Ostap Bender

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Ostap Bender as portrayed by Andrei Mironov, 1976

Ostap Bender (Russian: Остап Бендер; also Ostap-Suleyman-Berta-Maria-Bender-Bey, Bender-Zadunaysky, Ostap Ibragimovich) is a fictional con man who first appeared in the novel The Twelve Chairs written by Soviet authors Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov and released in January 1928.

The name "Ostap Bender" has become an archetypal name for a con man in the Russian language.


Proclaiming himself the "great combinator", Ostap Bender searches for a stash of diamonds hidden in one of the twelve eponymous chairs. The action takes place in the Soviet Union during the New Economic Policy era. At the end of the novel, he is killed by his partner, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobianinov, who does not want to share the treasure with Bender when it seems like they are about to reach their goal.

The character's death was retconned away in 1931 in the sequel novel The Little Golden Calf, where Ostap claimed that "surgeons barely saved his life." This book was an extended satire on certain elements of Soviet life. Here, Ostap Bender follows a Soviet underground multi-millionaire, hoping to acquire some of the man's riches, and thus amass a fortune. Bender gets his money, but soon discovers he can't spend it in USSR. He proceeds to lose it as he attempts to flee the country by crossing the border into Romania.


Ostap Bender's origins are mysterious; he mentions only that his father was "a Turkish subject"[1] and that his full name is Ostap-Sulayman-Berta-Maria-Bender-Bey (Остап-Сулейман-Берта-Мария-Бендер-Бей). In the comments to the Complete Works of Ilf and Petrov by M. Odessky and D. Feldman, this phrase is explained as a hint to his Jewish origin from a port city in Novorossiya, most probably Odessa, where many Jews claimed Turkish citizenship to evade discrimination and conscription for military service.[2] Some of them indeed held the Turkish citizenship as for example Martov. In The Little Golden Calf, Ostap Bender is also called "Бендер-Задунайский" ("Bender-Zadunaisky", literally: "Bender-Trans-Danubian") and "Остап Ибрагимович" (Ostap Ibragimovich, where "Ibragimovich" is a patronymic, literally meaning "son of Ibrahim"). The city of Bender and the Danube river are historically and geographically close to both the large regional city of Odessa and the former Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

Ostap Bender dreams of travelling to Rio de Janeiro, "the city of his dreams," while admitting the futility of that obsession. Bender spawned a number of Russian catch phrases, including: "The ice has broken, ladies and gentlemen of the jury!" ("Лёд тронулся, господа присяжные заседатели!", said to declare the onset of a progress in something after a period of deadlock, uncertainty, or stagnation); "I will be commanding the parade!" ("Командовать парадом буду я!", semiformally uttered upon taking charge of something); and "Perhaps you'd also like the key to the apartment where the money is stashed?" ("Может быть, тебе дать ещё ключ от квартиры, где деньги лежат?", in response to unreasonable requests).

The prototype of Ostap Bender was Osip Shor, a brother of a Russian poet-futurist Natan Shor, a friend of the authors. Osip Shor was a person of adventurous life and a good story-teller. Many of his tales served as a base of the adventures of Ostap Bender.[3][4]

Film adaptations[edit]

Mel Brooks and Michael Hertzberg made the Twelve Chairs into a slapstick comedy film of the same name (1970). Frank Langella played the part of Ostap Bender. Shortly after that, filmmakers in the USSR adapted the novel to film twice: Leonid Gaidai in 1971 with Archil Gomiashvili as Bender, and Mark Zakharov in 1976, featuring Andrei Mironov as Bender. Mikhail Shveytser filmed The Little Golden Calf in 1968, with Sergey Yursky as Bender. In 1993, it was adapted as Mechty Idiota (Idiot's Dreams) by director Vasili Pichul, starring pop singer Sergei Krylov as Bender. In 2006, the Russian Channel One aired a new mini-series based on the novel and starring Oleg Menshikov as Bender.


  1. ^ quotes:
    • Из своей биографии он обычно сообщал только одну подробность: «Мой папа, — говорил он, — был турецко-подданный»
    • Не оскорбляйте меня, — кротко заметил Бендер. — Я сын турецко-подданного и, следовательно, потомок янычаров.
  2. ^ "Илья Ильф, Евгений Петров. Двенадцать стульев. "Вагриус", М., 2003"
  3. ^ "The Great Combinator was Taken for an Ukrainian Nationalist", Komsomolskaya Pravda (Ukrainian edition), May 30, 2008 (Russian)
  4. ^ "The Hero Enters (Part II)"

External links[edit]