Mikheil Gelovani

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Mikheil Gelovani
Gelovani's portrait on his tombstone in the Novodevichy Cemetery.
Born (1893-01-06)January 6, 1893
Lasuria, Kutaisi Governorate, Russian Empire
Died December 21, 1956(1956-12-21) (aged 63)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Occupation Actor, director
Years active 1913–1956

Mikheil Gelovani (Georgian: მიხეილ გელოვანი, Russified as Михаи́л Гео́ргиевич Гелова́ни, Mikhail Georgievich Gelovani; January 6 [O.S. December 25, 1892] 1893 – December 21, 1956) was a Georgian-Soviet actor, known for his many portrayals of Joseph Stalin in cinema.


Early life[edit]

Mikheil Gelovani was a descendant of the old Georgian princely house of Gelovani.[1] He made his stage debut in a theater in Batumi during 1913. From 1919 to 1920, he attended the Drama Studio in Tiflis. In the two following years, he was a member of the cast in the city's Rustaveli Theatre. From 1923, he worked as an actor and a director in Georgian SSR's Goskinprom film studio.[2] In 1924, he first appeared on screen in the film Three Lives.[3] He moved to the Armenian SSR's Armenkino production company in 1927. In addition to his cinematic work, Gelovani continued to appear in theater, and performed on stages in Kutaisi and Baku. In 1936 he returned to the ensemble of the Rustaveli Theatre, and remained there for three years.[4]


In 1938, Gelovani first portrayed Stalin in Mikheil Chiaureli's The Great Dawn. His performance won him the Order of the Red Banner of Labour on 1 February 1939 and the Stalin Prize during 1941.[2] Afterwards, Gelovani "established a monopoly on the role of Stalin", which he continued to portray in twelve other pictures until the premier's death.[5] Gelovani greatly resembled Stalin physically, except in his stature: he was much taller than the latter.[6] Reportedly, he was not the premier's favorite candidate for depicting himself on screen: since he was Georgian, he mimicked Stalin's accent "to perfection". Therefore, the leader personally preferred Aleksei Dikiy, who used classic Russian pronunciation. However, Gelovani appeared in his role much more than Dikiy.[7] According to the The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats, Gelovani had probably portrayed the same historical figure more than any other actor.[8] When the two met, the general secretary told the actor: "you are observing me thoroughly... You do not waste time, do you?"[9]

Soviet cinema played an important part in cultivating the leader's cult of personality: from 1937 and onward, in a gradual process, Stalin's reign was legitimized by depicting him as Vladimir Lenin's most devout follower[10] and by positively presenting historical autocrats - like in Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible.[11]

Later years[edit]

Due to his identification with Stalin, Gelovani was barred from playing other roles in cinema; he was not allowed to depict "mere mortals."[12] From 1942 to 1948, he was a member of the cast in the Gorky Moscow Art Theatre.[4] During World War II, the personality cult was abandoned in favor of patriotic motifs, but returned already at the war's late stages, and with greater intensity than ever after 1945: Stalin was soon credited as the sole architect of victory.[13] In the postwar films in which he portrayed him - The Vow, The Fall of Berlin and The Unforgettable Year 1919 - Gelovani presented the leader as "a living god."[14]

The actor was awarded three more Stalin Prizes, all of which were granted for his performances of the premier in film: in 1942 for The Defence of Tsaritsyn, in 1947 for The Vow and in 1950 for The Fall of Berlin. On 3 June 1950, he was given the title People's Artist of the USSR.[2]

After Stalin's death in 1953, Gelovani was denied new roles in films, since he was completely identified with the character of the dead ruler.[15][16] From 1953 until his death in 1956, he acted in Moscow's State Theater for Film Actors.[4] Andreas Kilb wrote that he ended his life "a pitiful Kagemusha" of Stalin.[17] Gelovani is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, alongside his wife Ludmila.[18]

Following Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech in 1956, most of the pictures he appeared in as Stalin were either banned or had the relevant scenes removed.[15]


