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Raikin, Arkadii Isaakovich

(1911–1988), Soviet comic and variety actor. Born in Riga, Raikin grew up in an assimilated family, the son of a businessman, although his paternal grandfather tried to send him to heder. After World War I and the revolution, Raikin’s family moved to Leningrad. Raikin took part in the young people’s drama circle headed by the actor and director Iurii Iurskii. In 1930 Raikin entered the Leningrad Institute of Stage Arts; his teacher, director Vladimir Solov’ev, had studied with Meyerhold but also valued Stanislavskii’s Method. Raikin absorbed the Russian theatrical culture of the early twentieth century, with its interest in farce and commedia dell’arte.

After leaving the Institute, Raikin performed at the Leningrad Theater of Working Youth (TRAM), the Leningrad Komsomol Theater, and the New Theater. Simultaneously he debuted on the variety stage. He acted in the films Ognennyegody (Fiery Years; 1939), directed by Vladimir Korsh-Sablin, and Doktor Kaliuzhnyi (1939), directed by Erast Garin and Khesia Lokshina. His success in the All-Union Competition for Variety Theater Actors in 1939 brought him fame and led to an invitation to join the Leningrad Cabaret Theater. From the start, his comic sketches were distinguished by his instantaneous physical and psychological transformations, his amplification of ordinary characters into social types, and an unusual combination of satire with intimacy and lyricism.

During World War II, Raikin performed at the front and directed the Leningrad Cabaret Theater. The war was followed by a period of cultural repression lasting until the early 1950s. Of necessity, Raikin abandoned satire for shallow comic sketches and sentimental routines. This pattern repeated itself in his songs, as well as in his role in Nikolai Dostal’ and Andrei Tutyshkin’s musical comedy My s vami gde-to vstrechalis’? (Haven’t We Met Somewhere?; 1954).

The 1960s and 1970s were Raikin’s most productive and creative years. He worked with the best comic writers, Vladimir Poliakov, Aleksandr Khazin, Mikhail Zhvanetskii, and the duo Vladimir Mass and Mikhail Chervinskii (all Jews). In the plays Vremia smeetsia (Time Laughs), Volshebniki zhivut riadom (Wizards Live Right Here), Svetofor (Traffic Light), and Plius-Minus, he created lasting satirical portraits of well-known social types.

While Raikin never openly challenged the regime, his portrayal of bureaucrats as stupid and the “simple people” as ignorant and drunk degraded both the authorities and the population brought up under their system. It was hardly accidental that the party apparatus harassed him. At their instigation, “collective letters from working people” protested against the actor’s “unpatriotic slanders,” rumors were spread about his supposed immigration to Israel (before peristroika, the height of disloyalty), and he was barred from receiving the honors an artist of his rank deserved. After being rudely attacked in a meeting at the Department of Culture of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee, Raikin suffered a heart attack and had to be hospitalized.

In 1981 his troupe moved to Moscow and was reorganized into the State Cabaret Theater. Raikin put on his concluding performance, Mir domu tvoemu (Peace to Your Home) together with his son, Konstantin.

Suggested Reading

Evgenii Gabrilovich, “Vgliadet’sia v litso cheloveka,” Teatr 6 (1984): 27–29; Arkadii Raikin, Vospominaniia (St. Petersburg, 1993); Marietta Shaginian, “Artist estrady Arkadii Raikin,” Sovetskii ekran 2 (1972): 16–17; Elizaveta Uvarova, Arkadii Raikin (Moscow, 1986).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson; revised by Alice Nakhimovsky