70 years ago, Innokenty Smoktunovsky left Norilsk forever
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70 years ago, Innokenty Smoktunovsky left Norilsk forever

August 06, 2021

On the poster of the Second Polar Drama and Musical Comedy Theater in Norilsk, the name of the Russian stage genius appeared in 1946.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. According to Innokenty Smoktunovsky himself, the theater director suggested him changing his real name Smoktunovich to Smoktunovsky. In the era of perestroika, in an interview with a central newspaper, he clarified that he was not a Pole by blood, but a Belarusian: “And my surname is actually Smoktunovich”.

Innokenty Smoktunovsky, 1949 year

He publicly admitted that he left Krasnoyarsk for Norilsk only because he “a former prisoner of war, could not be sent anywhere – except to the North Pole”.

Back in August 1941, a decree was issued in the USSR declaring all prisoners of war traitors to their homeland. Many of them also ended up in the Norilsk camp.

According to Innokenty, in voluntary exile, he sapped his health, lost all his teeth, but went through an excellent professional school: “Such a constellation of talents could only be found in the old Small Theater and the Moscow Art Theater”, the artist said a year before his death.

This ‘constellation’ included the future People’s Artist Georgy Zhzhenov, who was ten years older than Smoktunovsky and was serving his exile in Norilsk. Former front-line soldier and future honorary citizen of Norilsk Vsevolod Lukyanov. Artists from the Igarka troupe Elena Yurovskaya and Mikhail Shelagin.

“Thanks to them I became an artist,” confessed Innokenty Smoktunovsky, who was awarded every title possible in theater and cinema.

At the end of the first Norilsk season, the young artist was marked with gratitude with the entry into his personal file and the issuance of a certificate of honor ‘for the great work in the artistic service of the combine’s enterprises.

At the beginning of the third season, the artist Smoktunovsky left the theater. Surely, this was due to the reduction of staff: in 1948, all theaters in the country were removed from subsidies. He managed to get a job in a permafrost station and hold out there for two whole weeks. Thanks to this fact, his personal file appeared in the archives of the Norilsk combine.

The same director Duchman, who had offered the newcomer his surname change so that he would not be considered a Jew, returned the artist to the theater.

The 26-year-old Innokenty Smoktunovsky finally said goodbye to the theater and Norilsk in the spring of 1951. Moreover, unlike Georgy Zhzhenov, he never came back.

The further fate of the great artist is described in many memoirs and books, including the posthumous To Be, written by Smoktunovsky himself.

Climbing the theatrical Olympus for him began with the role of Prince Myshkin staged by Georgy Tovstonogov in the Big Drama Theatre. Then there was Hamlet in Kozintsev’s film (and the Lenin Prize) and many other films. Favorite, except for Hamlet, he called Nine Days of One Year, Beware of the Car, Crime and Punishment, Steppe.

After the BDT, the stage biography of the People’s Artist of the USSR, Hero of Socialist Labor continued at first at the Small Theater. The last 18 years of his life, he brilliantly served at the Moscow Art Theater.

Every year on August 3, from the date of the artist’s death in 1994, the theatrical community celebrates the date that is called the Day of Remembrance of Innokenty Smoktunovsky. A man for whom the theater on Gornaya street in Norilsk became a starting point in his great biography.

In previous issues of the History spot photo project, we told that the Norilsk drama this season celebrates two anniversaries at once.

For other issues of our photo project about the history of the city and the combine, go to the History spot section.

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Text: Valentina Vachaeva, Photo: Nornickel Polar Division archive

August 06, 2021

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