Gelovani's portrait on his tombstone in the Novodevichy Cemetery.
January 6, 1893|
Lasuria, Kutais Governorate, Russian Empire
|Died||December 21, 1956
Moscow, Soviet Union
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.
Mikheil Gelovani was a descendant of the old Georgian princely house of Gelovani. 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. In 1924, he first appeared on screen in the film Three Lives. He moved to the Armenian SSR's Armenkino production unit 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.
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. Afterwards, Gelovani "established a monopoly on the role of Stalin", which he continued to portray in twelve other pictures until the premier's death. Gelovani greatly resembled Stalin physically, except in his stature: he was much taller than the latter. 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. According to the The Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats, Gelovani had probably portrayed the same historical figure more than any other actor. When the two met, the general secretary told the actor: "you are observing me thoroughly... You do not waste time, do you?"
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 and by positively presenting historical autocrats - like in Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible.
Due to his identification with Stalin, Gelovani was barred from playing other roles in cinema; he was not allowed to depict "mere mortals". From 1942 to 1948, he was a member of the cast in the Gorky Moscow Art Theatre. 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. 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".
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.
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. From 1953 until his death in 1956, he acted in Moscow's State Theater for Film Actors. Andreas Kilb wrote that he ended his life "a pitiful Kagemusha" of Stalin. Gelovani is buried in the Novodevichy Cemetery, alongside his wife Ludmila.
|1925||Rider from the Wild West|
|1926||The Ninth Wave|
|1931||Out of the Way!|
|1934||The Last Masquerade|
|1937||The Return of Maxim|
|1938||The Man with the Gun|
|1938||The Great Dawn|
|1939||Lenin in 1918 (scenes deleted)|
|1939||The Vyborg Side|
|1941||Valery Chkalov (scenes deleted)|
|1942||The Defense of Tsaritsyn|
|1946||The Vow (banned)|
|1949||The Fall of Berlin (banned)|
|1950||The Lights of Baku|
|1953||The Fires of Baku (scenes deleted)|
|1952||The Miners of the Donetsk|
|1952||The Unforgettable Year 1919 (banned)|
|1953||Hostile Whirlwinds (scenes deleted)|
|1931||Deed of Valour|
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