30 january, 1923
Leonid Iovich Gaidai was born on January 30, 1923, in the town of Svobodny, Amur region of Siberia, USSR. He was the third child in the family of a railroad worker. His father, named Iov Isidorovich Gaidai, was exiled to Siberia from Poltava, Ukraine. His mother, named Maria Ivanovna Lubimova, came from the Russian city of Ryazan. In 1930 the family moved to the Siberian city of Irkutsk. There Gaidai went to school and graduated in June of 1941.
In 1941, during the Nazi occupation of Russia in the Second World War, Gaidai was drafted in the Red Army. He was assigned to the front-line Army intelligence at the Kalinin Front near Moscow. Because he spoke German, he was involved in clandestine intelligence operations against the Nazi invaders. In 1943 he was seriously wounded, when he stepped on a land mine. He became physically handicapped and was decorated for his courage. He was discharged with honors as a disabled veteran of WWII.
Gaidai went back to Siberian city of Irkutsk, There he studied acting at the Drama Studio of the Irkutsk Drama Theatre. He graduated in 1947, and was an actor of that theatre until 1949. From 1949-1955 he studied as film director at State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) under Grigori Aleksandrov, Mikhail Romm and Ivan Pyryev. From 1955 Gaidai was a film director at the Mosfilm Studios under his mentor Mikhail Romm. Gaidai used literary material by Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov, Mikhail A. Bulgakov, Mikhail Zoschenko, and O. Henry among other writers.
His early films of the 1950's had little success. In the 1960's Gaidai created the "goldmine" with comedians Yuriy Nikulin, Georgiy Vitsin, Evgeniy Morgunov, and Aleksandr Demyanenko. Comedies with those actors were the highest-grossing box office hits ever in the Soviet Union with the attendance of 222,800,000 in the first 15 months. Total admissions of the Gaidai's comedies during the 1960's only in the USSR exceeded 600,000,000 without counting the reruns and the international sales.
During the 1970s and 1980s Gaidai worked with the best comedians of the Soviet cinema, such as Evgeniy Leonov, Leonid Kuravlyov, Archil Gomiashvili, Mikhail Pugovkin, Yuriy Yakovlev and many other renown actors. Alhough the inevitable changes in society during "perestroika" affected the film industry, Gaidai's films still remained on the top. Gaidai's comedies on video even gained popularity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In a 1995 poll in Russia, 'Brilliantovaya ruka' (1968) was voted the best Russian comedy ever.
Financial success did not reach Gaidai personally, he lived in a co-op flat and had the same one car, "Lada", driven by his wife, actress Nina Grebeshkova for many years. She was the fortress behind his success by being a quiet help and never demanding more than they had. She described her husband, Gaidai, as being similar to the popular character 'Shurik' in his films. Leonid Gaidai died of thrombo-embolic disease and complications of his WWII wounds on November 19, 1993, in Moscow. He was laid to rest in the Kuntsevsky Cemetery in Moscow, Russia.