Article about Petr Shelokhonov from the book "Russian Film Actors"
Petr Illarionovich Shelokhonov, (Russian: Пётр Илларио?нович Шелохо?нов, Belarusian: Пятро Ларывонавіч Шэлахонаў, Ukrainian: Петро Іларіонович Шелохонов; in English also spelled Pyotr or Peter; 15 August 1929 – 15 September 1999) was a Russian actor and director, designated Honorable Actor of Russia (1979).
Petr Shelokhonov was born in 1929, in Belarus, then a part of the Soviet Union; Peter Larionovich Shelokhonov (also known as Peter, Pyotr, or Petro Larionovich Schelochonovich in Belarusian, Polish, Yiddish and Ukrainian). His ancestors came from Ukraine, from Lithuania and from Poland.
His father, Larion (Illarion) Titovich, practiced veterinary medicine at a horse farm, where his grandfather, Tito Shelohonovich, was also a farmer. Petr rode horseback during his childhood; he studied veterinary medicine under his father's tutelage, spending hours researching cells and tissues using his father's microscope. Petr Shelokhonov was destined to practice veterinary medicine, like his father, but his fate was changed by war. World War II Petr Shelokhonov survived the Nazi occupation during
World War II.
Belarus was swiftly occupied by Hitler's troops. One terrible night his home was totally demolished by air bombing, he miraculously escaped the death by running away barefoot. He then witnessed the fire and destruction of the entire village when the Nazi tanks leveled the remains of his house, then ruined his school and the horse farm. He tried to find his relatives until his cousin told him that there were no survivors. He was unable to find the remains of his mother, Anna Minska, to give her a proper traditional burial. He was separated from his father, who was away with horses. The Nazis arrested Petr and he was held in a transitional camp with other men. One night he escaped with a group of men under heavy gun fire. Most fellow escapees were killed. Petr was severely wounded in the forehead but he survived and dug a hole in the ground, to hide from Nazi police patrols during the autumn of 1941. He survived thanks to a wounded cow, which was blind and without calfs, and her udders were full of milk. Petr used his veterinarian skills and befriended the cow, so he could suck her warm milk. Eventually the wounded cow died. He learned how to explode German grenades to kill fish in a river. He was arrested by the partisans patrol and joined the partisans in the woods.
In 1942, while surviving in the woods with partisans, Petr Shelokhonov had his first acting experience. He performed parodies of Hitler and the Nazis for his fellow partisans. His performances helped lift their spirits in a time when they were struggling to survive. This experience accentuated his humble, modest character. The scar on his forehead, the mark of war, made his acting career seem like an impossible dream; but Petr was determined - depending upon his roles he covered his scar with an appropriate theatrical makeup, wore a wig or used various hats. At first, he accompanied himself playing the accordion. Then he made puppets and a screen, and worked in his own puppet theater from 1943-1945. In his show, named "Peter and the Wolf," he managed to lead four puppets with four voices, and also played the accordion. He traveled across Belarus and Ukraine with his puppet theatre and performed for bread and rare food packages from the American airlift. He spoke Polish, Yiddish, Russian, Belarusian, and his native Ukrainian, and he was very lucky to survive until the end of World War II.
In 1945, Petr Shelokhonov became a piano student at the Kiev Conservatory of Music, he also played the accordion on stage, albeit his plan was to become an actor in Leningrad. In 1946 he moved to Leningrad in pursuit of an acting career. Petr Shelokhonov was looking for a job with a jazz band, similar to his favorite bands of Leonid Utyosov and Eddie Rosner, so he joined a jazz band at the Leningrad Navy Club and also gave performances as a stand-up comedian and played the accordion. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Sergei Rachmaninov were his favorites as well as the music of Glenn Miller, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and other stars heard on the Voice of America radio shows. Petr's love of music and his passion for acting, which was generously peppered with his free spirited humor, protected his peaceful soul and positive disposition, and helped him survive through the roughest realities of life under Soviet communism; but when his free spirited humor angered the hard liners, many doors closed. Petr was detained by the Soviet authorities and was forced to work hard labour for several months on the construction grounds for the Kirov Stadium in Leningrad.
