RAN AWAY TO THE USA AND WAS IN THE FILMS WITH SCHWARZENEGGER: THE TRAGEDY OF OLEG VIDOV, THE HANDSOMEST SOVIET ACTOR OF 1970s

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Oleg Vidov Film frame “Red Heat”

May 2022 marked five years since Oleg Vidov, a popular Soviet actor, left this life. He was called the handsomest actor of 1970s. This tall blue-eyed blonde with an un-Soviet appearance was a perfect performer of ardent youths and knights without fear and blemish. Despite the actor’s arduous paths and sharp turns of his life, for many he left the man whom he always played on the screen – a fabulous prince and a noble hero deserving a long memory and good words.

Forwardness: began to work at 14 because of Mother’s disease

The future actor came into being during World War II, in 1943, in Filimonki village of Moscow Region. His mother, Varvara Vidova, got acquainted with the boy’s future father in a partisan detachment. His name was Boris Garnevich, he was an economic faculty graduate. The parents did not register their relations officially and lost track of each other after the war. In peacetime Oleg’s mother graduated from a pedagogical university, became a teacher and later on a school principal. As the best teacher, she was sent to work abroad.

Oleg and his mother lived in Mongolia three years and then spent two years in East Germany where the boy learned German and piano playing. Mother’s next assignment was to China, and first-grader Oleg had to stay with his aunt in vicinities of Moscow. Mother’s sister was in charge of an amateur theatre and the boy was bitten with love to theatre and cinema from her. When Vidov turned 14, it was revealed that his mother had a mental disease. She began to receive disability benefits but the pension was too small, and Oleg had to search for employment without delay. He worked as a cook assistant, freight handler, storekeeper, electrician and hospital attendant. At the same time, he attended an evening school.

Oleg Vidov Photo: tvc.ru/Oleg Vidov “I’d rather live better”

Once the 17-year-old youth was noticed by the assistant director of the film Kolka, My Friend!  The boy was invited to act in minor cast but, to his sorrow, frames with his participance were not included in the film. Being already infected with the cinematography virus, Oleg found a job of a lamp man on the producing studio; upon graduating from school, he entered the dramatic faculty of All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) without a problem.

The bicycle rider in Walking The Streets Of Moscow and the Bear in An Ordinary Miracle

Oleg Vidov Film frame “Walking the Streets of Moscow”

Due to his impressive appearance, Vidov began to be invited at the filming as early as in the first year of his studying. He played the role of a bicycle rider who was accompanying a girl in the rain in a canonical episode of the legendary film Walking The Streets Of Moscow by Georgy Daneliya which was a symbol of the “thaw” period. Vladimir Basov invited him to one of starring roles in the screen version of Pushkin’s The Blizzard. Managers of the institute where he studied objected his acting in the film, but Vidov ignored the prohibition and so was expelled from the institute. However, soon he was re-registered on a higher course and passed all his academic arrears.

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Oleg Vidov Film frame “The Legend of Tsar Saltan”

Erast Garin engaged him in the role of the Bear in the first screen version of the play “The Ordinary Miracle” by Shvarts; the famous cinema tale-teller Aleksandr Ptushko offered him the role of Prince Gvidon in The Tale Of Tsar Saltan.

Oleg Vidov Film frame “An Ordinary Miracle”

By the time Vidov graduated from the institute, he had had already 8 roles in films under his belt and the popularity all over the country. Of course, the young actor was not always approved for roles: for instance, he took part in the movie test for the role of Shurik in the legendary comedy by Leonid Gayday, but the unlucky student was played by Aleksandr Demyanenko.

The main legionnaire of the Soviet cinema

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Oleg Vidov Film frame “Hagbard and Signe”

In 1966 the VGIK graduate was invited for the main role of Prince Hagbard in Hagbard And Signe, a Danish-Swedish-Icelandic film. It was the first film in a sequence of foreign films in Oleg’s filmography. Those times, nobody could be compared to Vidov in the amount of works abroad and in joint projects. His conspicuous appearance, tight sitting in a saddle and skills of a stuntman were of extremely high demand. The same year 1966, the 23-year-old actor married an interior decorator named Marina, but this marriage was short, as the young wife tormented Vidov with reasonless jealousy. For Vidov, this first divorcement became very hard, he even vowed never to marry again.

