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Vasily Lanovoy – The Soldier of Great Era

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Vasily Lanovoy – The Soldier of Great Era


Svetlana Smetanina

Vasily Lanovoy at the monument to Ivan Varavva opening. Photo credit:

Vasily Lanovoy used to call himself a "theater soldier". But he can actually be called a soldier of the bygone but great era and rightfully so - he did not betray its ideals and did not exchange them for something material and transitory. Therefore, he will stay in our hearts as the very soul of the purest and most worthy memories about that time, as an image of a human being and man.

Vasily Lanovoy has passed away… Yes, it is about age – he turned 87 on January 16. Yes, it is about sudden disease… But still, it feels so bad that his slender and fit figure will no longer be seen in the forefront of those who come together for the march of the Immortal Regiment every year. And from the very beginning, Lanovoy became the face of this campaign. As a child of war who had survived the occupation, he felt very personal about everything connected to the commemoration of that time.

At the march of the Immortal Regiment. Photo credit:

Little Vasya saw the war on the very first day of its beginning. On June 22, he and his sister arrived at a station near Odessa to visit their grandmother. There was a horrible roar of hundreds of fascist planes flying in the sky above them to bomb Odessa. While in the occupation, the boy almost died - a German officer fired a round from a machine gun over him demanding to return the belt given by another officer. After that, Vasily began to stutter. Nevertheless, he managed to get rid of this shortcoming by following his doctor’s advice to treat stuttering with melodious Ukrainian songs. If it had not been for that wise advice, perhaps we would not have known such a wonderful actor as Vasily Lanovoy.

Fate clearly had special plans for him. Therefore, all the young man’s attempts to leave the path originally meant for him were gently but confidently precluded. After the seventh grade, he almost became a pilot - a military man had come to school and invited children to join the air force school. However, Lanovoy was not accepted. Then it turned out that his teacher from the children's theater studio at the ZIL Palace of Culture had convinced the admissions office to refuse a promising young man: "Nobody knows what kind of pilot he will be, but he can become a decent actor."

And again young Lanovoy did not believe his fate. Having graduated from school with honors, he easily passed the competition at the Boris Shchukin Theatre Institute. But then he took the documents and entered the Faculty of Journalism of Lomonosov Moscow State University. But in his first year of studies, a well-built young man was offered the leading part in Problem Child. And finally, it became clear – he had made the right choice in childhood by joining Tom Sawyer, a children's performance. And there he fell in love with the theater once and for all.

As Valentin Listovsky in Problem Child, 1954

His career was surprisingly easy and proper. Lanovoy got perfect roles to show both his amazing looks and brilliant talent. But at the same time, he did not seek to limit himself by positive characters only. Yes, there was Pavka Korchagin, Captain Grey in Scarlet Sails, a scientist who died tragically in Anna and the Commander. But at the same time, he played Karl Wolf, a German officer, in Seventeen Moments of Spring. Lanovoy recalled that at first, he had refused the offer of Tatyana Lioznova, the film director. But then she convinced him that he was not offered the role of a cardboard negative character, but of an intelligent and charming opponent.

As Captain Grey in Scarlet Sails

As Alexei Vronsky in Anna Karenina

As Karl Wolf in Seventeen Moments of Spring

There was also Anatole Kuragin, a kind of brilliant villain in War and Peace, and restless Alexei Vronsky in Anna Karenina. This is another mystery of Vasily Lanovoy: how did "the peasant’s son", as he used to call himself proudly, manage to convey the images of distinguished aristocrats in exquisite details?

At the same time, Vasily Semyonovich used to say that his favorite role was a tiny episode in Striped Trip. It could be said in-joke or seriously, but nearly everyone remembers his catchphrase: "They swim so gracefully... That group in striped swimsuits." By the way, the fact that he did not act in any other comedy was the only thing he actually regretted in his career.

Lanovoy’s Cameo in Striped Trip

But, of course, his stellar role was the one of Ivan Varavva in Officers. And here again, it was about fate: the actor refused this role three times (!) - because there was little text, and he did not understand how to impersonate this character. But then the film cameraman told him: “Vasya, why are you suffering? Perform the romanticism of Russian officers." And after all, no one expected anything special from this film – back then lots of films about the war were shot and many of them were really good ones. But time passes by, and Officers is still watched. Sincere and devoted Ivan Varavva is still admired - this character has so much in common with people’s perception of the hero and officer.

As Ivan Varavva in The Officers

Of cause, a movie is one thing. But when it comes to real life, it is difficult and sometimes simply impossible to keep up to the high standard set by the character that the audience loves so much. But Vasily Lanovoy did it. For 63 years he served in his deeply loved Vakhtangov Theater (“losing the Vakhtangov Theater means losing my Home for me”). For 48 years he was married to his beloved wife - actress Irina Kupchenko ("We have been living together with Irina Petrovna for over 40 years - thanks to God for that"). He was also involved in social activities mostly related to his favorite war-related topic. He was really busy to the last breath - and this was also his great human and actor's happiness. And he never let down his loving and loyal viewers.

Vasily Lanovoy and Irina Kupchenko in A Strange Woman

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the release of Officers, the cult film. Vasily Lanovoy was looking forward to this date and intended to celebrate it together with the entire film crew. Now they will celebrate without him... On the other hand, he will surely be present there with his image and memory that will remain forever. "There is such a profession - to defend the Motherland."

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