In 1949, Petr Shelokhonov was drafted in the Red Army, and then he served in the Red Navy for five years. Petr began his service as a sailor in charge of smokescreen devices on ships of the Baltic Fleet. There he was soon arrested for telling a political joke. Petr was detained for several days at the strict guardhouse - military detention facility. That experience did not brake his will, as he used humor to survive. From 1949 - 1954 he served in the Soviet Navy stationed in Kaliningrad, Klaipeda and Liepaja. Peter eventually moved up from a sailor to actor with the Theatre of the Baltic Fleet in the city of Liepaja. There he worked from 1949–1954, earning critical acclaim and an Honorable Note from the Republic of Latvia, albeit after that he was punished again for telling political jokes and for listening foreign radio stations.
After that, Petr's acting career was limited to Siberia, where he remained under suspicion as did many other survivors who were held by the Nazis in occupied territory during World War II. He managed to survive through the roughest realities of life under Soviet communism; but he did not stop telling funny political jokes about the Soviet leadership, so when his free spirited humor angered the hard liners, many doors closed. He moved to the Siberian city of Irkutsk and studied acting at the Irkutsk Drama school, graduating in 1960, as an actor. That same year he made one of his most memorable appearances as Hamlet in Shakespeare's play, his graduation work. Petr Shelokhonov worked at the State Drama Theater in the city of Irkutsk in the 1950s and early 1960s.
During the 1960s, Petr Shelokhonov worked as an actor and director at the Chekhov Drama Theatre in the city of Taganrog, Russia. There Shelokhonov created leading roles in the new productions of such classic plays by Anton Chekhov as Uncle Vanya in Uncle Vanya (Дядя Ваня), Ivanov in Ivanov (Иванов), Tuzenbach in Three Sisters (Три сестры), and Treplev in The Seagull (Чайка). In The Cherry Orchard, which he co-directed, he also played two opposing characters on different nights, alternating between the roles as Gayev, and as Lopakhin. Shelokhonov also appeared as Satin in The Lower Depths (На дне) by Maxim Gorky. His favorite role of that period was Platonov in the eponymous play by Anton Chekhov. At that time, the actor was chosen by the Soviet Communist party to portray Lenin in several productions, an offer no one could reject in the Soviet Union. So, Shelokhonov portrayed Lenin in the style of satire, which angered the communists, but made common viewers smile.
In 1967 he made his TV debut in Moscow appearing in the leading role as Unknown Soldier in the TV movie Steps to the Sun (Shagi v Solntse) (Шаги в солнце) which premiered in the USSR National TV in 1967. After several appearances on television, Shelokhonov made his big screen debut in Razvyazka (1969), but the movie was censored for its anti-Soviet content, albeit Shelokhonov was able to survive thanks to his talent. Then he was recommended by film director Sergei Gerasimov for portrayal of Sergei Korolev, the legendary rocket scientist who launched the first man in space. The film title was Taming of the Fire (Ukroshcheniye ognya) (Укрощение огня) but Shelokhonov was kept from playing the leading role by Soviet censor. The leading role eventually went to his fellow actor Kirill Lavrov and Shelokhonov played another rocket scientist, Michael Karelin, having such film partners as Igor Gorbachyov, Yevgeni Matveev, Zinovi Gerdt, Igor Vladimirov, Vera Kuznetsova, Andrei Popov and other notable Russian actors.
The film Taming of the Fire revealed for the first time some details of the top secret Soviet missile programme that was developing behind the Iron Curtain. At that time Soviet political censors had total domination over the filmmakers. Filming locations in the Soviet Union were top secret, such as the Baykonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and the Gagarin Space Center near Moscow. Soviet military censors watched the secret equipment and rocket science machinery that were disallowed, so several scenes with good acting were deleted and destroyed. The total length of destroyed footages was well over a thousand meters of film, so the released version of the film was reduced by one hour. Several scenes with performances by Petr Shelokhonov and other actors were also censored and destroyed.
