Grigori Vasilyevich Aleksandrov or Alexandrov (Russian: Григо́рий Васи́льевич Алекса́ндров; original family name was Мормоненко or Mormonenko; 23 January 1903 – 16 December 1983) was a prominent Soviet film director who was named a People's Artist of the USSR in 1947 and a Hero of Socialist Labor in 1973. He was awarded the Stalin Prizes for 1941 and 1950.
Initially associated with Sergei Eisenstein, with whom he worked as a co-director, screenwriter and actor, Aleksandrov became a major director in his own right in the 1930s, when he directed Jolly Fellows and a string of other musical comedies starring his wife Lyubov Orlova.
Though Aleksandrov remained active until his death, his musicals, amongst the first made in the Soviet Union, remain his most popular films. They rival Ivan Pyryev's films as the most effective and light-hearted showcase ever designed for the Stalin-era USSR.
Early life and collaboration with Eisenstein
Aleksandrov was born Grigori Vasilyevich Mormonenko in Ekaterinburg, Russia in 1903. Starting at age nine, Aleksandrov worked odd jobs at the Ekaterinburg Opera Theater, eventually making his way to assistant director. He also pursued a musical education, studying violin at the Ekaterinburg Musical School, from which he graduated in 1917.
Aleksandrov came to Moscow after studying directing and briefly managing a movie theater. In 1921, while acting with the Proletcult Theatre he met a then 23-year-old Sergei Eisenstein. In 1923, Aleksandrov was given the main role in Eisenstein's adaptation of Alexander Ostrovsky’s 1868 comedy Enough Stupidity in Every Wise Man (Na vsyakovo mudretsa dovolno prostoty) and in Eisenstein's first film Glumov's Diary (Дневник Глумова), a short film that was included in the play. Eisenstein and Aleksandrov collaborated on several plays before Eisenstein made his first feature-length film, Strike, which Aleksandrov co-wrote with Eisenstein, Ilya Kravchunovsky, and Valeryan Pletnyov. Next came Eisenstein's landmark The Battleship Potemkin, in which Aleksdanrov played Ippolit Giliarovsky. Aleksandrov co-directed Eisenstein's next two features, October: Ten Days That Shook the World and The General Line, which were also their last works in the silent era.
Along with Eisenstein's other major collaborator, cinematographer Eduard Tisse, Aleksandrov joined the director when he came to Hollywood in the early 1930s. He also traveled with them to Mexico for the filming of Eisenstein's unrealized project about the country. An edited version of the footage, known as ¡Qué viva México!, was put together by Aleksandrov in 1979.
Aleksandrov returned to the Soviet Union in 1932 under direct orders from Joseph Stalin. He directed a pro-Stalin film, International (Интернационал), the following year and after a meeting with Stalin and Maxim Gorky, he embarked on making the first Soviet musical, Jolly Fellows, starring Leonid Utyosov and Lyubov Orlova, whom Aleksandrov later married. (Orlova had been previously married to an economist who was arrested in 1930.) She starred in his most successful films: Circus, Volga Volga, and Tanya.
After World War II
Aleksandrov's first postwar film was Springtime, another musical comedy starring Lyubov Orlova, as well as several other top-notch actors, including Nikolai Cherkasov, Erast Garin, and Faina Ranevskaya.
Popular public figures in the Soviet Union, Aleksandrov and Orlova had a difficult relationship with Stalin, who admired their films (he reportedly gave a print of Volga Volga as a present to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt) but frequently harassed the pair. Paradoxically, Aleksandrov found it harder to work in the more politically relaxed atmosphere that followed Stalin's death. He taught directing at VGIK from 1951 to 1957 and made several films about the years leading up to the Russian Revolution, including several about Vladimir Lenin.
His last narrative feature was Skvorets i Lira (Starling and Lyre) (1973), which starred Orlova in her last role and was not released. Orlova died in 1975. In 1983, he worked on a documentary about the career of his late wife. He died in December 1983 of a kidney infection and was buried next to Orlova in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.
Honours and awards
- Order of the Red Star (January 11, 1935)
- Stalin Prizes:
- first class (1941) - for the film "Circus" (1936) and "Volga-Volga" (1938)
- first class (1950) - for the film "Meeting on the Elbe" (1949)
- People's Artist of the USSR (1948)
- Hero of Socialist Labour (1973)
- Three Orders of Lenin
- Order of the Red Banner of Labour, three times
- Order of the Friendship of Peoples (January 21, 1983)
- October: Ten Days That Shook the World (Октябрь); 1928, co-directed with Sergei Eisenstein
- The General Line (Старое и новое); 1929, co-directed with Sergei Eisenstein
- Sentimental Romance (Сентиментальный романс); 1931, documentary
- Five-year Plan (Пятилетний план); 1932, documentary
- ¡Que viva México! (Да здравствует Мексика!); 1932, co-directed with Sergei Eisenstein
- Internationale (Интернационал); 1933, short documentary
- Jolly Fellows (Веселые ребята); 1934
- Circus (Цирк); 1936
- Sports Parade (Физкультурный парад); 1938
- Volga-Volga (Волга-Волга); 1938
- Tanya (Светлый путь); 1940
- A Family (Одна семья); 1943
- Men of the Caspian (Каспийцы); 1944, documentary
- Springtime (Весна); 1947
- Encounter at the Elbe (Встреча на Эльбе); 1949
- The Composer Glinka (Композитор Глинка); 1952
- Great Mourning (Великое прощание); 1953
- From Man to Man (Человек человеку); 1958
- Russian Souvenir (Русский сувенир); 1960
- Lenin in Poland (Ленин в Польше); 1961
- Before October (Перед Октябрём); 1965
- Lenin in Switzerland (Ленин в Швейцарии); 1965, co-directed with Dmitri Vasilyev
- On the Eve (Накануне); 1966, co-directed with Dmitri Vasilyev
- Starling and Lyre (Скворец и Лира); 1974