is nowhere as heroic as his exploits in the Revolution. However, the story is deeply emotional and tragic. As a filmmaker, I am drawn more to the cathartic aspects of the great hero in his less glittering days. The conjunction of the two great personalities, Jones and Catherine, as well as the other leading roles in the film, Jefferson, Potemkin, Nassau Siegen and the Princess, should be a source of great on-screen fireworks.

I’ve spoken with editors of the US Naval Institute, and they confirm that American readers of naval journals, who have read plenty about Jones as a hero, are ready to learn more about his actual experiences in Russia. What happened to Jones will be seen in the larger context of the immense historical groundswell described brilliantly in the book "The Great Upheaval" by Jay Winik, in which the new USA enters the fray with other powers, the French Revolution, the Enlightenment in Russia.

Jones has been the subject of dozens of serious biographies. His explosive personality, incredible achievements and brilliant career are balanced by his personality flaws, his vanity, his bitterness, his arrogance.


HERMAN MELVILLE wrote of Jones:

"Intrepid, unprincipled, reckless, predatory, with boundless ambition, civilized in externals but a savage at heart, America is, or may yet be, the Paul Jones of nations."

on the proposed film, please contact Dimitri at his OFFICIAL WEB SITE





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