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 Vasily Livanov

Born:   19 July 1935

Russian actor


Apart from the actor’s talent Vasily Livanov is gifted in other ways as well: as a scriptwriter, a film director, a writer and an artist. Many cult personages of classical Russian animated cartoon films speak with his voice. Yet, Livanov’s most legendary film role is that of Sherlock Holmes in the film series about the famous detective – even British critics called this image one of the best cinematic portrayals of this popular character of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Vasily Borisovich Livanov was born on July 19, 1935 in Moscow into the family of the notable actor Boris Livanov and the professional artist Evgenia Kazimirovna Livanova. His father was a leading actor of the Moscow Art Theatre and also starred in the popular films Dubrovskiy (1935), Minin and Pozharsky (1939), Admiral Ushakov (1953), and others.

In 1954 Vasily Livanov finished Art School at the Academy of Fine Arts and passed entrance exams to the Surikov Art Institute, but then changed his mind in favour of becoming an actor like his father. In 1958 he graduated from the Shchukin Theatre School and was admitted to Vakhtangov Theatre yet did not work there for more than a year. In 1959 he was invited to play one of the leading roles in Mikhail Kalatozov’s film Neotpravlennoye pismo (The Letter That Was Never Sent) (1959).


After the filming was over the famous film director Yuli Raizman advised to the beginning actor: You will be very much in films. Very much. I am telling it to you from my experience as a film director. So if you are not very much engaged in theatre, then leave it. Vasily Livanov followed the advice by moving to the Film Actor’s Theatre-Studio, which he also left soon, in 1964 – he had lot of work, just like the master of national cinema had predicted.

Close on the heels of his film debut Vasily Livanov starred in Tatyana Lukashevich’s drama Slepoy muzykant (Blind Musician) (1960) (after the same-name novel by V. Korolenko). It is the only picture where Vasily chanced to play together with his father Boris Livanov.

The talented actor soon turned very popular and was often invited to play the leads. In the sci-fi film Sud sumasshedshikh (Judgment of Fools) (1961) he starred as a young scientist, Professor Johannes Werner who discovers life-giving power rays. In Aleksey Sakharov’s picture Kollegi (The Colleagues) (1962) Vasily Livanov co-starred with Vasili Lanovoy and Oleg Anofriyev as young doctors. It is interesting to note that later he happened to play doctors not once. For example in the comedy Zelyonyy ogonyok (The Green Flame) (1965) he got a small role of a surgeon.

In 1963 Vasily Livanov splendidly handled the complicated role of Felix Dserzhinsky in the historical picture Sinyaya tetrad (The Blue Notebook) directed by Lev Kulidzhanov.


In 1966 the actor graduated with honours from the Higher Film Directors’ Courses at the Goskino USSR. His graduation work was an animated cartoon film called Samyi, samyi, samyi (The most, the most, the most) (1966).

In the following years the actor turned to extensive work in animation. His peculiar voice with slight huskiness sounds like predestined to dub fairy tale characters. And yet, this hallmark voice was not inborn. As a matter of fact Livanov strained his voice during the filming of his debut work, The Letter That Was Never Sent (1959). Famous and beloved animated film personages, such as Gena The Crocodile in the popular series about Cheburashka (1971-1983), Carlson in two films about Carlson (1970), Boa from 38 popugaev (38 Parrots) (1976), and many others, speak with his voice.

More than that, Vasily Livanov wrote and directed the animated films Sinyaya ptitsa (The Blue Bird) (1970) and Faeton - syn solntsa (Phaeton, Son of the Sun) (1972).

He also wrote the script for the animated cartoon film Bremenskie muzykanty (The Bremen Town Musicians) (1969), following the well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The film turned to be an amusing modern-styled musical with songs composed by the splendid composer Gennady Gladkov and sung by Oleg Anofriyev. It was just rip-roaring triumph. The several series of this film remain one of the foremost favorites with the Russian public even today, some decades after its birth.

< At the same time Vasily Livanov went on rejoicing his admirers in cinema as well. The year 1972 saw the release of the screen version of Dostoevsky’s outstanding novel Igrok (The Gambler) directed by Aleksey Batalov and featuring Vasily Livanov. In 1975 he excelled in performing the role of the Emperor Nicolas I in the historical drama Zvezda plenitelnogo schastya (The Captivating Star of Happiness) (1975).


When casting actors for the leads in the screen version Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (1979), the film director Igor Maslennikov was guided by the drawings by Sidney Paget, a friend of Conan Doyle and the first illustrator of the book The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The candidacy of Vasily Livanov was prompted by the cameraman Yuri Veksler. A bit later Vitaly Solomin was cast as Doctor Watson. Both the actors looked as if they were Paget’s illustrations that came alive.

The film Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson resulted in the legendary television series about the famous English detective. Each of the series was a tremendous success with the viewers both in the USSR and abroad. The films about Sherlock Holmes evoked great interest in the motherland of the genius detective, though the famous book by Conan Doyle had been screen more than once in England. Moreover, these were English critics who recognized Livanov and Solomin the best Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson ever on the continent.

Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin became close friends. In 1983, at the height of their joint work in the series, Solomin talked Livanov into staging the latter’s story Moy lyubimy kloun (My Favourite Clown).

It was staged in Maly Theatre and successfully ran there for two years, with Vitaly Solomin starring as Sinitsin the Clown. Later the story was adapted into an eponymous film featuring Oleg Menshikov.

In 1997 Vasily Livanov starred in the film Don Kikhot vozvrashchaetsya (Don Quixote Returns), which he wrote and directed himself. The picture is highly professional: splendid nature scenes, wonderful music by Gennady Gladkov, skilful cameraman’s work, and the marvelous actors’ duet of Vasily Livanov and Armen Dzhigarkhanyan.

Recently Vasily Livanov has almost abandoned working in films. He still gets offers from film directors, but usually he has to reject them. These are foolish criminal movies… idiotic American cinema in Russian manner. All the drama is based on blood, violence, and sex; it is all an entire fabrication and has nothing to do with real life. They want to make a monster of me. I would just disgrace myself… – the celebrated actor explains.

Now Vasily Livanov is into literature, writing memoirs about famous people he chanced to meet in various years of his life. He is the author of stories, fairy tales, and plays.

He lives and works in Moscow.


Tags: Vasily Livanov Russian actors Russian cinema   

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