Leonid Iovich Gaidai
30 January 1923
|Died||19 November 1993 (aged 70)|
|Resting place||Kuntsevo Cemetery, Moscow|
|Title||People's Artist of the USSR (1989)|
|Spouse(s)||Nina Grebeshkova (b. 1930)|
Leonid Iovich Gaidai (Russian: Леони́д И́ович Гайда́й; 30 January 1923, Svobodny, Amur Oblast – 19 November 1993, Moscow) was one of the most popular Russian comedy film directors, enjoying immense popularity and broad public recognition in the former Soviet Union and modern Russia. His films broke theatre attendance records and are still some of the top-selling DVDs in Russia. He has been described as "the king of Soviet comedy".
Early life and first success
Gaidai was born on 30 January 1923 in Svobodny, Amur Oblast, where he is commemorated by a statue. His father Iov Isidorovich Gaidai came from a Ukrainian family of serfs of the Poltava Governorate. At the age of 22 he was sentenced to several years of katorga for revolutionary activity and sent to the Far East to work at the railway. Leonid's mother Maria Ivanovna Lubimova was born in the Ryazan Oblast to Russian parents. She met Iov through her brother Egor, also a katorga worker who sent her a photo of his friend along with a marriage proposal. After Gaidai's term expired, they settled down in the Amur Oblast where Gaidai continued working at the railway building site.
Leonid was the third child in the family. His elder brother Aleksandr (1919–1994) was a well-known poet and a war correspondent. Leonid took part in amateur dramatics from a young age. He graduated from school on 20 August 1941. In just two days the Great Patriotic War started. In February 1942 he was enrolled to the Red Army. He first served in Mongolia, then finished sergeant courses, becoming a squad leader. He worked in the military intelligence. On 20 December 1942, Gaidai was awarded the Medal for Battle Merit for killing three Nazi soldiers and taking hostages during the battle for Enkino village. On 20 March 1943 he was heavily injured after stepping on a land mine. He spent nine months in military hospitals. In January 1944 he was sent home as war-disabled. In 1945 he joined the Communist Party.
Gaidai studied at the Irkutsk District Drama Theatre's studio school, and after graduating in 1947 acted in theatre productions. He subsequently attended the Moscow Institute of Cinematography, completing his studies in 1955. He married the actress Nina Grebeshkova, who played minor roles in his future films. He initially worked as an assistant to director Boris Barnet on the 1955 film Liana, before directing the first of his own films in 1956 (the historical drama The Long Path). His 1958 comedy The Dead Affair was described by Minister of Culture Nikolai Mikhailov as "a lampooning of Soviet Reality" and was cut to 47 minutes by censors as a result, and released as The Bridegroom from the Otherworld. He subsequently avoided overtly political themes. His first success came six years after graduation, with a segment of the short film collection Sovershenno seryozno (1961), which instantly became highly popular. In this film, Gaidai first introduced a comic trio of crooks – Georgy Vitsin, Yuri Nikulin, and Evgeny Morgunov (aka 'ViNiMor', playing the characters Balbes, Byvalvi, and Trus), who later appeared in several of his other films. After his characters and directing style won the public's love, his name gained massive selling power in USSR's cinemas.
Between 1961 and 1975, Gaidai directed a number of top-selling films, each one a huge financial success and becoming wildly popular in the Soviet Union. During these years, he filmed new adventures of the mischievous trio in The Bootleggers (1961), a film adaptation of O. Henry's short stories, Strictly Business (1962), Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures (1965), and Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (1966). Following his break with Morgunov, Gaidai disbanded the trio, while casting Nikulin in what was to become the most popular Soviet comedy ever made, The Diamond Arm (1968).
In the 1970s, Gaidai worked primarily with the comedians from his own studio group, which included Vitsin, Leonid Kuravlev, Mikhail Pugovkin, Savely Kramarov, Natalya Seleznyova, Natalya Krachkovskaya, and his wife Nina Grebeshkova. All this cast was featured in his film adaptation of Mikhail Zoshchenko's short stories, Impossible! (1975). He also filmed a play by Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973), Ilf and Petrov's The Twelve Chairs (1971), Nikolai Gogol's The Government Inspector (1977), and Borrowing Matchsticks (1980), a story by the Finnish author Maiju Lassila.
Gaidai's top-grossing film The Diamond Arm sold 76.7 million tickets in the Soviet Union alone, becoming the third highest-grossing Soviet film. At $8 per ticket (regular fare in an American movie theatre in 2005), it would have generated revenue comparable to the US box office champion Titanic. In a 1995 survey by RTR, it was voted the best comedy ever made. It was followed closely by Gaidai's other comedy films — Kidnapping, Caucasian Style (fourth place with 76.5 million viewers), Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures (seventh place with 69.6 million viewers) and Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (17th place with 60.7 million viewers).
Due to the state-controlled nature of USSR film industry, all revenue from film sales went back into the state coffers. However, Gaidai personally received a small percentage of ticket sales as a government incentive. This didn't last long, though, since it soon became apparent that even with the tiny royalty offered he would quickly become a legal Soviet multimillionaire.
