Georgi Zhzhyonov (Georgi Zhzhyonov)

Georgi  Zhzhyonov

Actor. An enormously popular character star of late Soviet era stage and screen. Western critics called him “The Russian Bogart” for his tough-guy demeanor. In an outlandish twist of fate, he spent 17 years in prison and exile on false charges of being a spy, only to later win fame and official honor for playing one in the movies. Georgi Stepanovich Zhzhyonov was born in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), Russia. He trained as an acrobat at the Leningrad Circus School and with director Sergei Gerasimov at the Theatre and Film Institute, while tackling small roles in such well-regarded films as “Road to Life” (1931) and “Chapayev” (1934). In 1938, at the height of Stalin’s political purges, Zhzhyonov’s brother Boris was arrested and executed for “anti-Soviet activities” and the entire family was exiled to Kazakhstan; Gerasimov managed to get Zhzhyonov a reprieve because he had cast him in his feature “City of Youth” (1938). On a train journey to that film’s location shoot the actor struck up an innocent conversation with a traveling American businessman, and was promptly arrested for “trading secrets with the West”. After seven brutal years in a mining camp in Kolyma, he was allowed to perform in small Siberian theatres but it was not until 1955, when he was formally cleared of all charges, that he was able to return to Leningrad. In 1968 he moved to Moscow and joined the Mossovet Theatre, his performing base for the rest of his life. That same year director Venyamin Dorman cast him in his big screen espionage drama “The Secret Agent’s Blunder”, in which the KGB attempts to smoke out a foreign agent, the son of a White Russian emigre, in their midst. Zhzhyonov’s cooly charismatic performance as the spy won over audiences and made the character one of the very few anti-heroes in Soviet Cinema. An immense box office hit in the USSR and Eastern Bloc countries, it spawned three sequels, all starring Zhzhyonov: “The Secret Agent’s Destiny” (1970), “The Secret Agent’s Return” (1982), and “The End of Operation ‘Secret Agent'” (1986). He went on to play less ambiguous authority figures in the films “Hot Snow” (1972), “Cure Against Fear” (1978), “The Crew” (1980), and “Enclosure” (1987), but his favorite role was as Willie Stark in the Russian TV miniseries “All the King’s Men” (1971). His other credits include “Planet of Storms” (1962), “Silence” (1964), and “The Uncommon Thief” (1966). Zhzhyonov was named People’s Artist of the USSR in 1980 and in 1997 he received a Nika Award, Russia’s equivalent of an Oscar, for lifetime achievement. In his late years he was involved in human rights groups and spoke candidly of his experiences in the Stalinist gulag; his autobiography, “I Lived”, was published in 2002. At a celebration of Zhzhyonov’s 90th birthday in 2005, President Vladimir Putin told him that the early “Secret Agent” films had prompted him to seek a career in the KGB. The actor quipped, “That’s fine, just don’t arrest me again”. He died later that year.

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Born

  • March, 22, 1915

Died

  • December, 08, 2005

Cemetery

  • novodevichy Cemetery
  • Russia

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