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 Leonid Gaidai

Born:   30 January 1923
Deceased:   19 November 1993

Film Director and Scriptwriter



Gaidai Leonid Iovich (January 30, 1923 – November 19, 1993), Russian film director and scriptwriter


The humor of great Gaidai is timeless. His comedies are free from edifying or obtrusiveness, he easily managed to avoid hackneyed cliches and smutty jokes. Phrases from his comedies have become winged and are widely used in Russia till date.

‘A cinema comedy should have as few words as possible, and those words must be laconic, sharp-cut and take an unerring aim’ – Gaidai said, and he was as good as his word.

Leonid Iovich Gaidai was born on January 30, 1923. From 1941 he was in the army in Mongolia. When the war began he was transferred to Kalinin front as a scout, as he had learnt German at school. After a severe wounding he got ‘unfit-for-duty’ and had to return home. In fact he never completely recovered after that wound which actually made him suffer till the end of his life; no one knew about it but for his family. He did not like to complain.

From early age Gaidai was dreaming of stage. In 1947 he graduated from a theatre studio in Irkutsk regional theatre and for several years played on the local stage. Though a shy and clumsy person having difficulties in pronouncing sounds ‘r’ and ‘l’, he was a good actor beloved by the public. In 1949 he entered the film direction faculty of VGIK (The All-Union Institute of Cinematography) where he met actress Nina Grebeshkova to become his wife and spend all life with him.

Though at the beginning of Gaidai’s creative life he was supported by well-known masters of Soviet cinema, such as Ivan Pyriev and Mikhail Romm, his way in cinema was far from simple.

'Bootleggers' (1961) (Yuri Nikulin, Evgeny Morgunov, Georgy Vitsin) The year 1961 saw Gaidai’s short-length film that proclaimed the birth of an outstanding comedy film director. It was a nine-minute long ‘Pyos Barbos i Neobychny Cross’ (Dog Barbos and Unusual Race), an unpretentious comedy that originated the unique phenomenon of three super popular mask-characters of the Soviet cinematography: Balbes (“Booby”, played by Nikulin), Trus (“Coward”, played by Vitsyn) and Byvaly (“Stager”, played by Morgunov). They also appeared in Gaidai’s next short-length comedy ‘Bootleggers’ (1962) filmed on the tide of Dog Barbos’ success.

Leonid Gaidai In 1963 Gaidai creates the full-length comedy ‘Business People’ starring Yuri Nikulin, G. Vitsyn, A. Smirnov, R. Plyatt and the novelette ‘The Ransom of Red Chief’ after O. Henry’s story, which becomes a masterpiece of Soviet comedy. However it was the year 1965 that opened the so-called ‘Gaidai’s golden decade’ with the release of ‘Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures’ starring Alexander Demyanenko. The comedy at once gained people’s love and popularity that somehow last till date. ‘Kidnapping Caucasian Style’ (1966) continuing the adventures of nice and amusingly touching Shurik won still greater love of the public. Spectators were happy to see the funny trio of Booby, Coward and Stager again in these two kind comedies sparkling with good humour. Lots of expressions from those comedies at once became winged.

'The Diamond Arm' (1968) (Yuri Nikulin and Andrey Mironov) The next comedy was ‘The Diamond Arm’ (1968), a gripping ironic detective story with unforgettable Yuri Nikulin, Andrei Mironov and Anatoly Papanov.

In 1971 Gaidai creates a screen version of Ilf and Petrov’s popular novel ‘Twelve Chairs’. The film director acknowledged not once that this comedy turned one of his most favorite movies.

Leonid Gaidai Another undoubted masterpiece by Gaidai is ‘Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Occupation’ (1973) after Bulgakov’s play. The main roles in this fantastic comedy are played by Yuri Yakovlev and Leonid Kuravlev.

The 1980s saw Gaidai’s creative force gradually fading. However the satirical comedies ‘Borrowing Matchsticks’ and ‘Sportloto-82’ are really talented works marked by the brilliant acting of Mikhail Pugovkin, Evgeny Leonov and Vycheslav Nevinny.

In the shaky years of perestroika with its upheavals and uncertainty it was very difficult to create something worthy and Gaidai seems to have had difficulties in adapting to the changed situation. His last comedies are still funny but not as powerful as his earlier works.

In 1993 Leonid Gaidai fell ill with pneumonia and died in the hospital on November 19. His death appeared a sad outcome of his creative wearing out during the last years. Right after Gaidai’s going away reappraisal of his creations started and he was finally acknowledged an indisputable classic and a unique master of Soviet eccentric and satiric comedy.


[1955] Lyana – actor

[1956] A Weary Road – director [1958] The Wind – actor

[1958] A Groom from the Right Society – director

[1960] Thrice Resurrected – director

[1961] Dog Barbos and Unusual Race (a segment for cinema miscellany Absolutely Seriously) – writer, director

[1961] Bootleggers - director, writer

[1962] Business People - writer, director

[1965] Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures - director, writer

[1966] Kidnapping Caucasian Style, or Shurik's New Adventures – writer, director

[1968] The Diamond Arm - director, writer

[1971] Twelve Chairs – writer, director, actor

[1973] Ivan Vasilyevich Changes Occupation - director, writer

[1975] Impossible! - director, writer

[1977] Incognito from St.Petersburg - director, writer

[1978] Chest of Drawers Was Lead Through the Street... – art director

[1980] Borrowing Matchsticks - director, writer

[1982] Sportloto-82 - writer, director

[1985] Dangerous for Your Life! - writer, director

[1989] Private Detective, or Operation Cooperation - director, writer

[1992] There's Good Weather in Deribasovskaya, It's Raining Again in Brighton Beach – director, writer

Vera Ivanova




Tags: Russian culture Russian cinema Russian film directors Leonid Gaidai  

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