After 1975, Gaidai went into a period of significant decline; his only other notable work was a joint Soviet-Finnish film Borrowing Matchsticks (Russian: За спичками; Finnish: Tulitikkuja lainaamassa), completed in 1980. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he directed only one more film, capitalizing on the early Perestroika business activities and starring Dmitry Kharatyan. Gaidai has a cameo in the final one, There's Good Weather in Deribasovskaya, where he plays an old gambler who tries to beat the one-armed bandit. In real life, Gaidai was addicted to gambling. These proved the most popular of his works filmed after 1975 but lacked the success of his earlier work. Gaidai was made a People's Artist of the Russian Federation in 1974, People's Artist of the USSR several months before the Union's demise in 1989, and died in Moscow on Friday November 19, 1993. He was buried at the Kuntsevo Cemetery.
Gaidai's comedies have a very visual style of comedy, utilising slapstick and physical humour, with dialogue that has been described as "pithy, aphoristic, or nonsensical". He was a master of fast-paced comedy, his style and rhythm somewhat similar to Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. While his films on the surface portray socialist ideals, there are subversive elements and satire. He continued to suffer interference from censors, and said of his films "We will use the means of satire to fight the flaws which still sometimes hinder the lives of Soviet people".
Gaidai remains most famous for the outstanding string of comedies he directed between 1961 and 1975, when nine of the ten films he made became Russian classics, selling between 20 and 76 million film tickets each, and becoming box office champions for several years in a row. He is less known outside of the former Soviet Union, due to the specific nature of his comedies, intrinsically tied to Soviet culture and lifestyle – unlike the motives of the characters of Kramer's "Mad World" being easily understood by the Russian public, living in the highly materialistic world of late Soviet Union. Gaidai's only international recognition was a nomination for best short film at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival for Dog Barbos and Unusual Cross.
|1955||Lyana||Ляна||Actor (Alyosha), assistant director|
|1956||A Weary Road||Долгий путь|
|A Groom from the Other World||Жених с того света|
|1960||Thrice Resurrected||Трижды воскресший||Cameo (inventor)|
|On the Way||В пути||Actor (Tolya)|
|1961||Dog Barbos and Unusual Cross||Пёс Барбос и необычный кросс||Part of the Top Serious (Russian: Совершенно серьёзно) anthology film|
|1962||Strictly Business||Деловые люди|
|1965||Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures||Операция «Ы» и другие приключения Шурика|
|1966||Kidnapping, Caucasian Style||Кавказская пленница, или Новые приключения Шурика|
|1969||The Diamond Arm||Бриллиантовая рука||Cameo (drunkard)|
|1971||The Twelve Chairs||12 стульев||Actor (Varfolomey Korobeynikov)|
|1973||Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future||Иван Васильевич меняет профессию|
|1975||It Can't Be!||Не может быть!|
|1977||Incognito from St. Petersburg||Инкогнито из Петербурга|
|Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained||Риск — благородное дело||Cameo (film director)|
|1978||Along the Streets a Commode Was Led||По улицам комод водили||Creative director|
|1980||Borrowing Matchsticks||За спичками||Soviet-Finnish co-production|
|1981-1988||Fitil||Фитиль||A total of 14 shorts|
|1985||Dangerous for Your Life!||Опасно для жизни!|
|1989||Private Detective, or Operation Cooperation||Частный детектив, или Операция «Кооперация»|
|1992||Weather Is Good on Deribasovskaya, It Rains Again on Brighton Beach||На Дерибасовской хорошая погода, или На Брайтон-Бич опять идут дожди||Cameo (mad gambler); Russian-American co-production|
- Prokhorova, Elena, "The Man Who Made Them Laugh: Leonid Gaidai, the King of Soviet Comedy", in Beumers, Birgit (2008) A History of Russian Cinema, Berg Publishers, ISBN 978-1845202156, pp. 519–542
- Rollberg, Peter (2010) The A to Z of Russian and Soviet Cinema, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., ISBN 978-0-8108-7619-4, pp. 235–8
- Maria Pupsheva, Valeriy Ivanov, Vladimir Zuckerman. Gaidai of the Soviet Union. Moscow: Eksmo, 2002. ISBN 5-699-01555-8
- Leonid Gaidai. Parents on the website dedicated to Leonid Gaidai (in Russian)
- Order № 69, Award Documents on the People's Memory website
- Leonid Gaidai. War Years on the website dedicated to Leonid Gaidai (in Russian)
- Leoind Gaidai. The Greatest Mockingbird documentary on Channel One Russia, 2013 (in Russian)
- Gillespie, David (2002) Russian Cinema, Routledge, ISBN 978-0582437906, p. 49
- Soviet Box Office Leaders on KinoPoisk
- Gaidai Leonid Iovich (1923—1993) on the Moscow Toms website
- Prokhorov, Aleksandr (2003) "Cinema of Attractions versus Narrative Cinema: Leonid Gaidai’s Comedies and El'dar Riazanov’s Satires of the 1960s", Slavic Review, Vol. 62, Issue 3, Fall 2003, pp. 455–472
- "Medor, le chien qui rapporte bien". Festival de Cannes.