If Alexey Batalov celebrated his 95th birthday on November 20, he would probably repeat these words. More relevant than ever today, for him they were timeless. Like others, from the same moral category: honor, conscience, love, loyalty.
An intelligent actor, an intellectual, he was a man of the Silver Age. Although he was just born at the end of that era. During his childhood, Nikolai Ostrovsky came up with a formula about life, which must be lived “in such a way that there is no excruciating pain for the years spent aimlessly…”. It is not known how the actor Batalov treated the writer Ostrovsky, but throughout his adult life he tried to follow his “will.” So that it doesn’t hurt excruciatingly. That’s why he played fewer film roles than he could have. And he himself shot only three films. And at his beloved Moscow Art Theater, where he aspired from a young age and where a cohort of relatives served, he did not finish. And I didn’t save millions. And the real estate, which, as a Hero of Socialist Labor, received from the state, scammers tried to appropriate for themselves. He did not live to see this horror. He had enough of the disputes with his dacha neighbor, who grabbed a piece of land from Batalov.
The moral compass by which the actor checked all his actions was the war. “I left for evacuation as a Moscow bourgeois boy, and returned as an adult boy. I saw the war with my own eyes…” Ufa, Sverdlovsk, Kazan, then Bugulma – hospitals were opened there for the seriously wounded. “There were just remnants of soldiers lying there,” the actor recalled. “Looking at these poor fellows, my peers and I understood: this uncle without half a face and without arms suffered for each of us. I stand on two legs because another uncle gave his legs for me.”
It was in a small Tatar town that Batalov’s big life began. The visiting actors, including his mother Nina Olshevskaya, organized a theater there. Her son Alyosha was a stagehand, decorator, prop maker, and extras actor. And he was very proud that, along with the hard workers, he received a work card and “fed” his family. And he was 14 at that time!
It became obvious that his destiny was the theater. But first we had to live to see Victory. So that later we can consider May 9, 1945 the happiest day in our lives and a holy holiday. “We have already returned to Moscow. Hearing the news of the victory, I ran to Red Square. What was happening, what the emotional intensity was, is impossible to convey. People cried, hugged, laughed. I also cried, buried in someone’s sleeve. From pride and happiness that replaced horror and suffering. Many years have passed, but even now on Victory Day I am overcome with a feeling of gratitude to the victors in that war and a feeling of guilt before the old soldiers to whom we did not give due honors. And in my memory forever are the boys from our yard: forever young. And forever alive.”
Without this memory, Alexey would hardly have played the way he did in the film “The Cranes Are Flying” based on Rozov’s play “Forever Alive.” If he didn’t play, he lived the short life of Boris. With this picture by Kalatozov, enchantingly shot by Urusevsky, recognition of Batalov’s work began. The role is small by screen time standards. But the actor considered it his duty to play her. Although the episode where Boris, in response to an obscene joke addressed to Veronica, hits a colleague, was not easy for Alexey. In one of the takes, he fell face first into the water, from which chopped branches protruded. One tore his face… Batalov underwent surgery and received stitches. “That’s the end of my movie,” I thought. But a month later, filming resumed. And years later it was impossible to even guess about that tragedy. Although he had more than his share of troubles: a car accident, heart problems, oncology, eye tuberculosis, when again it seemed that he would have to say goodbye to acting. The old patient Paustovsky tried to pull him out of his spiritual darkness…
Later, with a huge but unrequited love for the theater, Batalov will stage the only performance on the professional stage – “It’s Better to Stay Dead.” It did not become an event in the theater world. But for Batalov he was very important. A German soldier returns home from captivity. Several years have passed since the surrender of Nazi Germany. Even the most faithful girls are tired of waiting for their loved ones. The protagonist’s friend married his fiancee and three children were born. And then suddenly – he! “It would be better if you stayed dead,” the girl tells him. She seems to still love him. But why does she need a soldier broken in captivity now? She has a husband, children, well-being – all this is more valuable than honesty, conscience, fidelity. Where should he go? Only to a madhouse…
“God and honor are with us!”
Charming, kind, with slightly slanted gray-blue eyes. And with a bewitching voice that delighted everyone. Women simply adored Batalov. They threw themselves on the neck with the words: “My dear man!” The letters declared their love. And after the melodrama “Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears,” they asked: in which train can we find Gosha, who “has virtually no shortcomings”?
All his life it was easier for Batalov to say “no” than “yes.” He preferred to work with “his own people”—with Kheifitz, first of all. He avoided unknown people. I didn’t know what would happen, whether he would repeat what he had already played, whether the audience would like his character. A professional to the core, Alexey Vladimirovich considered it impossible to wear the costumes of scoundrels – he was afraid that this would affect his reputation as a person. I wanted to play Khludov in “Running”, but after the films “Big Family”, “The Rumyantsev Case”, “The Cranes Are Flying”, “My Dear Man”, “Nine Days of One Year” Batalov is a White Guard?! The film bosses didn’t allow it.
“I can only do what I really want to do,” he admitted. And he easily refused offers that he considered dubious. Sometimes, however, I regretted it later. But he couldn’t change himself. His spirituality was higher than the material. It was not possible to act simply for the sake of money. I didn’t review the old films, knowing in advance that I would remain dissatisfied with my acting. And stacks of modern scripts were left lying around, restless. He said: “I’m ashamed to run around the screen naked.” And he added: “There are so many lies in life that it is indecent to lie in a profession.” Batalov put the principle of living according to conscience at the forefront. The phrase “God and honor are with us!”, engraved on my grandfather’s silver ring, was his rule. He himself believed that “man is a constant effort to be human.”
He wanted to get to the very essence of everything. He did not tolerate amateurism. For the sake of a few seconds of footage, he spent months learning to walk on a wire (“Three Fat Men”). He himself fought in the film “Moscow Doesn’t Believe in Tears,” which in his mature years became the actor’s only significant work. He loved tango and loved cars, trying to personally tighten the nuts with mechanics. He composed poems and wrote fairy tales. And I just didn’t know how to cook at all. Always playing himself, in Menshov’s film he was forced to cleverly pretend. That’s what an actor is for!
In November 1968, on his fortieth birthday, Alexei Batalov received a letter from Vladimir. The old midwife who delivered his mother recalled that the baby was born loud-mouthed, and prophesied: “I accept the artist.” He was born an actor. And he died as an Actor. Brought up in a circle of special people (just like Akhmatova, Zoshchenko, Pasternak), he learned to think and understand. He believed in the possibility of preserving human dignity. Without referring to inhuman circumstances. And he believed that artists, along with doctors and teachers, serve a higher purpose – they help physically and morally preserve the people in difficult times. But it seems that today there are almost no such artists left…