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 Mikhail Zharov

Born:   15 October 1900
Deceased:   15 December 1981



Mikhail Zharov played all his splendid roles so long ago that it seems he must have probably fallen into oblivion already, yet he is still remembered and beloved. He was unique and incomparable; his characters played with detailed psychological verisimilitude and at the same time with harum-scarum humour, smartness and expanse remain alive and vigorous.

Mikhail Ivanovich Zharov was born on October 15 (27), 1900 into a family of workers in Moscow. From 1913 he was a typesetter’s apprentice at a printing house. In 1915 the 16 year-old youth was fortunate to be employed at Zimin Opera Theatre where he fulfilled small errands and played some small silent parts.

When taking the stage for the first time (in The Captain’s Daughter opera by Cesar Cui) Mikhail was to perform a stranger who crawls onto the stage from under a fence and gets a blow with a stick on his head. The blow made the boy lose consciousness but when coming to himself Misha firmly resolved: “I will be an actor”.

Once, when the legendary bass Fyodor Shalyapin was singing the part of Mephistopheles the errand-boy was watching him as if under a spell and unconsciously copying the singer’s mimics until a frenzied director’s assistant grabbed the boy: “Why the hell are you making faces at Fyodor Ivanovich?” When everything was cleared up, Shalyapin presented his young admirer with his photo bearing the inscription: “To Misha Zharov, who, I believe, did not make faces at me”. The actor was proud of this gift for the rest of his life.


In the same 1915 Zharov made his debut in cinema: it was an episodic role of a bearded guardsman in a screen version of Rimsky Korsakov’s opera Pskovityanka starring Shalyapin as Tsar Ivan the Terrible.

In 1920 he finished a drama studio attached to the Theatre of XPSRO (Artistic Educational Union of Workers’ Organizations) and became an actor of the First Travelling Front Theatre. From 1921 to 1925 he worked in Meyerhold Theatre, successfully playing specific racy characters there. Mikhail Zharov changed a number of theatres, such as Baku Workers’ Theatre (1926—1927 and 1929), Kazan Bolshoi Theatre (1928), Realistic Theatre (1930), Moscow Chamber Theatre (1931—1938), and finally the Maly Theatre, where he was engaged from 1938 till the rest of his life and most fully unfolded his actor’s gift. There he mostly played classical repertoire parts, such as Murzavetsky in N. Ostrovsky’s Volki i Ovtsy (Wolves and Sheep) (1941), imposing Governor in Gogol’s Revizor (The Inspector-General) (1946), irrepressible Prokhor in Gorky’s Vassa Zheleznova (1952), drunkard Innokenty in Ostrovsky’s Serdtse ne Kamen (Heart is not a Stone) (1954), and boor Dikoi in Ostrovsky’s Groza (The Thunderstorm) (1962).


Road to Life (1931)
Mikhail Zharov first time starred in the film Doroga k schastyu (The Road to Happiness) (1925) as a Red Army soldier. Yet, real fame was attained with the role of Zhigan in Nikolai Ekk’s cult drama Putyovka v zhizn (Road to Life) (1931), in which Zharov played a chieftain of a thieves' gang, a bandit who led infant vagabonds astray. When performing the role of Zhigan the actor aptly used the opportunities of the first sound-film: he endowed his character with a specific accent, played the guitar and sang songs, and expressed his peculiar charm and ostentatious smartness.



The Bear (1938)
The 1930s were the years of Mikhail Zharov’s nation-wide popularity; he was in great demand among the most famous film directors of the epoch. Vladimir Petrov featured him as the frolicsome fellow Koudryash in Groza (The Storm) (1934) and the good-natured, resilient courtier Menshikov in Pyotr I (Peter the First) (1937), whereas Isidor Annensky starred him as the loud-voiced landowner Smirnov in Medved (The Bear) (1938) and the cheerful teacher Kovalenko in Chelovek v futlyare (Man in a Shell) (1939).

In films by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg Vozvrashcheniye Maksima (The Return of Maxim) (1937) and Vyborgskaya storona (The Vyborg Side) (1939) about the revolutionary Maxim, Zharov again played a “bad guy” with great ease, charm and humour.

The Vyborg Side (1939)
His clerk Dymba sings in the film a still famous song: “Fried chickabidy, stewed chickabidy, it also wants to live, the chickabidy”. The character and the song turned so popular that Zharov had to ask the authorities to allot him a car, because when he went out into the street boys would shout: “Fried chickabidy is coming!”

Once during his vacations in the South Zharov was walking in a governmental residence area and came across Stalin. The actor attempted to dodge the meeting, yet the leader archly addressed him: “Hei, I know you!” “Sure, everybody knows me” – snarled the confused actor back.

During the war, when filming Vozdushnyy izvozchik (Airchauffeur) (1943) Mikhail Zharov met his future wife, the young beauty Lyudmila Tselikovskaya (after the war they separated).

Trouble Business (1946)
Specially for Tselikovskaya the famous actor leapt into film directing and produced a war comedy under the title Bespokoynoe khozyaystvo (Trouble Business) (1946). The picture featured a whole galaxy of actors along with Tselikovskaya and Zharov.

In the war period Mikhail Zharov acted in a dozen more films: Oborona Tsaritsyna (The Defense of Tsaritsyn) (1942), Aktrisa (Actress) (1943), Vo imya rodiny (In the Name of the Fatherland) (1943), Iunyi Frits (The Young Fritz) (1943), and Bliznetsy (Twins) (1945), to name but a few. These were films of different rates and fates. For example, the propagandistic satirical pamphlet The Young Fritz never ever appeared on screen, whereas the comedy Twins, starring Mikhail Zharov with Lyudmila Tselikovskaya was a great and lasting success with the public.

One of Zharov’s most remarkable works of the war period was the role of the executioner Malyuta Skuratov in the historical drama Ivan Groznyy (Ivan the Terrible) (1944).


Cain the XVIII-th (1963)
In 1953 the father of the fourth (and the last) wife of Zharov was arrested in connection with the “doctors’ case” forged by the KGB and the actor also fell under suspicion; everyone was afraid to give him new roles. Later, however, he again showed up in vivid roles, such as Prokhor in the film play Vassa Zheleznova (1953), Artynov in Isidor Annensky’s melodrama Anna na shee (The Anna Cross) (1954), Sviristinsky in the musical comedy Devushka s gitaroy (A Girl with Guitar) (1958), a dumb war minister in the fairy musical comedy Kain XVIII (Cain the XVIII-th) (1963), and cynical Ukhov in the melodrama Starshaya sestra (Elder Sister) (1966) directed by Georgi Natanson.


The Village Detective (1968)
The last nation-wide success of Mikhail Zharov was the role of the village detective Aniskin. The first film about this almost folklore personage was titled just like that - Derevenskiy detektiv (The Village Detective) (1968). The militiaman Aniskin appealed so much to the public, critics and even authorities, that the film was soon followed by two sequels about the artful and good-natured country-side district officer: Aniskin & Fantomas (1974) and I snova Aniskin (Aniskin Again) (1978).

It was Mikhail Zharov himself, who directed his last movie, Aniskin Again. By that time he was already seriously ill, but bore up well in front of the camera.

Mikhail Ivanovich Zharov died on December 15, 1981. With his death our cinema art was bereft of somewhat of the charming naughtiness and likeable cheek of his characters, as well as radiance and smartness of his acting gift.

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