In 1968 Petr Shelokhonov moved back to Leningrad. There he became member of the troupe at Lenkom Theatre, then he joined the troupe at Lensovet Theatre, and then became permanent member of the troupe at Komissarzhevskaya Theatre. During the 1970s and 1980s he created a number of leading roles in popular stage productions in Leningrad, such as Nikita Romanovich in trilogy about Russian Tsars: Death of Ivan the Terrible, Tsar Boris, and Tsar Fedor Ioannovich by Aleksei Tolstoy. Shelokhonov was critically acclaimed for his leading roles as Sudakov in Gnezdo Glukharya by Viktor Rozov, and as Dmitri Nikolaevich in Theme and Variations by Aleksei Arbuzov. His most memorable TV performances were such roles as Laptev in Chekhov's Three Years, as Corporal Vaskov in Dawns are quiet here by Boris Vasilyev, and as Batmanov in Far from Moscow (Daleko ot Moskvy) (Далеко от Москвы) by Vasily Azhaev. At the same time Shelokhonov was able to play leading and supporting roles in film productions made at Lenfilm Studios. He was also cast in films made by Odessa Film Studio, Kiev Dovzhenko Film Studios, Mosfilm and Sverdlovsk film studios. Petr Shelokhonov shone in a range of leading and supporting roles such as Cossack Severian Ulybin in 1971 epic film Dauriya and as spy Sotnikov in the 1969 detective drama Razvyazka. He also portrayed a variety of historical figures, leaders and intellectuals, on stage and in film, such as the Russian composer Mikhail Glinka, Academician Ivan Sechenov, revolutionaries Lenin and Dorogomilov. In 1974 Shelokhonov played the leading role as industrialist Peresada, opposite another Russian film star Natalia Fateeva, in Otvetnaya Mera (Reprisal).
In 1991 writer and director Peter Ustinov invited Petr Shelokhonov to play the leading role, as Sam, in his autobiographical play Photo Finish, which was staged and directed by Peter Ustinov in St. Petersburg at the Lensovet Theatre. In that production Petr Shelokhonov gave a critically acclaimed performance with the support of an ensemble of his stage acting partners, such as, Yelena Solovey, Roman Gromadsky, Anna Aleksakhina and other notable Russian actors.
In 1993 Petr Shelokhonov directed a stage production of the American play Isabella by Irving A. Leitner, about a Jewish girl, Isabella, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. The play has an innovative and life-affirming final scene in which the victims of the Nazis are seen emerging from the burning ovens of Auschwitz. One by one, they slowly walk across the stage to symbolically join the living audience, accompanied by the music of "Lacrimosa" from Mozart's Requiem.
In his directing as well as in his acting Petr Shelokhonov used his own experience as a survivor.
Petr Shelokhonov was loved by the public, despite hard times with Soviet officials. He played leading and supporting roles in Russian and international films, and his filmography includes over 80 roles in film and television. His film partners were such actors as Kirill Lavrov, Igor Gorbachyov, Nikolai Gritsenko, Vitali Solomin, Natalya Fateyeva, Imre Sinkovits, Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, and other notable actors. He also played over 100 roles on stage in Russian and International theater productions, and was member with three theatre companies in Leningrad - St. Petersburg. In 1979 Petr Shelokhonov received the title of Honorable Actor of Russia.
• 1967: Shagi v Solntse (Шаги в солнце) - as Unknown soldier
• 1997: Passenger (Пассажирка) – as Passenger
Director of theatre
• 1993 – Isabella (Изабелла) (play by Irving A. Leitner)
• 1979: Honorable Actor of Russia SFSR (Заслуженный артист РСФСР)