Boris Andreyevich Babochkin (Бори́с Андре́евич Ба́бочкин; January 18, 1904 – July 17, 1975) was a well-known Russian film and theatre actor and director. Boris Babochkin was one of the first internationally recognized stars of the Soviet-Russian cinema. He shot to fame with the title role in the classic film Chapaev (1934) and later, in the 1950s, he played a sharp anti-communist character on stage in Moscow, for which he was attacked and censored by the Soviet Communist Party.
Life on the Volga
He was born on January 18
, in the city of Saratov
on the Volga
river in Russia
. His father, named Andrei Babochkin, came from a family of Russian merchants and traders who owned a successful trade business in the city of Saratov on Volga, eventually sold his business and worked for a railroad. The Babochkins lived in Krasny Kut
, a small station near Saratov. His mother, a school teacher, was fond of Russian classical literature, and young Babochkin was brought up in an intellectually stimulating environment. Young Boris Babochkin, together with his brother, was fond of acting and was involved in amateur theatre productions in the city of Saratov. At age 14 he joined the Red Army
and served for one year in the same front on Volga and the Urals
with the legendary commander Chapayev
, although they never met.
In 1920 Babochkin entered a local drama school
in Saratov, but he soon dropped out and moved to Moscow
in pursuit of an acting career. At first he enrolled in the well-known drama school of Michael Chekhov
affiliated with the Moscow Art Theatre
. There Babochkin studied with Chekhov for a few months. Babochkin admired his first acting teacher, Michael Chekhov, but eventually their personalities clashed. In 1921, he left Chekhov's school to join "Molodye Mastera" studio, under the direction of Illarion Pevtsov
, a well-connected figure in Soviet film and theatre. There, with his elder brother Vitaly Babochkin, he worked his first professional season on stage. In the following six years Boris Babochkin played seasonal gigs on stage with various troupes in Moscow and Saratov, then in Samarkand
in Central Asia
, and then in Voronezh
, and Berdichev
From 1927 to 1940 he lived and worked in Leningrad
. He married a young ballerina, named Ekaterina Georgieva, and the couple was involved in the cultural life of Leningrad. There Babochkin continued his studies of theatre and film, and made his film acting debut at Lenfilm
Studio in 1927. In 1934 Babochkin played the leading role in Chapaev
, a classic film that brought him global fame and local jealousy. During the 1930s he played leading roles at the Leningrad State Puskin Drama Theater
and at the Bolshoi Drama Theater
under directorship of his friend Aleksei Dikiy
. In 1937, when Dikiy was arrested and imprisoned in the Gulag camps, Babochkin was hurt and suffered an emotional crisis. However, he survived the first wave of the Great Purge
under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin
. In 1937 Babochkin stepped in as artistic director of the Bolshoi Drama Theater (BDT) in Leningrad and worked in that position until 1940.
In 1940 Babochkin was summoned by the Soviet leadership and moved back to Moscow, a move that he later described as the biggest mistake in his entire life. During the Second World War
he made several trips to Leningrad, besieged by the Nazis, where he supported the defenders of Leningrad under the Siege
and helped lift their spirits with his performances, while they were struggling to survive. After the war, he started a teaching career at the Moscow State Film Institute (VGIK). In 1952 Babochkin became the artistic director of the Moscow Drama Theater named after Pushkin
. There he invited his old friend, actor-director Aleksei Dikiy, to direct Shadows
, a play by Saltykov-Shchedrin
. In Shadows
Babochkin played one of his best roles ever — Klaverov, a corrupt career politician, resembling a typical Soviet
bureaucrat. For this role Babochkin was viciously attacked in the main Soviet newspaper Pravda
. His critic was none other than Ekaterina Furtseva
, who was then a Mayor of Moscow
and later was made Soviet Minister of Culture
and eventually committed suicide.
Furtseva used all her official power to destroy Babochkin. She banned the play and restricted the world famous actor, known as Chapayev, from public performances. Furtseva personally ordered that all film studios and drama companies of the USSR should refuse him any jobs, keeping him practically unemployed
for three years until he was finally forced to apologize to the Communist Party
. Official Soviet
censorship, which was under the control of Furtseva
, spared no effort in taming the famous actor and manipulating his star power. After that, Babochkin's acting career was restricted to playing only positive, boring, exemplary Soviet characters.
Babochkin's acting career was suppressed up until the death of his high-ranking Communist opponent Furtseva. The rare exception was his last role in Begstvo mistera Mak-Kinli
(1975) for which he was awarded the State Prize of the USSR
. From 1955 until his death in 1975, Babochkin was a permanent member of the troupe at the Maly Theatre
in Moscow. From 1946 to 1975 he also taught an acting class at State Film Institute (VGIK), where he became a professor in 1966. In his acting career spanning over 55 years, Babochkin played over 200 roles on stage and 25 roles in movies and on television, but his role as Chapayev
in the eponymous 1934 film remained the unsurpassed highlight of his film career.
Boris Babochkin was the youngest actor designated People's Artist of Russia (1935). He was three times awarded the State Prize of the USSR (1941, 1951, and 1977 posthumously). He also received numerous awards and decorations in recognition of his best known film role as Chapaev.
Babochkin was married to a Leningrad ballet dancer
Ekaterina Mikhailovna Babochkina (nee Georgieva), and the couple had two daughters, Natalia and Tatiana. Outside of his acting career, Babochkin taught a class at Moscow Film School
(VGIK); he also wrote numerous articles and critical works about film and theatre. In 1968 he published his autobiography In theatre and film
which became a bestseller in the USSR.
Boris Babochkin died of a heart attack while driving his Volga on July 17, 1975, in Moscow, and was interred in Novodevichy Cemetery.
- Biography of Boris Babochkin in English by: Steve Shelokhonov (2007).
- Autobiography in Russian: (В театре и кино. M. 1968)