Mariya Ivanovna Babanova was the brightest female star of the Moscow stage in the 1920s. She has been described as Meyerhold's greatest actress and was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1954.
Maria Babanova made her debut in Theodore Komisarjevsky's theatre in 1919. A year later, she joined Vsevolod Meyerhold's acting courses. Described as "a small, radiant, energetic actor", Babanova captivated the Moscow public in Meyerhold's production of The Magnanimous Cuckold. The three leading players, Igor Ilinsky, Maria Babanova and Vasily Zaichikov were so in harmony they became known collectively as 'Il-Ba-Zai'. Babanova was viewed as the first great actress to emerge after the October Revolution. A typical review of her acting read as follows:
Today no one knows her name but tomorrow she will be hailed as the first of a new galaxy of young actresses. Actresses magically born and reared amidst an arid expanse of wooden constructions, under the piercing gaze of a spotlight on a bare stage - stripped of curtains, wings, of all the mysteries of the old theatre. Actresses who owe that theatre nothing.
Babanova's triumphs aroused the jealousy of Meyerhold's wife, Zinaida Reich.