Josef Stalin’s personal papers were recently made available to the public. It’s already well-known that Uncle Joe loved the movies, even those made in the decadent bourgeois West. Now the Daily Telegraph tells us Stalin sent hit squads out to assasinate John Wayne, and Kruschev (softie that he was) rescinded the order.
They poked around in his papers and found all sorts of details about his film-watching habits and the “advice” he liked to give to the people who made them.
As if often the case with Stalin, the small and subtle details are somehow the most interesting and revealing. The guy was about as funny as Hitler (ie, not much) but there’s some real black comedy here.
“What will Comrade Bolshakov show us today?” Stalin would ask. His terrified cinema minister, Ivan Bolshakov, had to gauge Stalin’s mood. If it was good, Bolshakov could risk a new Soviet movie.
At a typical movie night with Stalin, when the showing was over, he would often ask: “Where have we seen that actor before?” He frequently asked actors who were playing him in films over for dinner: once he asked the best “Stalin”, “How will you play Stalin?” “As the people see him,” replied the clever actor. “The right answer,” said Stalin, presenting him with a bottle of brandy.
Bolshakov once authorised a movie for national release without asking Stalin, who was on holiday. At the next showing, Stalin asked him: “On whose authority did you release the movie?”
Bolshakov froze: “I consulted and decided.” “You consulted and decided, you decided and consulted,” intoned Stalin. “You decided.” He then left the room in a doomladen silence. Eventually, his head popped round the door: “You decided right.”
None the less, all the time, this homicidal movie-buff insisted on pretending that he was merely giving “advice” to his filmmakers. “You’re a free man,” he liked to say. “You don’t have to listen to me. This is just a suggestion from an ordinary viewer. Take it or leave it.” Of course, they always took it.