The next works of the actor in the cinema were roles in Yugoslavian films There’s Love, There’s No Love and The Reason Of Death Not To Be Disclosed. In the large-scale picture Battle of Neretva (coproduct of Yugoslavia, USA, West Germany and Italy) Oleg played the role of partisan Nikola. The film entered Oscar nomination as the best foreign language film. One year later Sergey Bondarchuk, a maître of the Soviet cinematography, invited Vidov to act in his Soviet-Italian epic Waterloo. After this film, foreign producers offered him to sign a 7-year contract for shooting in Hollywood; however, USSR Goskino gave an utter refusal to it. Cinema bureaucrats also prohibited Vidov to act in The Loves Of Isadora, a Hollywood film where he was expected to play as Sergey Yesenin.

Natalya Fedotova: a marriage to Galina Brezhneva’s lady mate

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Galina Brezhneva, Oleg Vidov, Natalia Fedotova Photo: tvc.ru/Oleg VidovI’d rather live better

At the same time, in National restaurant Oleg got acquainted with Natalya Fedotova, a KBG general’s daughter and a social butterfly who was a friend of Galina Brezhneva. It was General Secretary’s daughter who contributed to acquaintance of the actor with her friend and arranged their fancy wedding practically in two weeks after their meeting. Many people saw vested interest in Vidov’s behavior – allegedly, he married in order to promote his career. In the marriage with Fedotova, his son Vyacheslav was born. Vidov’s wife helped him in his career, at that time h practically did not encounter denials from film directors and artistic expert boards. He played significant roles in films Mission In Kabul, Lion’s Grave, Train Stop – Two Minutes. In a cult-favorite comedy Gentlemen of Fortune  he played a small role of senior lieutenant Slavin: it is he whom Savely Kramarov’s character tries to explain: “Who can put him in jail – he is a monument!”

In 1972 Vidov played in Tecumseh – a popular German western with Indians, and just one year later he played one of his brightest roles in The Headless Horseman, a Soviet-Cuban film. A noble and handsome mustanger Maurice Gerald from the screen version of a novel by Mayne Reid captured hearts of female adorers, while criticists reproached Vidov that he looked like “the most perfect American” on the screen.

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Oleg Vidov Film frame “The Headless Horseman”

Another wave of success was brought by Moscow, My Love, a piercing Soviet-Japanese melodramatic film about tragic romantic relations of a Soviet sculptor and a Japanese female dancer.

Wife’s revenge: Oleg Vidov did not receive new roles

Oleg did not want to limit himself by actor works and entered VGIK again wishing to learn a trade of film director. By that time, his union with Fedotova creaked at the seams. To satisfy his wife’s demands, Oleg worked hard but his wife required more and more. She made reasonless scenes of jealousy and at the same time took on romantic partners herself when Vidov was on location. The divorce with her spoiled the actor’s life. Natalya promised him “a real hell indeed” and did her best to deprive Vidov of new roles. She forbade him to see their son. At her request, the management of VGIK were told not to execute a diploma for Vidov by direction from the top. In the long run, Oleg received his documents confirming his education of film director, but his debut movie short Highway Crossing was “frozen”.

Some audacious directors offered work to him: he played a role in Trans-Siberian Express, an adventure action-thriller by Eldar UrazbayevYan Frid from Leningrad invited him in his musical films The Bat and Pious Martha; yet after the divorce with his high-powered wife he never had any large-scale and serious works in the Soviet cinema. His name was cut out of completed films, without any new invitations to locations. Vidov, suppressed by his unwantedness, was doomed, as cinema was the sense of his life.

The escape across the border and marriage to Joan Borsten from USA

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Oleg Vidov and wife Joan Borsten

In 1983 Oleg fictitiously married to Verice Jovanovich, a citizen of Yugoslavia, and went abroad by a visitor visa. There he played in three films and the serial The Mystery Of The Black Dragon. All of a sudden, he received a police subpoena which prescribed him to return to the USSR in a day. He suspected that big problems were waiting for him in the Soviet Union and decided to go to Austria crossing the border in a car luggage boot. From there, Vidov furtively again crossed the border of Italy where he appealed for protection to local authorities.

In Rome he acquainted with Joan Borsten, an American journalist who later on became his last wife. Vidov, as a famous cinema actor, obtained the right to entrance to the USA. Upon departing to America Oleg permanently called to Joan, who left in Italy, and asked her to join him soon. During the first minutes of their meeting in the USA he literally stunned her declaring that we would like to live with her the whole of his life.

