Vasily Livanov was born into a famous theatrical family. His paternal grandfather Nikolai Alexandrovich Livanov (1874–1949) was a Volga Cossack from Simbirsk who moved to Moscow in 1905 and performed at the Struysky Theatre under a pseudonym of Izvolsky; after the revolution he worked at the Mossovet and Lenkom Theatres. Vasily's father Boris Livanov (1904–1972) was also a prominent actor and stage director who served at the Moscow Art Theatre all his life, while his mother Eugenia Kazimirovna Livanova (née Prawdzic-Filipowicz) (1907–1978) was an artist who belonged to Polish szlachta.
Vasily was brought up in the artistic milieu. Many famous actors who worked with his father, like Olga Knipper, Alla Tarasova, Vasily Kachalov (whom Livanov was named after), as well as Pyotr Konchalovsky, Boris Pasternak, Valery Chkalov were frequent guests at their house. In 1940 his family was staying in Chernivtsi along with other Moscow actors, and his Polish nanny took him to the local Catholic church where he was baptized, presumably with his mother's permission. Today he belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church despite he never officially converted.
His family spent the first war years in evacuation and in 1943 returned to Moscow. In 1954 Vasily graduated from the Moscow Secondary Art School under the USSR Academy of Arts, and in 1958 he finished the acting courses at the Boris Shchukin Theatre Institute. His film career started in 1959 with one of the leading roles in the Letter Never Sent.
The movie was shot in Taiga at −40 °C, and the director Mikhail Kalatozov decided that Livanov and Samoilova should voice their characters crying not in the studio, but outside, right in the woods. As a result, Livanov lost his voice, and in two weeks it returned as a unique hoarse tembre that would've become one of Livanov's trademarks ever since.
From 1958 to 1959 he performed at the Vakhtangov Theatre, and from 1960 to 1964 – at the National Film Actors' Theatre. He also starred in the 1960 adaptation of Vladimir Korolenko's Blind Musician along with his father and the 1962 adaptation of Vasily Aksyonov's Colleagues that became his first real breakthrough.
First wife (1958-1970) was Alina Vladimirovna Engelhardt (born March 21, 1933), daughter of biochemist Vladimir Engelhardt (1894-1984). Daughter Anastasia (b.1963) graduated from the Biology Faculty of Moscow State University, became a sculptor. Grandson Vladimir (born 1984), granddaughter Xenia.
Second wife (since 1972) - Elena Livanova (born September 11, 1949), animator. Son Boris (born April 2, 1974), actor, broadcaster, artist, writer and poet. In 2009 he was convicted of murder, served part of his sentence, released on parole in 2014, granddaughter Eva (born 2002). Son Nikolai (born May 3, 1984), artist, animator, graduated from VGIK, actor, granddaughter Alice (born 2017).
Vasily Livanov was a close friend of Vitaly Solomin and Rina Zelyonaya, who played Doctor Watson and Mrs. Hudson. As he writes in his memoir:
"It happens so that when someone passes away, we customarily treat his actions and related events as the thing of the past. But everything about my beloved closest friend and partner Vitaly Solomin has become a part of my way of life, my conscience, so for me it will become the thing of the past only when I pass away too."
In 1966 he finished the High Directors Courses where he studied under Mikhail Romm and joined Soyuzmultfilm as an animation director, screenwriter and voice actor. During the next ten years he wrote and directed several animated films, including Most, Most, Most, Most and The Blue Bird feature.
Yet his biggest success came with The Bremen Town Musicians animated musical, a modernised adaptation of the eponymous folktale he created with Yuri Entin and Gennady Gladkov. Both parts showed heavy influence of rock and roll and hippie cultures which was unusual for the Soviet cinema. The first film was directed by Inessa Kovalevskaya, while the sequel On the Trail of the Bremen Town Musicians (1973) was directed by Livanov himself. The leading Soviet pop singer Muslim Magomayev voiced almost all characters in it which only added to the overwhelming popularity of the series.
