Igor Ilyinsky

Igor Vladimirovich Ilyinsky (Russian: И́горь Влади́мирович Ильи́нский; 24 July 1901 – 13 January 1987) was a Soviet and Russian actor, director and comedian. Hero of Socialist Labour (1974) and People's Artist of the USSR (1949).

Igor Ilyinsky
Igor Ilyinsky - Three Millions Trial 2.jpg
Igor Ilyinsky as Tapioka in the film The Three Million Trial. 1926.
Birth nameIgor Vladimirovich Ilyinsky
Born(1901-07-24)24 July 1901
Moscow, Moskovsky Uyezd, Moscow Governorate, Russian Empire
Died13 January 1987(1987-01-13) (aged 85)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Resting placeNovodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
GenresSlapstick, mime, comedy
SpouseTatiana Ilyinskaya (c. 1920–1945; her death)
Tatyana Yeremeeva (1951–1987; his death)

Early yearsEdit

Igor Ilyinsky was born on 24 July 1901 in Moscow. At age 16 he entered the Theatre Studio of Theodore Komisarjevsky and in half a year already debuted on the professional stage in Komissarzhevskaya Theatre. His first theatre role was that of the "Old Man" in Aristophanes' play Lysistrata. In 1920, he joined the Vsevolod Meyerhold Theatre. The young actor's style was in correspondence with the principles of Meyerhold, and so Ilyinsky soon became the central actor of that theatre.

Career in silent cinemaEdit

In the mid-1920s Ilyinsky started to appear in movies, where he also played vivid comic characters. In 1924, Yakov Protazanov featured him in his famous futuristic film Aelita, which was followed by his role in Protazanov's comedy The Tailor from Torzhok (1925). In 1926, he appeared in three films.

“I can act on the roof of a train carriage, on the radiator of a moving car, on back of a galloping horse, or while swimming in the sea”.


In 1938 he joined the Maly Theatre that had been his favourite one since school years. Afterwards Ilyinsky stayed in the Maly Theatre for almost fifty years and even staged several plays there himself. Ilyinsky would later write that it was Russian classic literature that had helped him overcome the crisis and feeling that he had been unable to create new characters, different from the previous ones. An outstandingly prolific period in the actor's life was related to his work with the famous film director Grigori Aleksandrov. In 1938 Ilyinsky splendidly acted as Byvalov in the comedy Volga-Volga (for this role, he was awarded Stalin Prize in 1941). He deliberately avoided any comic traits in his character to create a common image of a red-tapist.

The starting point for him was the gracious and stirring character of Lyubov Orlova. He decided to create a totally contrasting character, which he succeeded in. That role brought Ilyinsky the State Prize. Stalin reportedly watched the film sixteen times. At Molotov's birthday party Stalin flung Ilyinsky a remark: “Ah, Byvalov! You are a bureaucrat and I am a bureaucrat. We shall understand each other”. The success of that movie determined the development of Soviet film comedy for the next several decades. However, after the film Ilyinsky almost stopped his film acting. In the mid-1950s Ilyinsky finally got a chance to act in a movie. It was a light comedy, A Crazy Day. The character created by Ilyinsky was a repetition of what he had done 20 years earlier. He managed to play a truly starry film role only 18 years after Volga-Volga. It was the role of the bureaucrat Ogurtsov in the smash-hit comedy Carnival Night, directed by Eldar Ryazanov.

“I was not going to feature the great Igor Ilyinsky in Carnival Night - I felt timid, and understood that being a coryphaeus he would suppress me. When Pyryev offered him for the role of Ogurtsov, I just panicked: he was my idol from childhood, the famous actor of the Meyerhold Theatre! And me, directing my first film, on the other scale!” (Eldar Ryazanov)

Later yearsEdit

In Maly Theatre at the same time Ilyinsky shifted to portrayals of deeply tragic characters, in particular, from Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. In the late 1960s Ilyinsky went into stage directing. His first stage production was the stage version of Gustave Flaubert's popular novel Madame Bovary. The last period of Ilyinsky's career was marked by his portrayal of Leo Tolstoy in the play Turning Full Circle and of Firs, and his performance in The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. As a very old person Igor Ilyinsky acted a lot on the radio – almost blind, he was accompanied to the studio.


Igor Ilyinsky died on 13 January 1987, aged 85. His widow, actress Tatyana Yeremeyeva, died on 29 November 2012, aged 99.[1]



Igor Ilyinsky as Byvalov in the film Volga-Volga. 1938.

Honours and awardsEdit

Igor Ilyinsky as the Governor in The Government Inspector (Maly Theatre, 1952). The postal card issued to commemorate the birth centenary of the actor. Russian Post, 2001.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Notice of death of Tatyana Yeremeyeva
  2. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 305. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.

External linksEdit