Year Film
1924 Three Lives
1925 Rider from the Wild West
1926 The Ninth Wave
1927 Two Hunters
1927 Evil Spirit
1931 Out of the Way!
1934 Good-bye
1934 The Last Masquerade
1937 The Return of Maxim
1937 Orange Valley
1938 The Man with the Gun
1938 The Great Dawn
1939 Lenin in 1918 (scenes deleted)
1939 The Vyborg Side
1940 Siberians
1941 Valery Chkalov (scenes deleted)
1942 The Defense of Tsaritsyn
1946 The Vow (banned)
1949 The Fall of Berlin (banned)
1953 The Fires of Baku (scenes deleted)
1952 Miners of the Don
1952 The Unforgettable Year 1919 (banned)
1953 Jambyl Jabayev
1953 Hostile Whirlwinds (scenes deleted)
Year Film
1927 Evil Spirit
1929 Youth Wins
1931 Deed of Valour
1931 True Caucasian


  1. ^ Dumin, Grebelskii, Lapin. p. 80.
  2. ^ a b c Torchinov, Leontiuk. p. 146.
  3. ^ Yutkevich, Afanaseev. p. 92.
  4. ^ a b c Prokhorov. p. 160.
  5. ^ Rappaport. p. 40.
  6. ^ Beumers. p. 96.
  7. ^ Taylor. p. 228.
  8. ^ Robertsons. p. 105.
  9. ^ Montefiore. p. 517.
  10. ^ Plamper, Heller. pp. 228-229.
  11. ^ Dobrenko. p. 59.
  12. ^ Taylor, Spring. p. 164.
  13. ^ Youngblood. p. 95.
  14. ^ Boobeyer. p. 113
  15. ^ a b A. Bernstein (September 1989). "Mikhail Gelovani: One-Role Actor". Soviet Film 9: 16–17. ISSN 0201-8373. 
  16. ^ Zaleski. p. 146.
  17. ^ Andreas Kilb (20 September 1991). "Die Meister des Abgesangs" [The Masters of the Swan Song]. zeit.de (in German). Die Zeit. Retrieved 19 September 2011. 
  18. ^ Mikheil Gelovani. novodevichiynecropol.ru.


  • S. V. Dumin, P. Kh Grebelskii, V. V. Lapin. Dvorianskie Rody Rossiiskoi Imperii: Kniazʹia Tsarstva Gruzinskogo. IPK Vesti (1994). ISBN 978-5-86153-005-7.
  • Aleksandr Prokhorov (chief editor). Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Volume 6). Collier Macmillan Publishers (1982). ISBN 9780028801100.
  • Valeri Torchinov, Alexei Leontiuk. Vokrug Stalina: Istoriko-Biograficheskii Spravochnik. Filologicheskii Fakultet Sankt-Peterburgskogo Universitet (2000). ISBN 5-8465-0005-6.
  • Helen Rappaport. Joseph Stalin: A Biographical Companion. ABC-CLIO (1999). ISBN 1-57607-084-0.
  • Birgit Beumers. A History of Russian Cinema. Berg Publishers (2009). ISBN 978-1-84520-215-6.
  • Sergei Yutkevich, Yuri Afanaseev. Kino: Entsiklopedicheskii Slovar. Soviet Encyclopedia (1987). ISBN 5-900070-03-4.
  • Klaus Heller, Jan Plamper. Personality Cults in Stalinism. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (2004). ISBN 978-3-89971-191-2
  • Evgeni Dobrenko. Stalinist Cinema and the Production of History: Museum of the Revolution. Edinburgh University Press (2003). ISBN 978-0-7486-3445-3.
  • Denise J. Youngblood. Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005. University Press of Kansas (2007). ISBN 0-7006-1489-3.
  • Richard Taylor. Film propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. I.B. Tauris (1999). ISBN 978-1-86064-167-1.
  • Simon Sebag Montefiore. Stalin - The Court of the Red Tsar. Phoenix London (2004). ISBN 0-7538-1766-7.
  • Philip Boobbyer. The Stalin Era. Springer Verlag (2000). ISBN 978-0-415-18298-0.
  • Richard Taylor, D. W. Spring. Stalinism and Soviet Cinema. Routledg (1993). ISBN 978-0-415-07285-4.
  • Patrick Robertsons. The Guinness Book of Movie Facts & Feats. Abbeville Press (1991). ISBN 978-0-85112-706-4.
  • Konstantin Zaleski. Imperiia Stalina: Biograficheskii entsiklopedicheskii slovar. Veche (2000). ISBN 5-7838-0716-8.

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