Livanov was also the voice behind multiple popular Soviet animated characters such as Gena the Crocodile from the Cheburashka series, Karlsson-on-the-Roof from the Soviet adaptation of Astrid Lindgren's fairy tale and Boa from 38 Parrots.
In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, Livanov returned to film stardom in what became the greatest success of his acting career: the role of Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and other Holmes TV series directed by Igor Maslennikov.
Those movies were filmed between 1979 and 1986, with the latter four stories forming the plot of a standalone big-screen feature entitled The Twentieth Century Approaches. Vasily Livanov played Sherlock Holmes and Vitaly Solomin played Doctor Watson.
On 27 April 2007, a sculpture featuring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson as portrayed by Vasily Livanov and Vitaly Solomin was opened on the Smolenskaya embankment alongside the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Moscow (sculptor Andrey Orlov).
Apart from screenplays Vasily Livanov has been professionally writing books since the 1960s. He published novels, stories, fairy tales and memoirs, including biography books dedicated to Boris Livanov, Boris Pasternak and other people he personally knew.
Honors and awards
- People's Artist of the RSFSR (1988)
- 4th Class Order "For Merit to the Fatherland" (1 December 2005) — "For substantial contribution to the development of national cinema".
- Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire (20 February 2006) — "For service to the theatre and performing arts".
- Order of Honour (27 October 2016) — "For great services in the development of national culture and arts, many years of fruitful activity".
- Special Golden Eagle Award (27 January 2017) — "For outstanding contribution to the history of Russian cinema".
Cook Islands collector coins
Vasily Livanov as Sherlock Holmes on a New Zealand coin from the 2007 commemorative coin series for the film series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson
In 2007, to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Arthur Conan Doyle's debut Sherlock Holmes novel, the privately owned New Zealand Mint issued a commemorative series of four coins in a two-dollar souvenir box of the Cook Islands. The coins are minted in sterling silver in an edition of 8,000 pieces. Each coin weighs 31.1 grams (1 oz.). The mintage is matte-glossy with colorful photo-printing on the surface.
The reverse of the first coin features Sherlock Holmes (played by Vasily Livanov) in a hunter's felt hat and carrying a pipe. The other three coins are dedicated to the films "The Treasure of Agra," "Hound of the Baskervilles" and "Death Match. On them, in addition to Sherlock Holmes, there are Doctor Watson (played by Vitaly Solomin), Miss Morstan (played by Ekaterina Zinchenko), Sir Henry Baskerville (played by Nikita Mikhalkov) and Professor Moriarty (played by Viktor Evgrafov). The set of coins is presented in a souvenir box made in the form of a movie clapper. Part of the circulation of these coins was distributed in the branches of Sberbank of Russia.
- 1959 Letter Never Sent
- 1960 Resurrection
- 1960 Blind Musician
- 1962 Colleagues
- 1968 I Was Nineteen
- 1968 Junior and Karlson (animation)
- 1969 Gena the Crocodile (animation)
- 1969 The Bremen Town Musicians (animation)
- 1969 Ded Moroz and Summer (animation)
- 1970 Waterloo
- 1970 Karlson Returns (animation)
- 1970 The Blue Bird (animation)
- 1971 Cheburashka (animation)
- 1973 On the Trail of the Bremen Town Musicians (animation)
- 1974 Shapoklyak (animation)
- 1975 The Captivating Star of Happiness
- 1976 38 Parrots (animation)
- 1977 The Steppe
- 1979 Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
- 1980 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson
- 1981 The Hound of the Baskervilles
- 1981 The Mystery of the Third Planet (animation)
- 1981 Dog in Boots (animation)
- 1983 The Treasures of Agra
- 1983 Moon Rainbow
- 1983 Cheburashka Goes to School (animation)
- 1985 Contract (animation)
- 1986 The Twentieth Century Approaches
- 1987 Friend
- 1988 Pereval (animation)
- 1997 Don Quixote Returns
- 2000 The New Bremen Town Musicians
- 2005 The Master and Margarita