Career in Hollywood – Was in the films with Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan

Upon arriving to America, Vidov absolutely did not think about continuation of his cinema career, as he reasonably believed that he, a 43-year-old Russian actor, would not be able to achieve something in Hollywood. He began to work on construction sites, then in a factory, learned English and wrote lyrics. Once he met Savely Kramarov, his partner on Gentlemen of Fortune, who lived in America, and Savely advised Oleg to go on casting. The movie test was successful, the interest to the Soviet movie star was unbelievable. He received a role in Red Heat with Arnold Schwarzenegger starring. His next brilliant work in Hollywood became a role in Wild Orchid, an erotic thriller. In the USA, Oleg acted in 23 films, the best of them being Three Days In August, Running On Ice, 2090: Poisoned Blood, Love Affair, Thirteen Days. In First Strike, a Hong Kong action thriller with Jackie Chan,  he played a Russian general. In 2006 he was recalled in his motherland and invited to act in The Spelled Sector, a Russian serial.

Sons of Oleg Vidov: Viacheslav and Sergey

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Oleg Vidov and his eldest son Viacheslav Photo tvc.ru/Oleg Vidov I\d rather live better

The actor was able to make amends with his eldest son Slava only after the death of Fedotova. It happened in 2007, 25 years after Oleg’s departure to the USA.

In 1996 it appeared to be that the actor had another son. He was born by the student of Odessa Medical Institute Tatiana in early years. Vidov recognized his illegitimate child immediately without any evidence and scandal. Once he had an opportunity, he proposed Tatiana to send Serezha to him for study in Los Angeles. The boy moved at the age of 16 and stayed to live with his father. Sergey graduated from California University in Santa Barbara, when first he worked in his father’s motion picture company with subsequent job at the drug rehab, and later on he founded his own clinic for addiction suffering people.

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Younger son of Oleg Vidov, Sergey

Legal dispute with Soyuzmultfilm: opinions of the parties

The history of stealing Soviet cartoons made quite a sensation in due time, when the press accused Vidov. In 1992 when Soyuzmultfilm motion picture studio was a complete bankrupt. On behalf of his Films by Jove company Vidov offered to purchase the package of Soviet cartoons for their distribution abroad. Having acquired the rights, the company dealt with computerized renewal of the films, cartoons dubbing by Hollywood actors among whom were Robbin Williams, Shirley MacLaine, Jessica Lange, Timothy Dalton and others. Vidov involved famous dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov for promotion. Animated motion picture films were translated into 35 languages, and they were first shown via master TV channels of the world, which became a huge contribution to the Russian culture in the West. Under the agreement terms the Russian party received not only film distribution percentage, but it was quarterly paid 25 thousand dollars for transfer of rights to all the cartoons.

In early 2000s the owner of Soyuzmultfilm changed, and Vidov was requested to give the acquired rights back, accusing him of theft. Prominent native animators supported the actor. The cartoons patriarch Fedor Khitruk used to say: “Vidov represents our cartoons in the West. Moreover his company renovates old copies. Vidov lets American children into our best cartoons. We should thank him for that”. The actor was struggling with the motion picture studio in court for several years. In 2007 entrepreneur Alisher Usmanov bought out the agreement for cartoons distribution, and the flagrant case was finalized.

The disease and death of Oleg Vidov

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Oleg Vidov

In 1989 during motorcycle racing shooting in Wild Orchid movie Vidov noticed that he could hardly see the road, and he miraculously avoided the crash, while examination showed that sudden loss of sight resulted from a severe progressing rare disease of the brain. The doctors would give him no bonds. The actor was repeatedly operated, which prolonged his life for 28 years.

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Joan Borsten

In 2010 when Vidov came to Russia to visit his eldest son the actor got sick. At that time he was diagnosed multiple plasmacytoma (a malignant tumor). And back then in 2017 the actor was hospitalized with another health impairment, while his spouse Joan was certain that Oleg would recover. But for once his disease would develop progressively. Vidov died on May 15, 2017 at the age of 73, and during the death Joan, his guardian angel was near him, reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea to him.

After the actor’s death his widow focused on the memory of him, having published his autobiography, collection of his poems, and in 2021 the History of Oleg Vidov shot by her was shown during Moscow International Cinema Festival.

California Capital International Documentary Film Festival 2022, hosted by California Capital Arts Foundation, June 10-12th with an opening reception June 9th, will feature nonfiction cinematography from around the globe, and included documentary about famous Russian heritage actor Oleg Vidov.

Welcome to an exciting array of film selections and a chance to meet guest panelists and renowned documentary film makers.

For tickets and more information on the films and locations please visit: www.calcapdocfest.org

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